Putting The Native Apple Back In The Big Apple

© Erik Baard
In 1730, in New York City an apple tree grew that sprouted from a random apple seed, a pip, in Gershon Moore’s Farm in what is now Elmhurst, Queens. The apple was named Newtown Pippin after the colonial settlement in which it grew, Newtown Creek.

The apple was a greenish-yellow color, that tasted tart, sweet and crisp. It was George Washington’s favorite apple and was cherished by Thomas Jefferson and Queen Victoria. Thomas Jefferson loved it so much that when he visited Paris he said “they have no apples here to compare with our Newtown Pippin.” The Pippin was then grown in Virginia, but rebranded as the Abermarle Pippin and for a century the Newtown Pippin was forgotten except to foodies and historians, until Erik Baard stumbled upon the apple in 2005.

Bringing Back a Bite of History
According to Erik Baard, an environmentalist and avid kayaker, he had been researching the history of Newtown Creek when he learned about the Pippin. Newtown Creek was heavily used as a commercial channel after the British and Dutch settled in NYC, as a result the waterway became very polluted. Newtown Creek was designated as a superfund site on September 27, 2010. Viewing the Newtown Pippin as a symbol of rebirth for the urban creek, Mr. Baard then began his endeavor to replant Newtown Pippins in New York City.

In 2008, Baard began planting hundreds of Newtown Pippins and other heirloom apples in schools, community gardens and other public spaces throughout NYC, sponsored first by Green Apple Cleaners and then New York Restoration Project. The saplings are part of the Million Trees NYC Program. Slow Food NYC also donated Newtown Pippin trees to three New York State farms that are involved in the greenmarket program.

IN 2011, Baard began planting Malus sieversii, the ancestor of all apples found in our stores and markets, including the Newtown Pippin. This is the first time this species has been planted in public spaces outside its ancient forest home in Kazakhstan.

Students Learn From The Past While In the Garden
On December 7th, a rainy winter morning, students from a charter high school in Harlem boarded a yellow school bus for Randall’s Island Park where they planted 50 Malius sieversii and several Newtown Pippin saplings. They were joined by Mr. Baard; Amy Freitag, Executive Director of the New York Restoration Project; Akan Rakhmetullin, Kazakh Mission to the United Nations; Nick Barnett, U.S. Department of State; and Liam Kavanagh, First Deputy Commissioner, NYC Parks & Recreation.

Mr. Rakhmetullin explained to the students that the endangered apple they were planting originally hailed from the forests of Kazakhstan. Most of the students had not heard of the country, more famously known in the U.S. as the fictional birthplace of Borat, than for the apple species.

This recent planting effort joins other Newtown Pippin apple tree plantings resulting from Mr. Baard’s efforts. In the past two years there have been plantings at schools, hospitals and botanical gardens.

Over the next several years, the partnership hopes to provide hundreds of Newtown Pippin trees to local community groups and environmental organizations.

The Newtown Pippin is enjoying a resurgence in Washington State and Virginia as well. Cider lovers may recognize it as the apple used in Martinellis. Hopefully, the Newown Pippin will be as plentiful and beloved in the New York City of the millennium as it was in the New York City of the 1700’s.

© Erik Baard

Tags: Apples | New York City | New York State