WEALTHY, like the late-season apple Northern Spy, is a variety that was first grown in another state with seeds from New England. But while there remains some debate over whether Northern Spy should be considered a New York or Connecticut apple, Wealthy is uncommon in New England today, and it is widely accepted as a Minnesota variety.
It is undoubtedly due to the zeal of the man who discovered the Wealthy apple, Peter Gideon.
Gideon (1818-1899) began growing fruit as a child in Ohio. Like an earlier champion of apples, Massachusetts native John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”), Gideon was deeply religious and hard-working, driven to develop a variety hardy enough for Northern climates with an almost mystical calling. Like Chapman, he was a poor businessman, and lived much of his life in poverty.
Besides the crabapple seeds that eventually produced Wealthy, Gideon had several other New England connections. He married Wealthy Hull in 1849. She came from a prominent New England family and was a direct descendent of Joseph Hull, founder of the town of Barnstable on Cape Cod.
The Gideons and their two children moved from Illinois to Excelsior, Minnesota, in 1853, traveling there with members of the Northampton Colony from Massachusetts, a group of Connecticut River Valley citizens who emigrated together to Minnesota.
Gideon’s main passion was for apples, but he also spent time as a livestock breeder, and was considered a pioneer in breeding poultry. He planted apple seed for eight years without success; all of his promising seedlings fell victim to cold or disease.
In 1861 Gideon was in such financial straits that he was considering leaving Minnesota when “an invisible being came to him and told him to write to a certain address in the state of Maine for apple seeds,” wrote horticulturalist O. F. Brand in the 1900 book Trees, Fruits and Flowers. Rather than buy himself a badly needed winter coat, Gideon sent his last few dollars to Albert Emerson of Bangor, who shipped him “five times the money’s worth” of cherry crabapple seeds and scions, according to the periodical Farmers Union.
One of these seeds eventually produced the apple named for Gideon’s wife. It first bore fruit in 1868, and eventually made its way back East. Wealthy is still grown in New England on a small scale today.
Wealthy is a medium-sized apple, strawberry red over a light green skin. Its crisp, white flesh is sometimes stained red, and it is aromatic and juicy, with a lively sweet-tart flavor. It is good for both cooking and fresh eating.
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WEALTHY APPLES would be a fine choice for this recipe for Apple Hermit Cookies. We made them using PaulaReds, another early season apple, for Wachusett Mountain’s Farm Fresh Festival in Princeton, Massachusetts, this past weekend, and they were well received.
Like the Wealthy apple, the recipe for Apple Hermit Cookies can be partially traced to New England. The hermit cookie dates back to around 1880, when it appeared in the Champlain Valley Book of Recipes in Plattsburgh, New York. That same year a recipe for hermits was published in Miss Parloa’s New Cookbook in Boston, Massachusetts.
The main difference in the two recipes is that the New York one used brown sugar and no eggs, while the New England version called for white sugar and 3 eggs. In the spirit of compromise, our recipe uses 2 eggs and molasses.
One batch makes about three-and-a-half dozen.
Apple Hermit Cookies
1/2 c butter
3/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
1-3/4 c flour (half whole-grain wheat flour)
1/2 c old-fashioned oats
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/8 t cloves
1/8 t ginger
1/4 t salt
1 c Wealthy, PaulaRed, or other apples, chopped
1 c cranberries, chopped (dates, currants, or raisins can also be used)
1/2 c walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream together butter and brown sugar, then beat in molasses and eggs. Combine and stir in dry ingredients. Add fruit and nuts.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when lightly touched. Be careful not to overbake.
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TODAY — the Wednesday before Labor Day — is New England Apple Day, the official kickoff of the annual New England fresh apple harvest. Early season varieties like Wealthy, PaulaRed, and Ginger Gold are already being picked, with the traditional fall varieties just days away.
The 2016 New England apple crop is estimated to be about 20 percent smaller than the bumper 2015 crop. At approximately 3.1 million 42-pound boxes, New England’s 2016 apple crop is forecast to be about 12 percent lower than the region’s five-year average.
A smaller crop was anticipated, as apple trees generally produce fewer apples the year after a large harvest. Drought conditions have affected the crop in much of central and southern New England. Still, there are plenty of apples in the region, and some orchards have excellent crops.
Here are the official 2016 estimate of the U. S. Apple Association for New England:
Connecticut’s crop is estimated at 400,000 42-pound boxes, down 33 percent from last year’s 598,000 and 24 percent below the state’s five-year average of 526,000.
Maine expects a crop of 900,000, a 6 percent increase over 848,000 a year ago, and 18 percent above the state’s five-year average of 760 boxes.
Massachusetts predicts 700,000 boxes, down 68 percent from 2015’s 1,026,000 boxes and 25 percent below the five-year average of 935,000.
Vermont estimates a crop of 738,000 boxes, 14 percent below 2015’s 862,000 but 2 percent above the five-year average of 755,000.
Preliminary estimates by the U. S. Department of Agriculture — on which the U.S. Apple Association’s national forecast is based — are incomplete, as the USDA has suspended estimates in smaller apple-producing states like New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Based on the New England Apple Association’s informal survey, New Hampshire anticipates about three-quarters of a normal crop, or 350,000 boxes, and Rhode Island about two-thirds, or 40,000 boxes.