Northern spy Apple history

Tag Archive: Northern Spy apples

What a beautiful week we have had and a forecast for a great weekend as well. It will be the perfect weekend to come out and enjoy the fall colors, pick some apples, taste our cider, pick out pumpkins and smell the aroma from the grape vineyards.

U-Pick apples: We still have a lot of apples to pick, but on some varieties you may need to bring a ladder as they are up in the tops of the trees. Apples which are still plentiful are: Red Delicious, Cortland, Fuji, Jonathan, Northern Spies and Cameo.

Red Delicious are so thick on the trees this year they hang in “ropes” so fun to pick!!

U-Pick grapes (Concord and Niagara): The customer demand for grapes this year has surprised us, so they will not last much longer. Please call before you come out to make sure there are some left.

Customer who filled their entire trunk with Concord grapes they picked….

Then fit the rest in the car with them!

Concord grapes: great for juice, jelly and wine!

Cider: We are pressing fresh cider 2 to 3 times per week now, the flavor gets better with each pressing as the apples get riper and riper as the season goes on. Ask for a sample when you are here and try it for yourself.

Picked Apples: Here is what we have in the market for picked apples:

  • Braeburn*
  • Cameo
  • Cortland
  • Fuji
  • Golden Supreme
  • Honey Crisp
  • Ida Red*
  • Jonathan
  • Nu-Red*
  • Red Delicious
  • Spy’s
  • Yellow (Golden) Delicious*

*This indicates we do not have many of these left, if you want some, you may want to call us and have us reserve them for you. 269-244-5690.

Sadly, the following are now gone for the season, many of our favorities…..

  • Gala
  • JonaMac
  • JonaGold
  • McIntosh
  • Molly’s Delicious
  • Mutsu

Our 50th anniversary apple special! This marks the 50th year our farm has been in business, originally starting as an apple orchard. To celebrate this milestone and to reward our many loyal long-time customers, we have “rolled back” the price of Red Delicious apples. Fifty years ago, Red Delicious were one of the most popular apples. They sold then for $5 a bushel. So we are offering each customer an opportunity to purchase them once again at that price: $5 a bushel (Limit of 3 per customer.) You will find these in large bins outside our market, just grab a bushel bag and fill it up. This is a great way to get apples and share with neighbors, friends, schools, donate to food shelters, etc. In the days and weeks to come, we will be giving you some additional information about the 50 years of our farm’s history.

Yes for real, $5 a bushel

Customers filling their Red Delicious bushels

It is possible to get a bushel of Red Delicious in a motorcyle!

Fall Ornamentals: We have a great variety of mums, gourds, warty pumpkins, Indian corn and Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins for sale. We also have painted pumpkins and gourds, done once again for us by Diane Jones, they are adorable.

Fall Squash: We have butternut, acorn, hearts of gold, spaghetti and Hubbard squash.

Baked Goods: A new addition for fall (besides the apple dumplings) are pumpkin muffins. I personally ate one entire dozen by myself last week they were so good.

Brandy House: When planning your trip to the orchard this weekend, remember the brandy house is open for tasting and tours on Saturday from 1 – 4.

Fall Color Tour: The annual Fall Color Tour is Sunday, October 16th, from 11 – 5. We will be part of the tour once again and will have arts and crafts, brandy tasting and tours, free cider and apple samples, Live Birds of Prey Exhibit (1pm to 3pm) and many other fun and interesting things. More to come on that next week, but mark your calendar.

We hope to see you this weekend. Beth and everyone else at Corey Lake Orchards.

One of the most famous of all American apples, Northern Spy originated in East Bloomfield, NY, about 1800. A bronze plaque marks the site of the original tree of this former commercial giant, still a renowned Maine favorite. It is poorly colored in the shade and mostly covered with pink and light red stripes when grown in the sun.

An all-purpose variety, Northern Spy is well-balanced, crisp and juicy with the ideal apple taste. The large fruit does everything well; it is good fresh eating, makes an excellent pie (be sure to cook it long enough), keeps extremely well in common storage (even if the tender skin bruises), and is popular amongst cider makers. Every year we hear at least a few cooks declare that if the pie “wasn’t made with Spy, it’s not worth eating”.

