If you're eating an apple a day, make it a local McIntosh

August 29, 2011
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

You might not know it, but you live in the fruit belt.

Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland; Hampshire, Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia; Frederick County, Va.; and Adams County, Pa., account for the vast majority of the tree fruit grown in the mid-Atlantic area.

I hope you had the opportunity to enjoy some juicy local peaches. If not, hurry because peach harvest is winding down.

Apple harvest is moving into full swing. Varieties such as Ginger Gold, Gala and Honey Crisp are being harvested now, and will be followed by a vast array of other favorites.

One of my old-time favorites, the McIntosh, is celebrating its 200th birthday this year. While it still ranks in the top 15 of popular U.S. varieties, it has been replaced in some apple lovers’ hearts by the likes of the Gala and Fuji.

The story of the McIntosh is really quite interesting, especially when you think about the fact that most apple trees today are the result of grafting cuttings to rootstock and not from planting seeds.

The Mac comes to us by way of Canada and resulted from an accidental planting attributed to Native Americans tossing their Snow apple cores on the ground as they passed by.

Some of the seeds sprouted and were discovered by John McIntosh.

The resulting fruit from the trees was disappointing, except for one, which of course resulted in the tree and apple that would bear John’s name.

The story goes that Hannah, John’s wife, cared for and sold the fruit locally, which became quite popular, but the family did not know of grafting as a way to reproduce their favorite tree.  

In 1835, an itinerant farm worker showed the McIntosh’s son, Allan, how to propagate by grafting.

Allan began propagating the tree and spread it as he traveled as a preacher, sort of a Johnny Appleseed evangelist. Eventually he started a nursery and began selling trees.

However, it wasn’t until about 1900 that it gained wider popularity and began to be grown throughout the apple-producing areas of Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Today, it is the most widely grown apple variety in North America.

Most of us take apples for granted because we can go into a grocery store today and buy them 365 days a year. However, there was a time when that was not possible. Most homesteaders and pioneer communities would plant an orchard as one of the first orders of business because the early settlers drank a lot of cider.

They could only store apples as either cider or dried fruit.

The McIntosh, like so many varieties, is very versatile; it is good for eating fresh or cooking and pie making. No matter what your favorite type of apple, I hope you will make a point of buying local fruit as our orchardists are busily harvesting the bounty of our county.   

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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