too many words by laura lemay

The Overachieving Hauer Pippin Apple

I often buy heirloom apples from a guy at the farmer’s market whose family has grown apples in Watsonville for generations. He has all the usual apples you would expect: the fujis, the galas, the red and gold delicious. He also has apples that are more typically west-coast: newtown pippins, gravensteins. When we make hard apple cider (another upcoming post in my queue) I get most of my apples from the farmer’s market apple guy.

The apple guy sometimes brings small amounts of unusual apples to the market, and he puts these in unmarked boxes on the side of his table. I love unusual apples, and I make a beeline for those boxes. The unmarked boxes are how, over the years, I have discovered Yellow Bellflowers, Skinner Seedlings, Cox’s Orange Pippins, Winter Bananas, and Hauer pippins.

The Hauer pippins were especially large, tasty, crisp apples that ripened very late in the season, almost to Christmas. They are not only an heirloom apple but they are a local Santa Cruz heirloom — the original tree was found in the Pajaro valley. It was a popular apple in this area precisely because the apples ripened very late in the season and kept for a long time. These days now that we have refrigeration, we ship apples from all over, and we prefer sweeter, prettier apples, we don’t need the Hauer pippin. This is why it is now almost completely unknown, even in the Santa Cruz area. It’s an apple on the Slow Food Ark of Taste

If my apple guy brought Hauer pippins to the market, I would buy whole armloads of them, and occasionally the entire box. Sadly a few years back my apple guy told me that there was only one Hauer Pippin tree, in his father’s orchard, and weeds had grown up around it so it was too difficult to harvest. There would be no more Hauer pippins for me.

So I looked online, and I bought a tree. I’ve planted fruit trees on and off at my place, with fairly poor results, between the drought, and the weeds, and various marauding critters. I have one small area along the driveway I’m trying to keep both weeded and watered that has a small number of trees on it right now — apricot, peach, persimmon.

My plan was to plant the apple tree in that area, but I never got around to digging the hole (it’s a big hole, and we have a lot of rocks). So I put the apple tree into a pot to keep it and it has been living on my porch for a few years.

This year the Hauer pippin apple tree on my porch grew an apple. Just one. I’ve been watching all summer as it has been growing larger and larger. It was initially green but developed white speckles and a dark red blush. I propped up the branch so it would not break under the weight of the apple, and still it grew — to the size of a softball, and then bigger still.

I didn’t want to pick the apple because I couldn’t tell if it was ripe, and everything I remembered and that I could find online said that the Hauer pippins was not supposed to ripen until December. One site claimed that a ripe apple would come easily off the tree if you lifted and twisted it.

So I lifted and twisted for months until finally last week the apple came off. I weighed it, and it was almost an entire pound.

Traditionally the Hauer pippin is good immediately but becomes great if it’s stored for a month or two. I didn’t have that kind of patience. When I cut it open the flesh was creamy-white, firm, but not dry. When I bit into it it was crunchy and initially very tart, but the flavor immediately turned sweet and very apple-y.

It took me two days to eat the whole thing. It was a magnificent apple, and I hope to have a lot more on the tree in the coming years.