Monday, May 31

Story of an Apple: Macoun

I was introduced to the Macoun (pronounced McCowan in some circles) for the first time this past fall picking at Moose Hill.  Having come from the Midwest I was unaware of, but quickly discovered, the reverence that many New Englanders have for this apple.

The Macoun is a product of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.  It is a result of a cross between McIntosh and Jersey Black (also Black Jersey) and was introduced in 1923 to growers.  The apple was named after a Canadian fruit grower, W.T. Macoun who was a horticulteralist at the Dominion Experimental Farm from 1898 to 1932, overseeing 24 different experimental farms across Canada.  He was also the founder of the Ontario Horticultural Association.  
The Macoun is a later season apple, usually harvested sometime in early to mid October.  At Moose Hill it is usually harvested around the same time as the Goldens and only shortly before the Empires and Reds.  When ripe, it has a deep purple or almost "black" hue, a quality reminiscent of one of it's parents.  The Macoun has a short stem, which allows it to be "pushed" off the branch as the fruit reaches maturity.  This creates a small window of time after apple shows it's true colors, but before it is a carpet under the picker's feet.  The fruit needs direct sunlight to develop the dark hue it is known for.  Because of this color picking is often needed to harvest an ideal crop.  Even with color picking, there is marked difference in the color of truly ripe apples and those found in the depths of a large tree (see below).

Macoun apples: on the left are apples picked from a smaller open tree and on the right fruit from the
inner branches of a larger tree.

Perhaps it is the Mac in them, but Macouns are not ideal keepers, although new storage techniques have allowed growers to sell them through most of the winter.  They can also be a challenge for growers in their tendency to give a heavy crop one year and then almost no apples the next.   When they do bare heavily however, as they did the year I picked at Moose Hill, the sight of a tree laden with deep purple apples in the late October sun is one of the many sights that reminds me why I am an apple picker. 


  1. To the extent I have a favorite apple, this is it.

    I am surprised to read your account of leaving these on the tree until late October. I'm only an hour's drive from Moose Hill, and around here the Macouns are all picked by early October, many earlier.

    The dark purplish blush of a later Macoun is very striking.

    Are there reasons why growers might tend to pick apples early? Do earlier apples do better in storage, or is there some apple-in-the-hand-worth-two-on-the-tree calculus at play?

  2. Adam,
    First, I think my reference to the "late October sun" referred more to late in the day, rather than late in October, however, that being said, they did wait to pick some of the Macouns at Moose Hill until quite late in October. I think that often apples are picked before they are actually ripe for several reasons. One, it allows the grower to get the crop before it falls, two, people learn to expect certain varieties at certain times of the season, even if the crop is a little behind that year and three, an apple that is not all the way ripe will probably keep longer in storage.
    My guess is that some orchards will pick the Macoun before it is completely ready, and others may wait until the apples are practically falling, which can leave a very small window for harvest before you are walking on them all.