Roxbury's long-gone orchards are well known in local history circles. The Roxbury Russet apple and Bartlett Pear both hail from our long-ago days as an agricultural community, and it's not uncommon to see a few Russets planted at historical sites. But until recently, people who aren't history buffs wouldn't have heard of these fruits or known that Roxbury was once known far and wide for its orchards.
That seems to be changing. Across the country, grocery stores and restaurants now feature all sorts of artisanal and heirloom foods that would have been completely foreign to most eaters 20 years ago. So it's no surprise that the Roxbury Russet, in particular, is making something of a comeback.
Fans of apple lore and Roxbury history will be pleased to see that this attention has put the apple in the news, propelled by the release of a new book titled "Apples of Uncommon Character." The book, which has led to stories in the Boston Globe and on WBUR, is getting positive reviews so far. I'm sure it will be a worthy addition to any local historian's bookshelf.
With apple picking season upon us, now's a great time to go out pick a few Roxbury Russets of your own. There are a handful of trees around Roxbury, but most are privately owned or otherwise not suitable for public consumption. The nearest commercial orchard I could find that advertises the apple is Clarkdale Farm in Deerfield. The UMass Amherst Cold Spring Orchard also sells the Russet, which is available in the first half of October.
Of course, most apple buffs also know that apples were prized less for their fruit than for their use to make hard cider. West County Cider in Colerain, MA, has been making some excellent single-apple varietals in recent years. Luckily for us, one of those is the Roxbury Russet. The cider can sometimes be found at Blanchard's in JP. If it's not their, they may be able to special order it for you. West County doesn't have much of a website, but they did make a pretty good YouTube video a couple of years ago that gives a good overview of cider production.
If you've got a plot of land with some sun and you're hoping to grow apples, you're also in luck. A number of vendors sell Roxbury Russets, including Fedco, Stark Bros., Trees of Antiquity, Maple Valley, and Century Farm.
Whether you prefer to read about apples, eat them raw, turn them into pies, or drink a glass of cider, it's great to see the Roxbury's history as an apple producing town getting some press. Happy fall!