Q: When was the first Newtown Pippin grown, and where?
A: The first Newtown Pippin grew in the 18th century near a marshy creek bank in Newtown, Long Island. Never heard of Newtown? That’s in large part because as the Newtown Creek became further and further despoiled by industry over the following generations the town elders decided that it was best to not be associated with it.
The person to discover the fortunate mutation that we know as the Newtown Pippin was the man on whose estate it grew, Gershom Moore. His descendent, who spent much of his youth on the property, did pretty well too; Clement Clark Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Today part of the estate is a small park.
Q: Okay, so you explained what Newtown is, but what’s a pippin? And you mentioned a mutation. Is this some science fiction monster apple?
The funny thing about apples is that their seeds are incredibly genetically flexible. If you plant ten apple seeds from the same apple, you’ll get trees bearing ten variations of apple, none alike. Most of these will be bitter fruits that farmers call “spitters.” But sometimes one will arise that’s sweet or attractive in a whole new way. That lucky strike, or fortunate mutation, is called a pippin from the French “pépin” for seed. So while many apple varieties are called pippins, they aren’t related. They just arose in the same way. Farmers sometimes set aside a corner of land in which to throw down seed, hoping for fortune to bless them with a lucrative new variety of apple.
(As a little aside, pippin is an old English term for an admirable person. A sour appley cynic might say this is fitting, given that an admirable person is a rare, fortunate mutation on the standard variety.)
Q: So is this why some are dwarf, semi-dwarf, and full sizes?
No, once you have identified an apple variety worth preserving and propagating you must cut branches from it to graft onto other trees. Remember, if you plant a seed from a Newtown Pippin, for example, you will grow an apple but not a Newtown Pippin.
Orchards produce the saplings we provide from two trees each, the desired fruit bearing tree and a base, or rootstock, that will grow to the desired size. So you can graft a Newtown Pippin branch onto a rootstock that will remain small (a “dwarf” reaching 8′ or 10′) or as big as an apple tree can get (up to 35′).
Q: When will the trees planted now bear fruit?
A: These are very young saplings, so the earliest fruits should ripen in 2011.
Q: By supporting the Newtown Pippin as NYC’s official apple, will I be undermining another heritage variety?
A: Absolutely not! There simply isn’t a comparable heritage fruit unique to the five boroughs. The Newtown Pippin was colonial America’s most famous fruit, and we hold deep respect for other heirloom fruits and vegetables. In fact, the sapling sponsor Green Apple Cleaners plans to plant Lodi Apples (which originated in Lodi, NY) around its Lodi, New Jersey facility.
Q: Wouldn’t a city of only green apples, even Newtown Pippins, get boring?
A: Yes! How could one love NYC and not love diversity? Each Newtown Pippin must be matched to a nearby apple tree of another variety to be fertile. We’ve worked to ensure that these pollinating partners are a fun mix of delicious apples, both heritage and new. While we can’t accommodate site requests for a specific pollinator, some of those we use include Honey Crisp, Elstar, Pomme d’Api, Winter Banana, and St. Edmunds Russet. Also, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s habitat restoring Natural Resources Group plants indigenous crab apples.
Q: May I have a Newtown Pippin for my backyard garden?
A: Our mission is to restore the Newtown Pippin to publicly accessible spaces, but please check our “PRIVATE PLANTERS” section to learn how you can but a suitable sapling from a nursery.
Q: Where and when can I buy Newtown Pippin apples?
A: The Council on the Environment of NYC operates greenmarkets throughout the city. Newtown Pippins are available at these urban farm stands in late summer and autumn, and sometimes through the winter. Newtown Pippins are among the best winter storage apples, and many connoisseurs say they taste best in February.Ask your local market representative or CENYC where you can get yours!
Q: Do restaurants or caterers make foods with Newtown Pippins an ingredient?
A: Several restaurants, caterers, and cafes love the Newtown Pippin. The Savoy, Blue Mountain, Café St. Bart’s and, of course, Sage American Kitchen are among them.
Q: Is the Newtown Pippin an indigenous fruit?
A: The Newtown Pippin is a local cultivar, meaning that the mutations that gave rise to its qualities occurred in our region. While there are indigenous crabapples, dessert and other large apples are from the Eurasian landmass. The Newtown Pippin’s immediate antecedents were from England.
Q: What fruits or foods are indigenous to NYC?
A: Many! We live on an archipelago (okay, and a peninsula, Bronx friends) that was once verdant and bountiful. If you’d like to grow an indigenous edible garden, please check out this fantastic guide published by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and posted by Drosera: http://www.drosera-x.com/gardening_nyc_native_plant.pdf
BONUS: How do apples stack up to Apple, Inc.?