This highly respected American apple variety is named after the settlement of Esopus, Ulster County, New York, where it was found towards the end of the 18th century. It was rumoured to be Thomas Jefferson's favourite apple. It was widely planted in the USA in the 19th century and used for both dessert and culinary purposes, but subsequently fell out of fashion although it remains a popular variety for gardeners and trees are available from many US nurseries. The apples have an excellent flavor, which improves with storage.
Whilst American apple enthusiasts often seek out European (and especially English) heritage varieties, there is unfortunately little interest in American heritage varieties in Europe. It's apparent from the comments we get from visitors to this website that American and European tastes in apples are quite different, with Europeans apparently prefering slightly more complex flavours. However, if there was ever an American variety that should appeal to European tastes, it must be Spitzenberg. The flavour is truly aromatic and matches the complexity of the English aromatic apples. The flesh is a buttery dense yellow, and there is a rich sharpness which is often characteristic of high quality dessert apples. Eating a Spitzenberg is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. In terms of supermarket varieties, the closest match is probably Jazz, which also has similar dense flesh and rich sharp flavours.
It's unfortunate that some of the best flavoured apples are also the least reliable to grow (think Cox's Orange Pippin). Spitzenberg also falls into this category. One of our listed suppliers, Cummins Nursery, rates Spitzenberg as "susceptible to about all the common diseases". It is also relatively difficult to get hold of trees of this variety in Europe, although specialist suppliers may be able to graft to order. To make matters even worse, like many American varieties Spitzenberg needs good levels of sunshine and ripens quite late in the season - so northern European gardeners will need to find a sheltered south-facing wall for best results. However the effort is probably worth it, since Spitzenberg is a superb eating apple.
We are grateful to the Defra UK National Fruit Collection for tasting samples of this apple variety.
The identification paintings in the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection span the years 1886 to 1942.
Citation: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705.
The following tree nurseries offer Esopus Spitzenburg apple trees for sale:
The following orchards grow Esopus Spitzenburg:
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