2009-04-29 / Editorials

Newtown Pippin Should Be NYC's Official Fruit

City Councilmember James Gennaro announced last week that he intends to introduce a resolution giving the Newtown pippin apple official status representing the city. To us, it's an honor long overdue.

Newtown pippin apples are believed to have originated around 1730 as a chance seedling (a "pippin") on the Gershom Moore estate in the vicinity of what is now Broadway and 45th Avenue in the village of Newtown, now Elmhurst. It was widely grown and praised in colonial America.

An heirloom fruit, the Newtown pippin apple is typically light green, sometimes with a yellow tinge. It is often russeted around the stem. Its yellow and crisp flesh has a complex and somewhat tart flavor, and requires storage to develop properly; some sources ascribe to it a piney aroma. Green and yellow varieties are sometimes distinguished but it is not clear that they are in fact distinct cultivars. Originally grown as a dessert apple, Newtown pippins are still available in Virginia, New York, and a few other places in the East along roadside stands and at farmers' markets. The variety is used on a larger commercial scale by a California-based company for sparkling ciders.

The Newtown pippin was highly regarded by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, both of whom planted them in their respective gardens at Monticello and Mount Vernon. It is one of the best keeping apples, as Benjamin Franklin found when he shipped them to England. In 1838, Andrew Stevenson, then American minister to Great Britain, presented Queen Victoria with a gift basket of the apples from his wife's orchard in Albemarle County, Virginia. In response Parliament lifted import duties on Newtown pippins (also known as Albemarle pippins), and by 1898, when it was grown commercially primarily for export, the Newtown pippin sold at prices three times those of other American varieties in the markets of Liverpool. The apples were an important export until World War I, when duties were reimposed by Britain.

According to food writer Michael Pollan, the Newtown pippin "is one of the all-time great American apples- storied, delicious, and overdue for a comeback". He added, "I can't imagine a better choice for New York City's official apple."

A grand, flowering or fruiting Newtown pippin tree near City Hall might one day prove as great an attraction for New Yorkers and tourists alike as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. There are other reasons for celebrating the designation of the Newtown pippin as New York City's official apple as well. Mass-produced food shipped nationwide is a part of our diets, and for the most part is safe, appetizing and nutritionally valuable; however, large-scale agribusiness practices also can make food stocks vulnerable to blight. News stories about contaminated foodstuffs produced by large-scale factory food operations have been known to appear in headlines around the nation on several occasions. Fresh, locally grown produce, including apples from Newtown pippin trees growing in community gardens, schoolyards, parks, campuses and other spaces, helps to protect this nation's crops and habitat through biodiversity. Reviving the Newtown pippin heirloom strain of fruit not only strengthens our connection to the borough's and city's history, but also promotes a healthier future. The Newtown pippin is a fitting and appropriate symbol of Queens' and New York City's ecological renaissance. It deserves to be this city's official fruit.

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