Four years ago I attended an apple grafting workshop, and created four grafted plants to bring home. I planted them in a “nursery” bed in the orchard, a Black Oxford variety in the center to remain there, and the others to later transplant. The root stock was called M111, a semi-dwarf variety. But I wasn’t sure where to put them, so it has taken until now before I transplanted any. Two didn’t survive, but today I move this Blue Pearmain variety about 12 feet over to a new bed.
Both of these are heirloom varieties for New England. According to Fedco, Blue Pearmain is a fall/winter apple, “our favorite for baked apples—it was made to be stuffed. Moderately juicy flesh, firm, dense and slightly crisp, sweet with a bit of a tart background flavor. Incredibly beautiful medium to very large fruit is streaked and splashed with purplish red, mottled with russet and covered with a distinct dusty blue bloom. In a pie, it has just enough firmness and a good balance of sweet and tart with hints of pear. Tart coarse yellow sauce cooks up in a couple minutes. Tasty eaten out of hand. One of New England’s most famous varieties. Mentioned by Henry David Thoreau as a favorite in his wonderful essay “Wild Apples.” Grown throughout much of Maine for well over 200 years. Massive trees still found here and there. Keeps in the root cellar until midwinter. Blooms midseason.”
Black Oxford was created from Hunt Russet x Blue Pearmain, in Paris, Oxford County, Maine, about 1790. A winter apple, “this outstanding apple, a favorite long ago around much of Maine, has made a huge comeback. Medium-sized round fruit, deep purple with a blackish bloom. From a distance you might think you’d discovered a huge plum tree. Excellent pies, superb late cider. Leave the skins on for a delightful pink sauce. Best eating late December to March, but we’ve eaten them in July and they were still quite firm and tasty. They get sweeter and sweeter as the months go by. Good cooking until early summer. Some insect and disease resistance. Unusual light pink blooms early to midseason.”
According to the Holistic Orchard, Black Oxford is “A rare treat reminiscent of an exotic tropical fruit; exceptional sauce apple, stunning drying apple.” It is slow to come into bearing, but resistant to insect problems. It can tend toward biennial bearing. Ripens in late October into November.
Even though they are four years old from grafting, they still seem like baby trees to me. I still need to do some pruning to help them find good shapes. But I am excited that I was able to get the Blue Pearmain to a spot it can remain. This past winter, one of our old ornamental crabapples fell in a storm. The one that is left leans heavily toward the road, and we’re imagining that it might not survive for long either. So this Blue Pearmain is positioned about half way between the Black Oxford and the crabapple. As it gets larger, eventually the crabapple might not be there. But in the meantime, it won’t cast any shade and they should both do fine. I still need to do some weeding and probably use cardboard to keep unwanted plants from growing too close to the tree. It had been on the edge of our friend’s herb bed that she is not using so much anymore.
It feels so good to be outside, to be tending to plants, to be celebrating the spring!