There has been much speculation as to the origin of the odd name. In addition to Northern Spy there are now several apples with “spy” as part of the name, though the use of the word “spy” should not be confused with the use of other words that regularly show up in apple names such as “pearmain” or “pippin” or “russet”. The use of the word spy in Red Spy, Spigold and Novaspy refer to Northern Spy parentage. In the apple Prairie Spy, the use of “spy” refers to its resemblance to Northern Spy. So where did the Northern Spy name originate? Some years ago an article in the North American Fruit Explorers magazine, Pomona, attempted to sort out the name’s origin. We reprint it here in part:

Naming the Northern Spy

By Conrad D. Gemmer

More than fifty years ago I found a short one-paragraph letter to the editor in an obscure gardening magazine dated about 1853, and paraphrased as follows:

Rochester, N.Y.

To the Editor,

In reply to Mrs. B who inquired about the naming of the Northern Spy apple, everybody around here knows that the Northern Spy apple was named for the “hero” of that notorious dime store novel The Northern Spy, but nobody will come out and admit it.

Yours truly,


The book The Northern Spy was written anonymously, published sub-rosa, and circulated among radical hard-core abolitionists circa 1830. The “Northern Spy” set up a series of safe houses from Virginia through Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York State for runaway slaves to escape to Canada. He went south, presented himself as a slave catcher, and asked the plantation owners to permit him to talk with the slaves in order to find out how they escaped. Instead, he told the slaves about his own escape route. He advocated killing any Federal marshal who caught a runaway slave. He and his abolitionist friends lured slave catchers into an ambush, robbed and killed them. He, in turn, was killed in the first battle of the “War to Free the Slaves,” in Manassas, Virginia, of all places, but thirty years before the fact. I have never seen a copy of The Northern Spy. All this information I have compiled over fifty years. My grandmother, age twelve when Lincoln was shot, had an old paperback book, Civil War Anecdotes that we kids thumbed to death. A southern contributor complained that TheNorthern Spy was a cause of the Civil War, as well as was Uncle Tom’s Cabin! It was a blueprint for the underground railroad, had a chilling effect on law enforcement and slave catchers, and encouraged the abolitionists, she said.

The Northern Spy apple originated on the farm of Herman Chapin, East Bloomfield, NY, near Rochester, from a seed planted about 1800. The original Northern Spy waskilled by mice or rabbits before it bloomed. A brother-in-law, Roswell Humphrey, on an adjoining farm, took up root sprouts and fruited it. A seedling apple tree takes about 7 to 10 years to bloom. With the setback and the slow-bearing habit of the Northern Spy apple, it probably did not bloom until about 1825. By 1830 it was in production and named. The Northern Spy apple was a local variety for 10 to 12 years so the name did not matter. It got out about 1840 and first appeared in print in 1844 in the Magazine of Horticulture. Thus they were stuck with the name.

A famous cooking apple, sometimes called “Northern Pie,” this heirloom is also great for eating and is still enjoyed across the Northeast.
Northern Spy is large, very ribbed, and a little gnarly. A streaky red blush mostly covers yellow-green (actually more yellow than green).
My example has a small patch of tiny black russet spots, a wen-like extrudence, and numerous small dents and bruises.
Most of these are probably from my own ham-handling, but they suggest a sensitive vulnerability.
So, no beauty queen, but a right stout-looking apple. It smells faintly, and sweetly, of cider.
The flesh is yellow, juicy, and coarse. The bite is a little tender but still crisp. I’m not sure when this was picked, but the texture turns just a little mealy into the chew. The apple oxidized quickly.
A hint of acid tartness gives this apple a bit of life and character on the tongue. Still Northern Spy is mostly a mild cidery apple with a few higher notes. Hint of spice, pear, and cherry, very agreeable.

Many sources repeat, without attribution, the story that Northern Spy was found in an orchard in East Bloomfield, New York; some of these provide further information. The basis for this history may be an 1847 letter from Oliver Chapin, who wrote

The first Northern Spy apple trees were raised from seeds brought from the Northwest part of Connecticut, about the year 1800, by Elijah Taylor. The original tree was set in an orchard by Heman Chapin, and some sprouts were taken from it by Roswell Humphrey, and by him the fruit was first raised…as the original tree died before bearing. (original emphasis)
See Watts, J. H., “Additional Remarks on the Northern Spy Apple” Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs 13(1847):104-105.
The American Chemical Society found that Northern Spy (and two other varieties) have the most antioxidents of any variety of apple.
See Tsao, Yang, Young, and Zhu, “Polyphenolic Profiles in Eight Apple Cultivars Using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography” J. Agric. Food Chem. 51(2003):21, 6347 – 6353.
On that scholarly note (who says you can’t document this stuff?) the legendary Adam’s Apple Research Department is pleased to call it a day.

