Ark of Taste
Newtown Pippin Apple
(a.k.a. Green Newtown Pippin)
The Newtown Pippin apple, native to what is now the borough of Queens in the City of New York, is a late-harvested, medium-large, flattish round, green-skinned, yellow-tinged, slightly russetted apple with a remarkably balanced tart/sweet flavor and an aroma described as “piney” by some. It is noted for the quality of the fresh and fermented cider it yields, its superior baking qualities, its excellence as out-of-hand eating apple, and its ability to mellow and improve in flavor with storage.
It is a matter or constant debate whether the Green Newtown Pippin is in fact a variety distinct from the so-called Yellow Newtown Pippin or if the relatively minor differences between them are more the result of regional terroir and seasonal growing conditions. The distinction between Yellow and Green is still useful to identify the apple’s character when grown in its traditional region of origin (the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic), where the apple is typically “greener” and more acidic or high-flavored than the Yellow strain, which is more widely grown as a commercial variety in California.
The Green Newtown Pippin – a “chance” apple that sprouted from a random apple seed, or “pip”, (hence the surname “pippin”) was first harvested in 1730 on the farm of Gershom Moore in Newtown, Queens County (now the Elmhurst section of the present-day Borough of Queens, part of New York City). From there it spread to Albemarle County, Virginia where it came to be known as the Albemarle Pippin due to the regional economic jingoism occurring at the time. It was a favorite of several founding fathers including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson who grew them at Monticello. During the 19th century, the Newtown Pippin experienced significant commercial success. It was part of the “Select List of Apples” kept by the Horticultural Society of London in 1807 and commanded the highest prices at Covent Garden. Queen Victoria so favored them that the British Parliament lifted the import duty on Newtown Pippins until World War I at which time Parliament renewed the import duty on the Newtown Pippin, and its commercial presence declined.
Today, of the two generally recognized strains, Green and Yellow, only Yellow Newtown Pippins are still readily available commercially. The originally Green strain is rare, although propagation has begun in recent years at the Cummins Nursery in Ithaca, New York. In 2008, Slow Food NYC donated young Green Newtown Pippin trees to three New York State farms participating in the New York City Greenmarkets and to two educational farms.
In 2009, in partnership with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, New York Restoration Project and financial benefactor, Green Apple Cleaners, Slow Food NYC donated a small number of young Newtown Pippin trees to three gardens at schools participating in the Slow Food NYC Harvest Time program: Juan Morel Campos School and Automotive High School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and The Earth School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This multi-partner effort is planting Newtown Pippin apple trees in public spaces throughout the city and pushing to get the apple recognized as the “official” NYC apple. More information about this project can be found at http://www.newtownpippin.org.
Newtown Pippin apples are available in New York in late October/early November.
In addition to limited growth in New York State, Green Newtown Pippins are also being grown in Virginia. Yellow Newtown Pippins are grown in California and are used in the large-scale, commercial production of sweet cider.
First photo courtesy of Ben Watson