What makes the Arkansas Black apple different?
It first showed up in the mid-1800s in Bentonville, Arkansas, which is the county seat of Benton County. It does share characteristics with the Winesap apple and some think that it may be a seedling of that variety.
The first difference is that it has such a dark, deep, ominous red color that it almost looks black.
It has a sweet, tart taste and a firm texture. Perfect for desserts.
You should not and will not want to eat it from the tree at the apple orchard because at time of picking, it is hard and very sour-tasting. One bite is unpleasing.
Pick it, purchase it, and place it in your refrigerator so it is able to ripen.
The thick skin preserves it in the refrigerator and it can, and should sit for no less than 2 months before taking a first bite.
Note: black apples can keep for up to four months.
Author Steven Grasse wrote a book called "Colonial Spirits."
In this book he explains that the only apple native to North America is the crab apple. In 1620, the Mayflower arrived in America but it was circa 1623 when colonists brought apples and apple seeds with them to North America.
Of course, once they arrived, they discovered our crab apple (the only apple native to North America) already heavily abundantly here. This apple, however, was not something they were used to so they planted seeds, first at Plymouth and Boston (my hometown) and then throughout the colonies. There were so many seeds plant that by the time the American Revolution ended, one in ten farms in New England produced their own cider.
These other varieties, Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji and Granny Smith, Honeycrisp etc. were all introduced to North America by European settlers. Today, believe it or not, there are over 2500 varieties of apples grown in these United States.
Apple trees quickly became something very special in these early years in American history.
It didn't take long for people to realize that once they planted apple seeds they could protect the seeds from destruction by erecting a bramble fence and leaving them to germinate and grow into trees.
The trees became collateral when it came time to purchase land and to demonstrate land improvement. The fruit from the small and sour apples would be a cash crop, a food source and a medicinal agent, which is where "an apple a day, keeps the doctor away" came from.
Farmers and housewives transformed apples into apple-jack, hard cider, vinegar, apple sauce and pie. Doctors used it as a healing food.
Fast forward to the 1800s
During the 1800s, many Arkansas families had kitchen orchards with apple trees on their land. By the end of the 19th century, two of the largest apple-producing counties in the United States were Benton and Washington counties in Arkansas. In 1900, Benton County was home to around 40,000 acres of commercial apple production, and 15-20 percent of those apples were from the Arkansas Black apple tree.
A moth infestation and bacterial blight, along with the climate and economic pressures of the Great Depression, virtually killed commercial production of the Arkansas Black.
Today, there are fewer than 150 apple growers in the state, primarily with small orchards that sell to farmers markets and farm stands, and the Arkansas Black makes up less than five percent of the apples grown in the state.
So, what does it taste like?
Well, after it's highly aromatic and sweet-tart flavor mellows and becomes more palatable with storage. As the skin softens after storage, this once-tart apple takes on a sweet flavor with a taste of vanilla and warm spice like cinnamon. It's amazing!
Because the texture is so firm, the Arkansas Black holds its shape well in pies or in desserts where someone would want a whole apple.
It also complements a cheese plate and pairs with meat.
Some turn it into hard cider.
You can also use it in your favorite cornbread and sausage Thanksgiving dressing, or you can make a tasty sweet/tart applesauce in your slow cooker.
Here in our beautiful Ozarks, these apples show annually sometime in late November. ❤️