Arkansas Black Story
Arkansas Black is one of those apples that apparently holds no middle ground among apple fanciers; they either love it or hate it… Period. For those who despise the apple I prefer to think it’s just a case of misunderstanding. Arkansas Black is a fine apple with many exceptional merits that deserves more respect but, in order to properly enjoy the fruit one must exercise a bit of patience and give the apple a little extra time to become “all it can be”.
The apple is thought to have originated in the mid to late 1800’s in Bentonville, Arkansas, possibly discovered and raised by a settler named John Crawford. It certainly gained greater popularity later that century and could be found growing throughout Arkansas and Missouri and surrounding states. Believed to be a seedling of Winesap, the apple has many qualities similar to its better-known parent, namely a tart, tangy flavor and the ability to stay firm, crisp and flavorful after many months in storage. In fact, the apple reaches its peak in flavor and texture after a long period in cold storage. When first picked in October the apple can be as hard as a rock and almost as flavorful! Trying to enjoy the apple at this stage will usually lead to disappointment. However, after an extended period of storage, the apple undergoes a dramatic change and becomes a rather fine dessert apple. The sharp tartness mellows significantly into a rich sweetness that will surprise the skeptic who might have expressed some disdain with a freshly-picked apple. The hard, dense texture improves greatly as well, becoming a softer and more tender apple while still retaining a pleasing crispness.
The name is quite apt as the apple is very dark red in color with some specimens appearing almost black or purplish, especially when grown in full sun. Its deep red skin can be very tough, a quality that protects and preserves the apple so well when packed in storage bins for extended periods of time. The pale yellow flesh is sweet and rich with a complex flavor that has been described as “vanilla-like”, “almonds”, “red wine” and “honey-wine”.
Arkansas Black has always been favored as a quality dessert apple for fresh-eating but, like its parent, Winesap, it also has the well-earned reputation for producing outstanding cider. It is not an especially juicy apple but its sharp flavor makes a very good aromatic cider, particularly when blended with a sweeter cider apple. In addition, Arkansas Black is a wonderful cooking and processing apple. It holds its shape well when cooked so is popular for baking whole and pie making. If you’re looking for world-class apple pie, combine a tangy Arkansas Black with a sweet Porter apple. Outstanding!
Arkansas Black is a triploid apple with an extra set of chromosomes. Like all triploid apples it produces sterile pollen and is thus incapable of pollinating other apple varieties. When planting Arkansas Black trees it is very important to have another pollen-fertile variety nearby so they can be properly pollinated. Then, to ensure the second pollen-fertile apple tree will be successfully pollinated, it is critical to have a third pollen-fertile variety to pollinate the second tree since the Arkansas Black cannot pollinate the second tree! Confused yet?! Great pollinating apples such as Golden Delicious, Grimes Golden, Winter Banana, Snow or Yates would all be great complementary varieties to grow alongside Arkansas Black.
For those cynics who would normally “thumb their nose” at a basket of freshly-picked Arkansas Black apples I suggest they give this old variety another chance. After you pick the Arkansas Black in October put them in the root cellar for a couple of months while you enjoy your other fall apples. Then in April when the other apples have been consumed, pull out the Arkansas Black’s and give them another taste. Go ahead and try them; you just might be surprised how good they really are!