Book Review: “Apple Varieties in Maine”

“Apple Varieties in Maine”
By Frederick Charles Bradford
MOFGA, 2021
312 pages, hardcover, $75

Apple growers and historians in Maine have been given a gift, that of knowing their apple history perhaps better than any other state in this country. Frederick Charles Bradford (1887-1950), the author and compiler of this seminal work as a thesis submitted to the University of Maine in 1911, has brought to life the trials and tribulations, the sifting and winnowing of the apples that made their way into the fabric of Maine from when the state was a part of Massachusetts to the early 20th century. 

The opportunity to write a review of “Apple Varieties in Maine” was one that I could not pass up. Though Bradford died even before I was born, I feel him to be a kindred spirit as we both have felt the need to chronicle our apple heritage before it might be forgotten. I first got to know Bradford’s thesis through George Stilphen’s edited and enlarged version of this scarce work from 1993. I am lucky enough to have a signed copy from Stilphen that I still treasure almost 30 years later. Bradford’s original work is singularly the best compilation of its type as it lists all the known varieties grown and included in the written records of various Maine publications from the early days to the early 1900s.

Bradford may have been inspired by Welton Munson, one of Maine’s most important and influential pomologists, but perhaps also from the “Apples of New York,” a 1905 work initiated by Professor Emmett Goff but continued by Spencer A. Beach of the New York Agricultural Experimentation at Geneva. Unlike the “Apples of New York” which chose a smattering of apples that were grown successfully at the experiment station to include, Bradford listed all the known varieties grown in Maine he could find with historical notes, personal recollections and thousands of references. No single state work has done more to be inclusive of its apple heritage than this.

The singular importance of the reprinting of Bradford’s thesis is that it lists not only those apples that once grew here, but also those that may yet still exist in the farm orchards and forgotten places waiting to be rediscovered. Could we yet find the richly flavored Chamberlain Sweeting from Foxcroft or the Lancaster Russet from Farmingdale? If we didn’t know the varieties Mainers grew, as recorded by Bradford, this incredible diversity and history may never have been brought to light. This sense of our glorious apple heritage has been understood by John Bunker, Todd Little-Siebold, Laura Sieger and the directors and staff at MOFGA and recognized in undertaking the publication of this book and, even more importantly, the creation of the Maine Heritage Orchard, the most significant orchard of its type. This orchard model is one that each state can use for the preservation of their own apple heritage. “Apple Varieties in Maine” is a must-read for all of us, no matter where you live.

Dan Bussey, Ridgeway, Iowa, author of the “Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada”

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