I recently came across a very moving obituary for Egbert T. Bush, written by Frank Burd, probably sometime in the 1970s. Burd had known Mr. Bush since his youth and was a relative of his. He informs us that Mr. Bush had always had an interest in fruit culture, especially fruit trees, which he pursued more deliberately once he acquired his farm in Sandy Ridge, which he bought from Wesley Rockafellow in 1892.
This article by Mr. Bush shows just how extensive and thorough his knowledge of the subject was. Given that this article was published in March, it seems only appropriate to republish it today, eighty-five years later. (I tried to find images of the varieties of apples, pears and peaches mentioned by Mr. Bush; no luck. So I’ve included some botanical prints, found on Google Images, just because they are lovely to look at. )
Fruits That Were; Fruits That Are
The Yellow Sweet and the Summer Pippin Gone But Not Forgotten
Some Very Popular Peaches
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon Co. Democrat, March 19, 1931
It may be worth while at times to recall some of the fruits that were highly esteemed seventy years ago [1860s], and nobody knows how long before. A few of them still linger here and there, but most of those remaining lost their prestige long ago. Some have been displaced by better varieties; some have died out naturally because of disease or inherent weakness in the strain; and some have been discarded simply for commercial reasons.
Among the apples popular with us in the early days, though by no means a superior variety, was the “Yellow Sweet.” And well named it was, too; for its color was a deep and beautiful yellow, and the taste was really sweet. It was of little value for cooking, and pies were never made of it; but it suited our taste for eating raw, and what fine cider it made! While sweet, the cider seemed almost like syrup; and when soured, it was vinegar indeed. I do not know how widely this apple was distributed. It was probably derived from a local seedling, and restricted to a small area. But it was the chief early fall variety in our vicinity.1
At least one-half of the trees in one home orchard were of this variety—big and spreading old trees they were, too. Why anybody should plant them so freely was hard to tell. There was then no sale for such apples, and they could be kept only in the form of vinegar or in the more condensed form of “applejack”—and even in the latter form they were liable to disappear. It was a shame to see the ground covered with those fallen balls of sweetness, mostly doomed to rot, a useless and offensive “mess.” Lavishly people set the trees, and lavishly the fruit was wasted. Then suddenly everybody quit. It is probably safe to say that no tree of the kind is now to be found anywhere. Farewell to Yellow Sweets, but not to the memory thereof.
The “Summer Pippin” was rare with us, but was of much higher flavor than the Yellow Sweet. Besides, it was excellent for all the purposes which apples can be made to serve, and that means a great many. It was seemingly harder to raise, and was certainly more transitory. It is not now to be found, so far as the writer knows, even in the catalogues—where it probably never has been.
The Fall Piippin
The “Fall Pippin” was common and was one of the very best of apples for eating, for pies, for sauce—for almost anything that meant early consumption. And such a rich, golden color! The thought of it in its old-time glory, as it hung pendant on the end of a twig, just ready to drop, “makes the mouth water” on one [who] tries to write of it. The fruit was large and beautiful; so crisp, so tender, so luscious!
This apple is still named in the catalogues, and is supposed to be still set to some extent by those who long for its unequalled flavor. But the fruit of the later settings bears little resemblance to the fruit borne by the trees of the old orchards. The flavor is not there, at least, not in any that the writer has been able to find. The fruit is not of the same shape, the color is not the same and the crispness is sadly lacking. The name seems to be all that is left of that crowning glory of the old-time orchard.
The Fall Pippin was never set to excess. Two or three trees were enough for the home orchard, and the commercial orchard was almost unknown. The tendency of the fruit to fall long before reaching its best was one objection to this pippin. Yet I have seen—all too seldom—large trees beautifully covered over with those great golden balls of luxury. If anybody knows of a genuine old-fashioned Fall Pippin tree anywhere, let him make humanity his debtor by securing grafts at once, and preserving this fine old apple to posterity.
There was one variety of pears that covered our neighborhood for miles around. Every farm, and practically every home, had to have its “Harvest Pears,” so called because they ripened about the time for harvesting oats. Farms often had a dozen or more trees, mostly around the buildings, but sometimes widely scattered, as if having sprung up from stray seeds. Possibly all sprang up in that way. I never saw anybody set a graft of this variety, though often seeing the small “natural” tree grafted with something else. But the quality of the Harvest pears was much alike from whatever tree they came, and grafting earlier may have been practiced, fixing the quality in a general way.
