Ark of Taste
Reine de Reinette Apple
Malus domestica v. Reine de Reinette
Reine de Reinette is a delicious dessert apple that smells of flowers and grass. The flesh is firm, juicy and sweet. After one bite, people stop and wonder… What is this apple? Some people taste orange, bergamot, lemon, mango, melon and even plum, with a hint of vanilla that lingers in your mouth long after you took the last bite! Something from the fairy realm…
Probably originated in Holland around the 1770’s, Reine de Reinettes were in production in France, England and Germany during the 1700’s and 1800’s. During the 1700-1800’s it was a favorite among the elite, today this apple is very elusive and has been almost lost in the modern era, perhaps due to its modest physical appearance.
In England, where today it is grown in very limited quantities, this apple is called the King of the Pippins, though it was earlier called Golden Winter Pearmain. It received there the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 1993. In France and the USA, it is called Reine des Reinettes.
The tree was first imported and introduced to commerce in America in 1884 by Felix Gillet, a young Frenchman who realized that miners coming to California in the wake of the Gold Rush would need fruit and nut trees to feed themselves. Gillet opened his nursery in 1871, in Nevada City, California, the epicenter of the Gold Rush, and began selling his favorite varieties. He propagated some of the best fruit and nut trees and established the foundations for the major agricultural industries of the Pacific Western states. Here is a short description of this apple from Gillet’s catalog of 1884: “Medium, yellow, with a little red cheek; a splendid bearer. Very late”
Searching for the best apples of the Gold Rush in the 1970’s, the Felix Gillet Institute’s tree archeologists discovered only one small group of this variety in an old orchard at Acorn Ranch near Yorkville, California. This 1800’s historic orchard, abandoned for over 50 years, was renovated in the 2010’s and put into organic production. The tree appears immune to fireblight, and suffered limited codling moth damage. It produced less than 1,000 pounds of this variety in 2013. Indeed as of 2014 it was still not commercially grown in the US.