Saturday, March 6

Story of an Apple: Rome Beauty

Named not for the great Italian city, but rather for a small town in the southern most tip of Ohio, the Rome Beauty, also known as the Red Rome or simply Rome, like many apples of its time was discovered by accident.  Joel Gillet (also spelled "Gillett" or "Gillette" by his descendants) encountered a seedling tree in a shipment of trees he had received from a nursery that did not appear to match the rest of the stock he had ordered. He gave it to his son Alanson, who chose to plant it on the banks of the Ohio River.  That was the year 1817.  Several years later the tree was found still alive and bearing deep red, slightly glossy fruit.  His cousin Horatio Nelson (or H.N. Gillett) taking the initiative, took cuttings of the young tree and started a small nursery of the apple he called "Gillett's Seedling."  The apple gained popularity as a good cooking apple as well as a staple in cider.   A decade or so after it was first discovered, the apple was renamed the Rome Beauty after the Township from which it descended.  The town of Proctorville, on the banks of the Ohio near where the original tree stood until the 1850's, calls itself the "Home of the Rome Beauty Apple." 
Rome Apples, Cornell Orchard, October 2010
 In the 20th century, the Rome's popularity as the "Queen of the Baking Apples" had made it a popular apple in the expanding market created by the Washington apple industry.  Part of what the Washington Apple Commission referred to as the "Big Six" which also included Reds, Goldens, Winesap, Jonathan and Newtowns, the Rome also found a home in orchards of the eastern and mid-Atlantic Sates.
Though it has not made much headway in the ever expanding line-up of eating apples such as Fuji, Gala and Honey Crisp that have flooded the market over the past decades, the Rome as remained a staple for many growers because it is a reliable producer, not susceptible to biennial bearing which plagues some apple varieties.  Romes also bloom relatively late in the spring putting them out of harm's way for late frosts which can turn a bumper crop into slim pickings (literally) for many apple growers in northern climates.  The Rome has also found a following among growers in more temperate regions because it has a relatively low chilling requirement. This allows it to be grown in places that experience little or no winter.  A grower in the warm valleys of California talks about his experience growing and harvesting Romes in his blog Apples and Oranges which you can read here
He had this to day about them, "Rome Beauty grows well in the tropics also, but doesn't have the same zing as in colder climates.  The Rome you see in the supermarket is Red Rome, a better-colored but inferior-tasting sport."  

Photo from Kevin Hauser, author of Apples and Oranges and owner of Kuffel Creek Nursery.  Apples are from the mountains around where he lives in southern California 


  1. Thank you so much for this article. I live in Rome Township in Athens county Ohio. I hope you don't mind but I posted this article on my new community page.

  2. Thanks for this! Rome Beauties have always been my favorites. Dad used to buy them at Christmas time when I was a child and polish them up for me (because you couldn't get unwaxed apples in those days except at farmstands and there were none of those in New York City). Mom also put them in our holiday fruit salads. I found they were also firm enough to bake in pies, but so much sweeter than cooking apples or Granny Smiths.

    Funny thing is we always thought they were named for Rome, NY, because they are grown in northern NY (and now I know why, thanks to this post). Congratulations to Ohio for the best damned apple on earth, in my opinion anyway!