The pippins are here!

The pippins are here!

This is possibly a misleading title. I regret to inform you that a “pippin” is not an official apple variety, per say; instead, it’s a word that’s been incorporated into apple variety names, many of which are not directly related. Why’s that? The New York Times, while raving about the Newtown Pippin (it’s too early in the season this year for Newtowns, but we’ll get there) notes that “pippin means an apple tree that originated as a seedling, not a grafted tree.” Apple trees do not reproduce their exact variety from seed– in order to reproduce a given variety, a tree start must be grafted on to rootstock. A pippin is a chance seedling that, upon maturity, was found to bear not only edible, but appealing fruit; it made a name for itself not through clever breeding, but sheer luck, and survival. A pippin is basically the Thoroughly Modern Millie of apples.

I’m sure there are less-than-stellar pippins that have been lost to time and obscurity, but the ones I’ve tried, and many of their offspring, have proved to be rarified among apples; they would have been cultivated during eras that prized flavor, shelf-stability (or perhaps I should say cellar-stability), and suitability for cooking and cider. That’s a pretty good way to select an apple, and the Victorians were definitely doing something right when they made much of these varieties.

Cox’s Orange Pippin

organic, from Grouse Mountain Farm at the U District Farmers Market

Quite simply, I adore this apple. The Cox’s Orange Pippin has swiftly become one of the favored apples of this household. The flavor is spectacular — citrusy, with a candied-orange sweetness, and a delicate aroma, which occasionally reminds me of an orange spice black tea. It has a good definite crunch– no mealiness here– and keeps reasonably well for a few weeks, properly stored. I could happily eat this apple every single day. If you wonder how someone could be so crazy about heirloom apples, then I say to you: get thee to a Cox’s Orange Pippin, and then tell me what you think.

Cox is an older English variety from around 1830, and has been well beloved across the ocean for years. There are a few places to get them here, but get to the market early and often– this variety can sell out easily, because I think the secret is starting to get out.

Ribston Pippin

organic, from Oregon’s Heirloom Orchards via Seattle’s Central Co-Op

Ribston PippinThe Ribston Pippin is a probable parent of the Cox’s Orange Pippin above; and there seems to be some resemblance in the firm crunch and balance of sweetness and acidity, with a touch of spice to it. I’d be interested to see how it keeps or behaves in baking. All in all, a lovely apple, and one I’ll definitely eat again. The Ribston was cultivated in Yorkshire in the 1800s, from apple ‘pips’ (seeds) sent from Normandy.

Incidentally, Central Co-Op (full disclosure, I just became a member) gets major points for their apple selection. Finding genuine heirloom apples generally involves making it to specific farmers markets, on specific days, at the right time in the season, before the day’s offering are sold out.  I’ve seen the occasional heirloom variety carried at Whole Foods, but more as a specialty one-off; the Co-Op actually has multiple shelves of heirlooms, many from local or regional farmers (I also noticed Jerzy Boyz’ apples were carried there last week). I can’t tell you how fantastic I think this is; one of the biggest obstacles to enjoying heirloom or unusual apples is the difficulty in procuring them, and having local fruit carried by neighborhood grocery stores is, I think, a game-changer for heirloom apples. Soapbox over, back to apples.

Karmijn de Sonnaville

organic, from Jerzy Boyz Farm at the U District Farmers Market

Karmijn de SonnavilleIf my apple quest involved blue ribbons, I would have pinned one on to the Karmijn that I just tried this week. It’s a child of indeterminate parentage– certainly of Cox’s Orange Pippin, although the other half of the pair is disputed between Jonathan and Belle de Boskoop. While its parent Cox is somewhat subtle in flavor, the Karmijn is a loud, tropical party; I caught mango and lemon, while Casey got satsuma oranges. In addition to a more intense flavor, it has a really firm crunch, and bakes up like a dream. I only got a few for my tasting– this is one that I’ll be hustling back for more of this weekend.

The Karmijn was bred in the Netherlands in the mid-20th century– it’s one of the few ‘modern’ apples that, to my sensibility, has as much flavor and complexity as a true heirloom– no doubt due to its exalted pedigree. While not a true pippin, since it is a bred variety, I am inclined to bestow the title of Honorable Pippin upon the Karmijn for daring to dance with the apple old guard.


  • Alan Stewart

    December 21, 2015 at 2:33 am Reply

    Hey I’m a bonsai enthusiast and my practice bonsai are pipin apples

    Chinese apples and pears
    Pink ladies
    Red wild apples (found local to me)

    If you buy a lot of Apples and want to get into bonsai I recommend plant your pips some of the leaf colours I’ve seen have been awesome some varietys are liable to fungus in the uk but if you fungicide them early they grow out of it

    Very nice article and if you’ve got pips you don’t want to plant send them my way I could do with the practice XD

    • Julia

      July 17, 2016 at 12:52 am Reply

      Hi Alan, thanks for the bonsai tips! I haven’t tried that before.

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