Sunday, January 3

Story of an Apple: Winter Banana

I have currently found myself in the deep winter of Northern Wisconsin. With several feet of snow outside and below zero temperatures that make the otherwise deliciously picturesque wonderland that looks so appealing from beside the wood stove almost intolerable even when dressed in all the winter garb you came with, I thought it apropos to tell the story of the Winter Banana. I was introduced to this apple for the first time this past fall while picking in New Hampshire. Having a name which to some may seem contradictory in terms, the Winter Banana is considered an heirloom variety and although it has often been used for fruit baskets, because of its beautiful appearance it is more commonly planted today to serve as a pollinator for other varieties.
The fruit originated in 1876 on a farm owned by David Flory, near the town of Adamsboro in Cass County, Indiana. Although native to the Midwest, the apple was more commonly grown in Washington and British Columbia. Grown as a fancy specialty apple, the gorgeous fruit, which has stunning red blush against a waxy yellow skin found a profitable market in parts of England and was often shipped in boxes to private residences in London. By the 1920's the popularity of the Winter Banana as an eating apple had also made it a desirable apple in English gardens. Although it was an aesthetically pleasing addition to gardens for British horticulturalists, the fruit did not thrive well in their cool climate found in the British Isles. In other parts of Europe however, such as Germany, the apple is still valued as an ornamental garden fruit and is also used to make juice.  Although Winter Banana is still sought after by a few apple enthusiasts it is largely planted as a pollinator. Some small orchards are making an attempt to bring it back, but it still has a rather small and select following.
At Moose Hill Orchard where I picked this fall, it could often be found planted among Cortlands and Red Delicious as well as Mutsus. The Fruit, which often is incredibly waxy to the touch can sometimes have the aroma of a banana (my girlfriend thinks they give off an olfactory sensation similar to Runts). The apple is very late to ripen, and cool frosty nights are needed to sweeten the flesh and make the texture more palatable. In New Hampshire it is harvested very last, usually after most of the crew has already departed. Often a small group of only two or three pickers will be sent out in the cold early weeks of November with a tractor. They will drive up and down the rows of trees stopping at each one baring the glowing spheres. The apples with bright crimson blush which looks almost painted on would still stand out even if they weren't the only apples left in the orchard. Often one bin is all that is required for the few people what will wander into the packing shed looking for Winter Bananas.

Grower information about this apple is available here.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered this wonderful apple in my organic bulk food order. It is super fragrant, waxy, very sweet and delicious just picked, and is starting to become a touch mealy after just 3 weeks, being stored in wine boxes in the cold garage. I'm going to try it in applesauce today.