Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Orange Speck

In his essay Wild Apples, Thoreau amused himself by inventing pseudo-scientific monikers for various types of apples:
There is, first of all, the Wood-Apple (Malus sylvatica); the Blue-Jay Apple; the Apple which grows in Dells in the Woods, (sylvestrivallis), also in Hollows in Pastures (campestrivallis); the Apple that grows in an old Cellar-Hole (Malus cellaris); the Meadow-Apple; the Partridge-Apple; the Truant's Apple, (Cessatoris), which no boy will ever go by without knocking off some, however late it may be; the Saunterer's Apple,—you must lose yourself before you can find the way to that; the Beauty of the Air (Decus Aëris); December-Eating; the Frozen-Thawed, (gelato-soluta,) good only in that state; the Concord Apple, possibly the same with the Musketaquidensis; the Assabet Apple; the Brindled Apple; Wine of New England; the Chickaree Apple; the Green Apple (Malus viridis);—this has many synonyms; in an imperfect state, it is the Cholera morbifera aut dysenterifera, puerulis dilectissima;—the Apple which Atalanta stopped to pick up; the Hedge-Apple (Malus Sepium); the Slug-Apple (limacea); the Railroad-Apple, which perhaps came from a core thrown out of the cars; the Apple whose Fruit we tasted in our Youth; our Particular Apple, not to be found in any catalogue,—Pedestrium Solatium; also the Apple where hangs the Forgotten Scythe; Iduna's Apples, and the Apples which Loki found in the Wood; and a great many more I have on my list, too numerous to mention,—all of them good. As Bodæus exclaims, referring to the cultivated kinds, and adapting Virgil to his case, so I, adapting Bodæus,—
Not if I had a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths,
An iron voice, could I describe all the forms
And reckon up all the names of these wild apples."
Charles Asbury Stephens (1844-1931) wrote fiction for children, but the names of apple varieties in this passage from his book When Life was Young at the Old Farm in Maine (Norway, Maine: The Old Squire's Bookstore, 1912), pp. 16-17, do not seem to be fictional:
"I am going to show you the good apple trees," she continued, and led the way through the orchard. "These three great ones, here below the garden wall, are Orange Speck trees; they are real nice apples for winter; and there is the Gilliflower tree. Over here is the Early Sweet Bough; and that big one is the August Sweeting; and out there are the three August Pippins. All those away down there toward the road are Baldwins and Greenings. Those two by the lane wall are None Such trees. Out there by the corn-field wall are four Sweet Harvey trees and next below them, two Georgianas. I learned all their names last year. But this one here by the currant bushes is a Sops-in-wine. Oh, they are so good! and they get ripe early, too, and so do the August Pippins and the Harveys and the August Sweetings; they are all nice."
Most of the apples mentioned by Stephens are attested elsewhere, but I cannot locate any other reference to the Orange Speck apple. Was it an otherwise unknown variety that has now vanished, or was it simply a local name for a better known variety such as Orange Sweet or Cox's Orange Pippin? The children's stories of Charles Asbury Stephens are a generally reliable, if largely untapped, resource for details about 19th century rural life in Maine, and I wonder if the Orange Speck apple was a genuine variety and if other references to it might lurk in the pages of old undigitized magazines and newspapers.

W.M. Munson, Preliminary Notes on the Seedling Apples of Maine = Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin 143 (1907), doesn't mention Orange Speck. Unfortunately I don't have access to George Albert Stilphen, The Apples of Maine: A Compilation of the History, Physical and Cultural Characteristics of all the Varieties of Apples Known to Have Been Grown in the State of Maine (Bolster's Mills/Harrison, Me.: Stilphen's Crooked River Farm, 1993; rpt. 2000) or its predecessor Frederick Charles Bradford, Apple varieties in Maine, Thesis (M.S.) in Agriculture, University of Maine, 1911.

A story entitled "The Stranger Guest" appeared as Chapter XXII of Charles Asbury Stephens, Haps and Mishaps at The Old Farm (Norway, Maine: The Old Squire's Bookstore, 1925), pp. 219-227. Guess who the stranger guest is from this excerpt:
About eight o'clock they heard a knock at the side door. On opening it the old squire dimly perceived a stranger—a medium-sized man, wearing a cap and jacket and carrying a stout stick in his hand.

"Good evening, sir!" the old squire said, peering out at him. "What's wanted?"

The stranger asked whether they could entertain him for the night. "I am taking a long walk," he added, "and I can find no tavern."

"I guess we will try to put you up," the old squire replied. "Are you alone?"

"Alone and afoot," the stranger replied dryly. "Perhaps I ought to tell you before I come in that I've been in jail once."

"That so?" the old squire said. "Well, step inside here, and let me have a look at you."

The stranger entered and stood just within the doorway, perfectly still, with a curious smile on his face, but without speaking, as the old squire brought a lamp.

"You don't look like a very bad man, and rogues are not likely to tell of their being in jail," the old squire remarked, with a smile. "Excuse me for asking, but what's your business in these parts?"

"Stealing apples," the odd visitor replied.

"How do you get them away, without a team?" the old squire inquired skeptically.

"I don't get them away," the stranger said. "I merely bite them and throw them down. I'm only after the flavor. I bite only natural fruit, mostly apples growing wild by the roadsides or in pastures. Grafts I don't care for. Natural fruit has the fine flavors."

"Just so," the old squire rejoined, amused, but with some misgivings as to the fellow's sanity.
If you guessed Thoreau, you're right.

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