The tree grew large and tall—fifty, even sixty feet high. It was a great bearer, one large tree easily turning off many bushels. The quality was not high—most of the pears were dry and “mealy.” But when cooked and sweetened with New Orleans molasses—well, I guess!
Strangely enough, when a Harvest pear by any chance clung to its twig long enough to become fully ripened, it was almost delicious. The trouble was that while one pear was sticking fast, hundreds were falling off to rot, unless gathered while very solid. If fallen too soon or gathered and kept to mellow, as is the modern custom with pears, the flavor was “flat,” and its reputation suffered accordingly.
I recall two trees that stood in the middle of “Uncle Jakey’s” long field.2 Once they had stood in front of a dwelling. But the dwelling was gone, and so was every indication of it, except those trees, and one sickly lilac bush struggling for existence. Old people spoke of it as the “Hardenbrook House,” so named from memory of an old man who once lived there, and whose claim to local distinction appeared to rest chiefly upon his audible manner of eating “rye mush.”3
To the larger of those trees always clung perhaps a dozen pears long after “all were gone,” as people reckoned pears. I knew better, and knew about when to seek the neglected trophies; and trophies indeed they were—crisp, golden, rich and juicy. I have never eaten better pears even in this day of excellent varieties. But pears, like people, are not esteemed for one good thing among a thousand. Though the Harvest pear could sometimes be sold for a few cents a bushel as the fruit hung on the tree, to be gathered by the buyer for shipping to the city, it naturally fell into disfavor. This pear, because of the tree’s great vitality, may possibly be found here and there in its haunts, but the writer has seen none for many years.
Early Varieties of Peaches
In the early days of peach orchards in Hunterdon County, there were excellent varieties for their day, some of them holding out even to the present time, but more of them having passed away. The “Honest John” did honor to its godfather. In flavor it has never been surpassed; at least not according to the writer’s opinion and to the testimony of those who remember its excellence. In color it was among the finest, and in production among the heaviest. But it had two serious failings—not faults: Its size was only medium and it ripened at the wrong time. It came just when larger and more showy peaches from farther South were flooding the Northern markets. With all of its fine qualities, it could not compete with its more pretentious rivals. Peaches and politicians subject to the same general law, you see.
And there was the good old “Smock,” a late yellow peach of fine flavor, a favorite for canning and for many other uses to which peaches are adapted. The tree was of hardy growth and was a good bearer. But the Smock died out, not because it would not sell or because it declined in favor, but because of some disease or some unfavorable condition, it could no longer be produced. Its fair skin, through which we had been accustomed to admire the golden richness within, began to develop “wool” or “whiskers,” and to be covered with coppery blotches. The quality fell below zero, and the fine old Smock disappeared.
The Hale’s Early Peach
“Hale’s Early,” a standard for early fruit in the older days, began to degenerate sixty years or more ago. I remember that one old joker who was much interested in peaches and somewhat careless in language, expressed his opinion rather forcibly thus: “I don’t like that Hell’s Early. It bears too ___ well; bears winter an’ summer.”4 And that became characteristic of the Hale in its decline. Much of its overload of fruit clung to the tree, died hard, and really did hang well through the winter. No more do we hear of the old Hale’s Early; but we do have an exceedingly beautiful “Hale,” a much later peach and new competitor with older varieties of fine yellow fruit.
Many varieties of yellow peaches were set in the early days—too many, no doubt. The “Early Crawford” was fine. The fruit was large, a beautiful yellow with blushing cheek, and very good withal. But it was so full of sweet juice that it was a bad shipper, and the tree was not a heavy bearer. This variety is rarely, if ever, set in modern orchards. The “Late Crawford” was also large and fine, firmer in texture and not so sweet. As the Smock declined, the Late Crawford became a standard for canning. It is still a desirable peach where it can be raised to perfection.
