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In Search of the Apple
 

As I looked at images, I read about what kind of apples grew in central California, and discovered that most were two varieties—the Yellow Newton Pippin and the Yellow Bellflower. As an apple lover, I was surprised to find out how many varieties of apples that I’d never heard of were cultivated in the United States at the end of the 19th century. I found a description of the two varieties that the Pajaro Valley grew before I found an image of either. So I tried to imagine what they would look like from the descriptions, which went as follows:

“Yellow Bellflowers (New Jersey) Very large, oblong, irregular, tapering toward the eye; smooth; lemon color, with blush stalk long and slender, in deep cavity; calyx closed, in rather narrow basin; flesh tender, juicy, crisp, with sprightly sub acid flavor; keep well into the winter; tree a strong grower and healthy; one of the universal favorites in California.”

“Yellow Newtown Pippins Large, roundish, oblate and oblique, more or less flattened; yellow with brownish red cheek; stalk very short; flesh firm, crisp, juicy, with very rich, high flavor. Generally considered the best winter apple in California.”

Finding out that the Yellow Bellflower was one of the “parents” for the hybrid Red Delicious made imagining it a little easier, but I wasn’t sure that my historical imagination was up to the task of making these descriptions into three dimensions. I finally hit on the idea of looking at fruit-crate labels to see the kinds of apples they put on the ones from Watsonville. I bought a couple on eBay, since they are a cheap and widely available collectible.
Utility Brand apple crate label, 1920s
Utility Brand apple crate label, 1920s
J. M. L. brand apple crate label, 1890s
J. M. L. brand apple crate label, 1890s

But I worried that they wouldn’t be accurate, since they were from the 1910s and since they often depicted idealized images of pastoral scenes rather than the real fruit. The labels also often depict iconic images and no fruit at all!

Appleton Brand apple crate label, 1910s
Appleton Brand apple crate label, 1910s
Blue Flag apple crate label, 1910s
Blue Flag apple crate label, 1910s

Still, I thought if I compared the fruit-crate art to the description, I might begin to have a clue about what they looked like. I also tried to find an image on the internet of one of the types of trees with fruit on it today, looking at heirloom gardening sites. No luck there. Finally, I called a historical horticulturalist at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and asked what a two-to-three-year-old Yellow Newton Pippin tree would look like, and realized that there wouldn’t be any fruit on that young a tree!

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