Northern Spy

Why you should be excited

Northern Spy is a classic eastern North American variety that’s revered as a pie apple by folks in that region.

The story of Northern Spy

From the late 17th through early 19th centuries, eastern North America was likely the greatest producer of new apple varieties the world has ever known.

The early development of the continent by Europeans featured great need for food and drink, but a dearth of infrastructure to produce it, including fruit tree nurseries.

How to grow apple trees without nurseries? The only possible answer was to plant tens of thousands of apple seeds – each guaranteed to produce a brand-new apple variety of unknown quality – and hope for the best. Settlers planted huge orchards this way and the best of the resulting trees – including Northern Spy – were North America’s gifts to the world.

It was a huge – if inefficient – contribution to apple diversity.

Northern Spy Facts

Its origins

Raised as a seedling in East Bloomfield, New York, USA, circa 1800.

Flavour, aroma, texture

Crisp, cream-coloured flesh has a rich, aromatic and powerful apple flavour with plenty of fruitiness and lots of sweetness and acidity.


There’s a dark red flush and bright red stripes over the pale yellow background of this medium to large-sized apple.

When they’re available

Very late season (usually in early November).

Quality for fresh eating


Quality for cooking


Quality for cider

Northern Spy was used extensively in cider back in the 19th century and is being used again today, including in some single variety ciders.

Keeping ability

Good (3 months or more when kept refrigerated).

Northern Spy Apple Tree Facts: How To Grow A Northern Spy Apple Tree

Growing Northern Spy apples is a great choice for anyone who wants a classic variety that is winter hardy and provides fruit for the entire cold season. If you like a well-rounded apple that you can juice, eat fresh, or put into the perfect apple pie consider putting a Northern Spy tree in your yard.

Northern Spy Apple Tree Facts

So what are Northern Spy apples? Northern Spy is an older variety of apple, developed by a farmer in the early 1800s in Rochester, New York. What varieties it developed from is unknown, but this is considered an heirloom apple. The apples this tree produces are very large and round. The color of the skin is red and green streaked. The flesh is creamy white, crisp, and sweet.

Growing Northern Spy apples has been popular for over a century, thanks to the great flavor and diversity. You can enjoy them fresh, right off the tree. But you can also cook with Northern Spy apples, turn them into juice, or even dry them. The texture is perfect for pie; it holds up to baking and produces a pie filling that is soft, but not too soft.

How to Grow a Northern Spy Apple Tree

There are some great reasons to grow Northern Spy in your garden, including the tasty, versatile fruit. This is a tree that does well further north. It is hardier in the winter than many other apple varieties, and it produces fruit well into November, giving you a supply that will store well all season.

Northern Spy growing requirements are similar to those of other apple trees. It needs full sun; well-drained, fertile soil; and plenty of room to grow. Prepare the soil in advance of planting with compost and other organic materials.

Prune your apple tree each year to size and shape and also to encourage good growth and apple production. Water a new tree until it is established, but otherwise, only water if the tree is not getting at least an inch (2.5 cm.) of rainfall per week.

With the right conditions and watching out for and managing any pests or diseases, you should get a good harvest about four years in, as long as you have at least one other apple tree in the area. To get fruit from your Northern Spy apple tree, you need another tree nearby for cross-pollination. Varieties that will pollinate Northern Spy include Gold Delicious, Red Delicious, Ginger Gold and Starkrimson.

Harvest your Northern Spy apples beginning in October (typically) and store the apples in a cool, dry place. You should get enough apples that will store well to last you all winter.

