Late fall in Vermont, and apple season winds to a close. Here are three more interesting varieties to conclude the heirloom harvest. The Westfield Seek-No-Further, seen above in my orchard, was discovered in the mid-1700s, in Westfield, Massachusetts. The tree quickly spread to Connecticut then, in the 1790s, travelled with pioneers to Ohio. It won acclaim everywhere as a favorite “dessert apple,” meaning a fresh-eating fruit, as opposed to baking, drying, fermenting, or winter storage. An 1840s report from the New York State Agricultural Society called it a “truly excellent apple” which grew best in central New England. “It is the apple, par excellence, of that locality. . . Whole orchards are planted of this fruit, and no where does it flourish in higher luxuriance and perfection.” Today, it is very rare.
I planted one Westfield Seek-No-Further, in 2018. My tree grew rapidly and this year produced several gleaming apples. Through summer, they had a strawberry-pink blush, freckled with broad pale lenticules, shown above. When ripe in October, they turned cherry red, and the freckles faded to tan spicules. This is seen below.
Unlike many of the famous heirlooms, which taste of citrus, spice, or sugar, this is the clean flavor of pure apple. It is medium-size, with snow white flesh, moderately crisp and juicy. The skin is chewy. The flavor is bright, straightforward, and refreshing. I taste a perfect balance of sweetness with tart. A 1903 study described Westfield Seek-No-Further as “aromatic, sprightly, very good to best.” I checked the dictionary for the word “sprightly.” It means “buoyant or animated; full of life,” a good word for this beloved apple.
As much as the taste, I love the swaggering “Seek-No-Further” name. Many apples made similar boasts. It was a game of agrarian boosterism. By the late 19th century, Americans had five varieties of Seek-No-Further and one Seek-No-Farther. There were five apples called Nonesuch, several Nonpareil, two named Prolific Beauty, and one, apparently peerless, Gloria Mundi. Cantankerous old Henry David Thoreau would have none of it: “I have no faith in the selected lists of pomological gentleman. Their ‘Favorites’ and ‘Nonsuches’ and ‘Seek-No-Farthers,’ when I have fruited them, commonly turn out very tame and forgettable. They are eaten with comparatively little zest, and no real tang nor smack to them.” Seeking “wild and racy American flavors,” Thoreau visited the feral trees of the woods. “Every wild apple shrub excites our expectation, somewhat as every wild child. It is, perhaps, a prince in disguise. What a lesson to man!”
Following Thoreau’s example, I often stop at neglected, overgrown trees. They are easy to find in the woods and bygone farms of New England. Out with the dog recently, browsing the fruit in a hundred-year grove, I found an apple that astonished me. The flesh was bloody.
This was a Redfield, a rare apple I had only seen in books. Redfield was developed in upstate New York in the 1920s, crossing a Wisconsin variety with a tree from Kazakhstan. The Kazakh apple imparted a heady dose of anthocyanin, the pigment we know from cranberry and raspberry, but do not expect when biting apples. The effect is startling, even after eating many apples over several days. The taste is tart; this is not a fruit for fresh-eating. Redfield is mainly grown for fermentation, making a sharp rose cider. I planted a Redfield tree at the orchard this spring; so far it grows poorly.
I picked a bag of Redfields and brought them home to experiment. As seen below, they make a bizarre apple sauce, which looks better than it tastes.
Although devoted to wild apples, Thoreau made one exception: “I know a Blue Pearmain tree, growing within the edge of a swamp, almost as good as wild.” The Blue Pearmain is believed to have originated in the mid-1700s, in eastern Massachusetts. There were many “pearmain” apples, an old English term to describe pear-shaped fruit. The resemblance has been lost, for this is a large, big-shouldered, boxy apple. The skin is red to purple, coarse, and splashed everywhere with pale lenticules. There is often russetting around the stem. The waxy outer coating, called the “bloom,” does indeed have a blue cast, especially when ripe on the tree. The three large apples below are Blue Pearmains; the bloom has mostly rubbed off, so the blue hue is lost.
The flesh is soft and slightly yellow, only moderately sweet and juicy, sometimes with a faint berry flavor. I taste neither “tang nor smack,” leading me to question whether Thoreau’s tree was truly a Blue Pearmain. The best use is in pies and cider. I bake Blue Pearmains stuffed with pecans, bourbon-soaked raisins, and lemon zest, shown below. This is a wonderful dessert, as the nights turn cold and dark.
By the 1830s, the Blue Pearmain was so widespread that one horticulturalist wrote that to describe it “would be useless.” Today it is rare. I planted one Blue Pearmain, in 2017. It grows nicely, shown below, now about seven feet tall. I hope it will produce its first fruit next year.
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