Thursday, March 25

Roxbury Russet

The Roxbury Russet is believed to be one of the oldest apple varieties in the United Sates.  Thought to have originated in Roxbury Massachusetts, near modern-day Boston, the apple has also been kindly  referred to over the years as the Boston Russet, or simply the "roz."
The Roxbury was probably first discovered in the early 1600s, slowly making its way westward. It was introduced in Connecticut in 1649, and appeared in parts of Ohio by 1797, where it was more commonly known as the Marietta Russet or Putnam Russet.  Another version of its origination is told by the descendants of a man named Joseph Warren, who they claim was the man to grow the first Roxbury Russet.  However Joseph was not born until 1696 putting the dawning of the Roxbury sometime in the 18th century.  Joseph met a rather unusual death at the age of 59, breaking his neck after falling from a ladder, while picking apples in his orchard.
Regardless of its origin, the Roxbury became a very popular apple in the 18th and 19th centuries.  As early as 1778 Thomas Jefferson planted a number of Roxburys at Monticello in his south orchard, calling them "russetings" after their tendency to develop a mottled, and rough skin.  It found a home as far north as Ontario, where FRUITS OF ONTARIO 1906 reported it to be "one of the staple export varieties in many parts of southern Ontario."  However it also found a home in warmer climates, being shipped to California in 1850, where it was planted in the Napa Valley.  The apple was still the most widely grown russet apple in the Sate of New York in 1905.  The Roxbuy's popularity was in large part a result of the it's reputation as a good winter keeper, but was also prized as an excellent cider apple.
Several factors contributed to the downfall of the Roxbury.  First, as cold storage techniques developed and improved, an apple's ability to keep through the winter was no longer as highly valued, since almost any variety could be made to last through the winter.  Secondly, with the push to cultivate and market apples for eating, rather than just for cider and cooking, the Roxbury fell victim to the desire for more pristine and cosmetically superior apple varieties, forgoing substance for vanity.  Because of its tendency to russet, which does not in fact affect the flavor or the nutritional value of the apple, but does give it rustic look, the spotted, rough skin of the Roxbury could not compete with the iconic image of the apple, embodied by such varieties as the McIntosh or Red Delicious.  Today the Roxbury is almost exclusively grown as an heirloom apple, but can still be found at farmer's markets, especially on it's native soil in the Northeast. 
The Roxbury ripens  mid-season, usually being harvested in late September or early October.  It is resistant to scab and usually gives a heavy crop, although some sources site it as having the tendency towards biennial baring.  With a similar appearance, the Roxbury is sometimes confused with the Golden Russet, however if examined closely they bare several distinctive differences.

Other synonyms for the Roxbury:
Boston Russet
Reinette Rousse de Boston
Howe's Russet
Marietta Russet
Belfre Russet
Jusset, Warner Russet
Silvan Russet
Pitman's Russet
Shippen's Russet
Ruginetta di Boston
Belper Russet
to name a few...

1 comment:

  1. A friend recently picked apples appearing as above. Mottled skin and bearing biennially. He shared some with me. Tasty, although I'm not turning these into cider, they are going to be put through my juicer.
    These are grown in North Central Missouri on private property on two trees.