Northern Spy apple

Where to buy trees

The following tree nurseries offer Northern Spy apple trees for sale:

  • Orange Pippin Fruit Trees (USA)
    United States
    Northern Spy apple trees for sale >>
  • Cummins Nursery
    United States More >>

Where to buy fresh fruit

United States

  • California

    • Riley’s Apple Farm #1, Oak Glen
    • The Apple Farm — Bates & Schmitt, Philo
  • Connecticut

    • Allyn’s Red Barn, Ledyard
    • Averill Farm, Washington Depot
    • Ellsworth Hill Orchard & Berry Farm, LLC, Sharon
    • Irish Bend Orchard, Somers
    • Palazzi Orchard, East Killingly
    • Seek No Further Orchard, Hebron
  • Idaho

    • BYU-Idaho Apple Orchard Museum, Rexburg
  • Indiana

    • Apple of His Eye, Anderson
    • Cook’s Orchard, Fort Wayne
    • Doud’s Countyline Orchard, Wabash
    • G. W. Stroh Orchards, Angola
    • HighPoint Orchard & Farm Market, Greensburg
    • McClure’s Orchard, Peru
    • Mowry’s Fruit Farm, Crown Point
    • Schafer Orchards, Princeton
    • Harker Family Farms & Orchard, Waldron
  • Iowa

    • Berry Patch Farm, Nevada
    • Wilson’s Orchard, Iowa City
  • Kansas

    • Fieldstone Enterprise, Overbrook
  • Kentucky

    • Eckert | Boyd Orchard, Versailles
    • Hidden Hollow Orchard and Wildlife Sanctuary, Louisville
  • Maine

    • Conant Orchards, Etna
    • Eden Acres Family Farm, East Waterboro
    • Hope Orchards, Hope
    • McDougal Orchards, Springvale
    • Megquier Hill Orchard (formerly Goss), Otisfield
    • North Chester Orchard, Chester
    • Pietree Orchard, Sweden
    • Shalom Organic Orchard & Winery, Franklin
    • Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards, Cumberland Center
  • Massachusetts

    • Atkins Farms, Amherst
    • Autumn Hill Orchards, Groton
    • Bartlett’s Orchard, Richmond
    • Bird of the Hand Farm, Sterling
    • Bolton Spring Farm, Bolton
    • Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield
    • C.N. Smith Farm, East Bridgewater
    • Cider Hill Farm, Amesbury
    • Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield
    • Hilltop Orchards, Richmond
    • Meadowbrook Orchards, Sterling
    • Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton
    • Red Apple Farm, Phillipston
    • Sholan Farms, Leominster
    • Tougas Family Farm, Northborough
  • Michigan

    • (A.W.) Overhiser Orchards, South Haven
    • Alber’s Orchard & Cider Mill, Manchester
    • Apple Lane Orchard, Flint
    • Bayne’s Apple Valley Farm, Freeland
    • Bennett’s Orchard, Ottawa Lake
    • Bintz Cider Mill and Apple Farm, Freeland
    • Brainerd Farms, Onsted
    • Elliotts Orchard, Bellaire
    • Erie Orchards and Cider Mill, Erie
    • Erwin Orchards U-Pick & Cider Mill, South Lyon
    • Fruit Ridge Hayrides, Kent City
    • Grand View Orchard, Hudsonville
    • Granny’s Orchard, Eaton Rapids
    • Husted Farm Market and Cider Mill, Kalamazoo
    • Jacques Orchard, Hemlock
    • Kapnick Orchards, Britton
    • Keeney Orchards, Tipton
    • Klackle Orchards, Greenville
    • Knaebe’s “Mmmunchy Krunchy” Apple Farm Cider Mill, Rogers City
    • Koan’s Orchard, Flushing
    • Leaman’s Green Applebarn, Freeland
    • Lewis Farm Market & Petting Farm, New Era
    • Long Family Orchard and Farm, Commerce
    • Markillie Orchard and Cider Mill, Howell
    • Miller Family Orchard, Vassar
    • Moelker Orchards & Farm Market, Grand Rapids
    • Orchard Beach Farm, Quincy
    • Orchard Hill Farm, Caledonia
    • Phillips Orchards & Cider Mill, Saint Johns
    • Porter’s Orchard Farm Market & Cider Mill, Goodrich
    • Red Apple Orchard, Britton
    • Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery, Grand Rapids
    • Schultz Fruitridge Farms, Mattawan
    • Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill, Ada
    • Speaker Lone Oak Orchard, Melvin
    • Springhope Farm, Galien
    • Steffens Orchard Market, Sparta
    • T&K Orchard, Lake City
    • Tompkins’ Orchard and Country Store, Vassar
    • Uptegraff’s Orchard, Davison
    • VerHage Fruit Farms, Kalamazoo
    • Westview Farm, Mattawan
    • Westview Orchards & Winery, Romeo
    • Hanulcik Farm Market, Ionia
  • Minnesota

