Thursday, November 19

Story of an Apple: McIntosh

Although it is not personally one of my favorite apples, I thought it appropriate to introduce the McIntosh apple, being as it is the parent by hybridization of many other apple cultivars.  This apple dates back to 1811, to a tree discovered by John McIntosh on his farm in Dundela County, Ontario Canada.
John was the son of a Scottish immigrant, who was a loyalist during the American Revolution.  Born in the Mohawk Valley of New York state in 1777, John moved to Ontario Canada in his early twenties.  He settled in what was then Matilda township and began clearing his newly acquired land.  During this process  he discovered a number of seedling apple trees.  He decided to transplant them to his garden, but by the next year only one had survived the cold Canadian winter.
After tending this survivor for several years the tree finally began to bare fruit.  The fruit it bore -  green apple with a distinct deep red blush - would ultimately be named the Red McIntosh by the man who discovered it.
In an attempt to propagate his new found apple John planted several of it's seeds, only to discover what many after him also would; that apples grown from a seed often show no resemblance to the apple from which they came (I plan to cover this phenomenon in detail in a later post).  In the 1830's John and his son Allen welcomed a visitor to their farm who as luck would have it, was able to show them how to graft a cutting from his prised McIntosh tree onto the base of another apple tree.  With the new found ability to propigate the McIntosh through grafting, the family began to develop a full fledged nursery and by the late 1830's John's sons Allen and Alexander had taken over the family business.
The original tree which John had transplanted into his garden survived the nineteenth century, although it was severely damaged by a fire in 1896.  In 1908 over a hundred years after the tree had been discovered in bore it's last crop.
In the years since the McIntosh has gained significant popularity around the world.  In its homeland it accounts for over half the apples grown each year.
Today many different varieties of the McIntosh exist.  Among them are:
  • Hampshire Mac
  • Linda Mac
  • Marshall McIntosh
  • Mor-Spur McIntosh
  • Pioneer McIntosh
  • Rogers Red McIntosh
  • Scotian Spur McIntosh
  • Summerland Red McIntosh
  • Spotted McIntosh

The McIntosh or Mac as it is often called is a fairly early season apple, usually one of the first of the popular fall varieties to be picked.  For pickers it can be a very frustrating apple to pick due to the fact that it is incredibly soft and very easy to bruise.  It comes off the tree very easily however, which makes them easy to pick quickly, but also allows them to fall to the ground if you even look at them the wrong way.  Picking a branch of Macs can often be like playing Jenga; if you reach for the wrong apple first you may loose half the branch.  Thus the skill of a good seasoned apple picker is often evident in their ability to pick Macs well.  

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