Sunday, December 13

Story of an Apple: Cortland

The Cortland has been around since 1898, when it was born in Geneva, New York.  After the advent of the McIntosh breeders began to experiment with hybrids through grafting.  The Cortland was one of the first successes, the result of a union between a McIntosh and a Ben Davis.  The apple was named after the city of Cortland, the county seat of Cortland County, New York.  
A very popular apple in the 19th century, largely due to its properties as a good keeping apple, the Ben Davis was a favorite for growers since it would not fall from the trees until late in the season and could be counted on to produced a good crop year after year.  With improvements in packing and shipping techniques in the 20th century, the Ben Davis fell out of favor being replaced by apple varieties that were thought to have better flavor.  Today it is almost impossible to find a Ben Davis, however the offspring of this nearly extinct cultivar is still popular and can be found in most orchards.
With prominent green and red striations the Cortland is a larger apple with stunningly white flesh.  Cortland trees, whether large or dwarf tend to show a distinct "droop" of the branches, that often remains even after the weight of the fruit is removed.  They seem to also attract more vines than other trees giving them a particularly wild appearance.  I have often imagined that a Cortland tree might bare a resemblance closest to what one of its ancestors may have looked like growing in the forests of Kazakhstan.
Cortlands are a mid-season apple, usually harvested after Macs but before later apples like Empires and Red Delicious.  They are often a favorite of pickers because they are generally very large and do not bruise particularly easy.  After weeks of picking delicate Macs that seem to fall from the tree when you breath, and bruise when you touch them, Cortlands are a welcome change.  Cortlands often grow in pairs, stemming from either side of the branch (see above), which allows them to be easily picked two at a time if you can manage to fit both of the large apples in one hand.  The biggest chalange when picking cortlands is spying the greener apples that skillfully hide in the dense foliage of the inner tree.  Cortland trees often hang low to the ground requiring a lot of kneeling or bending over even in larger trees.


  1. I am originally from New York State and recently relocated to Virginia. My Mom always used Cortland apples for her pies and I can't find them in Virginia. Could you tell me where to buy them here?

  2. I am originally from New York State and relocated to Virginia. My Mom always made pies using Cortland Apples. Could you tell me where I can buy Cortland apples in Virginia.