    • Sweetland Orchard, Webster
  • New Hampshire

    • Alyson’s Apple Orchard, Walpole
    • Applecrest Farm Orchards, Hampton Falls
    • Butternut Farm LLC, Farmington
    • Demeritt Hill Farm, Lee
    • Hackleboro Orchards, Canterbury
    • Hatches Orchard, Center Conway
    • Old Ciderpress Farm, Westmoreland
    • Richardson’s Farm, Boscawen
    • Stone Brook Hill Farm, Gilford
    • Stonybrook Farm, Gilford
  • New Jersey

    • Delicious Orchards, Colts Neck
    • Longmeadow Farm, Hope
    • Pochuck Valley Farms Market and deli, Glenwood
    • Riamede Farm, Chester
  • New Mexico

    • Costanzas’ Orchards and A-Bee Honey, Edgewood
    • Manzanar Los Silvestres, Abiquiu
  • New York

    • Apple Barrel Orchards, Penn Yan
    • Bellinger’s Apple Orchard, Fultonville
    • Bidwell Orchards, Fort Plain
    • Borden’s Orchard, Schaghticoke
    • Bowman Orchards, Rexford
    • G and S Orchards, Macedon
    • Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard, North Salem
    • Indian Ladder Farms Inc., Altamont
    • Lone Maple Farm, Binghamton
    • LoveApple Farms, Ghent
    • Miller’s Apples, Dunkirk
    • Morgan Farms LLC, Marion
    • Northern Orchard Co Inc., Peru
    • Ontario Orchards Farm, Market & Cider Mill, Sterling
    • Rulfs Orchard, Peru
    • Samascott Orchard, Kinderhook
    • Soons Orchards Inc., New Hampton
    • Whittier Fruit Farm, Rochester
    • Windy Hill Orchard & Farm Market, Cassville
  • North Carolina

    • Creasman Farms, Hendersonville
  • Ohio

    • Arrowhead Orchard, Paris
    • Highwater Orchard, Newark
    • Hoen’s Orchard and Market, Delta
    • Legend Hills Orchard, Utica
    • M & M Orchard, Ashtabula
    • Moreland Fruit Farm, Wooster
    • Ochs Fruit Farm, Lancaster
  • Oregon

    • Haury Farms, Salem
    • Kiyokawa Family Orchards, Mount Hood Parkdale
    • Marquam Meadows Fruit Company, Molalla
    • Smith Berry Barn, Hillsboro
    • B&P Hitz Fruit Farm, Woodburn
  • Pennsylvania

    • Apple Castle, New Wilmington
    • Godfrey Run Farm, LLC, Lake City
    • Gray Wolf Plantation, New Oxford
    • Holy Root Farm, New Tripoli
    • Kistaco Farm, Apollo
    • Klim Orchard, Lake Ariel
    • Northrop’s Apple Acres, Lake City
    • Orton’s Fruit Farm, North East
    • Pappy’s Orchard, Coopersburg
    • Rocky Ridge Orchards, Kane
    • Shenot Farm, Wexford
    • Soergel’s Orchards, Wexford
    • Townsend Brother’s Fruit Farm, Spring Church
  • Rhode Island

    • Barden Family Orchard, North Scituate
  • Vermont

    • Terry’s Orchard, Bennington
  • Virginia

    • Jim’s Apples, Duffield
  • Washington

    • Piper’s Orchard, Seattle
    • Skipley Farm, Snohomish *** Feature Orchard ***
  • Wisconsin

    • Door Creek Orchard, Cottage Grove


  • British Columbia

    • Apple Luscious Organic Orchards, Salt Spring Island
    • Blue Haze Farm, Victoria
    • Dragonfly Farm, Salt Spring Island
    • Fruit Forest Certified Organic Farm, Cobble Hill
    • Garside’s Fruit Farm, Abbotsford
    • Ravenskill Orchards, Gabriola Island
    • Salt Spring Apple Company, Salt Spring Island
  • Nova Scotia

    • Vista Bella Farm Orchard and Apiary, Malagash
  • Ontario

    • Cleaver Orchards, Simcoe
    • DeVries Fruit Farm, Fenwick
    • Dixie Orchards, Caledon
    • Juicy-Fruit Orchards, Thedford
    • Moore Orchards, Cobourg
    • Rural Route Orchard, Halton Hills

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