Grandma loved that ‘Meller Apple’

I enjoyed Nora’s story “Visiting the Cider Mill” in the Oct. 16 issue of the Hampshire Review. Since it was about one of my favorite subjects, old-time apples, I searched my memory as well as books on the subject in order to do a follow-up article. Since my 2-part story, The White Thing, had already been submitted when Nora’s story came out, I had to wait until now to publish this piece.

Nora first mentions the Maiden Blush apple growing on the farm. I haven’t seen the Maiden Blush apple for some time, though I believe that Stanley Haines grew some on his farm at Hoy, an obscure crossroads between Augusta and Slanesville in Hampshire County. It seemed that Stanley seldom got around to thinning the fruit on his trees so his apples and peaches were often small.

Fruit peddler, Bill Riley, who owned the old Augusta fruit market and junk shop that is now the site of Mountain Ammunition’s parking lot, was always looking for a bargain and bought Stanley’s crop of tiny Blushes at a cut rate price. Riley believed that a low price was the best way to entice the public to buy — regardless of quality. Bill was more than a little frustrated when these wares didn’t sell as well as he had hoped. In fact, he got a little grumpy, which didn’t help sales either.

Anyway, the Maiden Blush apple originated in New Jersey about 2 centuries ago. In addition to its early harvest, it is esteemed for its versatility, being well suited to baking, the making of cider and even wine. The late Paul Cunningham told me about a major apple faux pas many years ago. A smitten young suitor presented some of these apples to his intended and blurted out the wrong name for the apple. He got the “Maiden” part right anyhow. History isn’t clear about how things went from there.

Next mentioned was Grimes Golden. I’m afraid that my memories of West Virginia’s own Brooke County 1804 apples aren’t the fondest. The growth characteristics and taste of most apples are affected by where they’re grown. At the Beulah Grapes Orchard on Hickory Corner Road, also at downtown Hoy, Grimes trees grow to an enormous height but the apples — more of a hard, green berry — grew widely scattered throughout the thick brush of limbs. These trees may be the origin of the local saying, “He’ll have to eat what he picks to keep from starving,” when referring to a slow picker who is being paid by volume. The famous Golden Delicious apple, also of Mountain State origins, is thought to be a seedling of Grimes.

The “Strawberry Apple” Nora next mentioned was a bit of a mystery until she described the shape, like a sheep’s nose. While very few people have heard of an apple called the Black Gilliflower, many old-timers in the Northeast know this apple by its popular nickname — Sheepnose. This apple’s origins have been traced to Connecticut in the late 1700s where my own contact with the apple happened (though I wasn’t there for much of that time).

West Woodstock, Conn., apple grower and renowned local tippler, Bob Joy grew mostly Macintosh and Courtland apples in addition to Baldwins, the New England version of our York processing apple. Since he also owned a retail stand along the highway, he grew small blocks of widely diverse old-time apples including Sheepnose. I do not recall the taste of this apple or any other characteristics besides its shape — I was rather taken with the taste and texture of the Baldwins, which now hold center stage in my Connecticut orchard memories.

Joy Orchard was the quintessential New England farm. Real Swiss bells played from a 200-year-old church in the valley below. Joy Orchard also featured a homemade forklift, “Happy Hooligan,” that steered left when you turned the steering wheel to the right, and vice-versa. In winter, we didn’t fix bins; we “coopered boxes” — you get the idea. Bob supplied us workers with several cases of beer on the tailgate of his pickup every payday. (This supplemental employee benefit may have been better applied prior to operating the Hooligan.)

There are several widely familiar apples mentioned prior to Nora’s bringing up the “Falwater” or “Fallwater” apple. There seems to be some confusion over the name — but the confusion doesn’t end there. John R. “Bob” Whitacre, a seasoned apple man, often spoke of an orchard back in the woods near his home place on Coldstream Road near Grapes Ridge in Hampshire County. The terrain must be steep as they used sleds to harvest the crop instead of wagons. There grew an apple that Bob referred to as the “Foulwater.”

I don’t know the details, but, in my memory, the property eventually belonged to the late Sloan Miller. One fall day, Sloan presented some apples that he had gathered from the old orchard to the folks at North River Mills Grocery, his brother Bruce and his sister-in-law Betty (Deavers) Miller. I happened to be present and got to sample one of these fruits that Sloan touted as “Foulwater” apples.

The apple was virtually indistinguishable from a King Luscious (a chance seedling discovered in North Carolina in 1935) thus Sloan may have been mistaken. A King Luscious is quite large and extremely juicy — so much so that one may be amazed at the amount of water that the apple can hold. Thus reminded of water, one may mistakenly apply this name to the apple; though, this sweet juice is anything but foul. By the way, the correct pronunciation and spelling of the apple is “Fallawater.”

History suggests that this variety was discovered in the 1800s in Bucks County, Pa. The apple’s name seems to have originated with Native American tribes in that region. Its nicknamed the “Mollywopper” presumably because of its size.

Regarding our title, all this talk about apples reminds me of something that my grandmother, Della Cornett, used to say regarding apples. She hailed from the hills of Letcher County, Ky. (That’s right — being a Cornett on my mother’s side, I’m related to about two thirds of the eastern part of the Bluegrass State.) She always enjoyed a mellow or “meller” apple. The King Luscious and possibly the Fallawater, if Mr. Miller was correct, is as mellow or “meller” an apple as you’re likely to find.

 

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