The “Globe” was a very large yellow peach. It was appropriately named, for the fruit was almost a perfect globe. The quality was fair, but the tree was a shy bearer, and quickly fell into disfavor. The “Redneck,” “Reeves’ Favorite” and “Susquehanna,” three names for almost if not quite identical fruit, were good under whatever name they bore. The trees were vigorous and the fruit was large, beautiful and of excellent flavor. One or another of these old names may still survive. But these and all other yellow fruits of older days have been largely displaced by some newer variety of better shipping qualities, but generally lacking in fine flavor.
No Spraying Then
The raising of fruits in the older days was a matter very different from that which confronts the orchardist of today. We did no spraying for two good reasons: there was little need for it, and nobody knew anything about spraying. The finest of fruits—and there were some that were really fine even then—grew without any attention of this costly and laborious kind. The spraying of apple trees is little more than forty years from its beginning [about 1890]. And the spraying done then was very different in many ways from the spraying of today. At first it was done chiefly for fungus diseases, the material being what was called the Bordeaux mixture. Later, arsenical poisons were added to it as how to kill insects at the same time. For some years, only a few sprayed their orchards, and unsprayed fruit rapidly deteriorated. Then along came other troubles, among them the San Jose scale, compelling careful and frequent sprayings if one would have either trees or fruit.
Other insects were busy in appearing. Together with what diseases and insects we already had, they have made at least a half dozen sprayings during the season absolutely necessary. Besides, they have made the feeble sprayings of the earlier days almost useless. Instead of using hand power, as at first, we now require engine power giving at least 200 pounds pressure to the square inch.
Potato Bugs Unknown
How different those little creatures have made farm life from what it was 60 or 65 years ago! Down to about 1870, we knew nothing of the Colorado beetle, or “potato bug.” The only potato bug that we knew anything about was a brown, striped bug about 3/4 of an inch long and built like a racer. Bugs of this kind were no great pest, being easily offended, and ready to leave if treated too roughly. They were not very numerous, and always came in swarms, a few hundred or a few thousand together, flying in close order. But they did soon make a ragged-looking spot in the potato patch which they had chosen for their camping ground. They seemed to be truly nomadic, able to live in one place as well as in another, if only they were let alone and allowed to get their own meals. But a severe brushing with a broom or a wisp of hay was a breach of hospitality which they were apt to resent by seeking a more kindly reception elsewhere. I have seen only one small swarm of these insects during the past 39 years, and they quickly departed upon being impolitely requested to “stand not upon the order of their going.”
Since the advent of the potato bug, we have been busily importing insect pests. Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent in the vain attempt to wipe them out. But the pests have done most of the wiping out; they have wiped out the small producers—the taproot and stabilizer of agriculture. Only producers on a large scale can afford to raise fruits and some other products now. Thus the insect enemies are driving us toward “monopolies” for which men are not to blame, and from which the “monopolists” suffer quite as much as the “consumer.” What is to be the outcome of it all? Nobody knows. Science has done much to help in the combat against these persistent enemies of us all, and is still fighting with determination. If science should go to sleep or falter, we shall be undone. The case is not hopeless; but we must stand by our defenses and defenders.
As we know now, science can only do so much. But the organic movement has helped to bring back relatively uncontaminated fruit, and we are lucky to have it. But as Mr. Bush has written, small producers remain at a serious disadvantage. After reading how delicious these old-time fruits tasted, it is impossible not to get nostalgic for something we can’t even remember.
- An interesting article by Harold McGee described the plant collection of Philip L. Forsline, which is found at the USDA’s Plant Genetic Resources Unit located at Cornell University. See “Stalking the Place Apple’s Untamed Kin.” ↩
- “Uncle Jakey” was a relative of Mr. Bush’s who lived across the road from the Bush family. Mr. Bush wrote a delightful article about “Working for ‘Big Wages’ with Uncle Jaky Philhower.” I have not yet published this article, but will soon. ↩
- There was a John Hardenbrook, born about 1780, married to Margaret Matthews, who lived in Bush’s neighborhood, which I know because he witnessed the will of George Trimmer in 1812. However, by 1840, he was living in Delaware Township, not Franklin. ↩
- That missing word is just too hard to read, which may not be a mistake. The typesetter may have taken liberties. ↩