Duchess of Oldenburg

Duchess originated in Russia in the 17th century. In 1835 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society imported the first of many apple varieties from Russia. These were Alexander, Tetofsky, Red Astrichan and Duchess of Oldenburg. Mass Horticultural was the early precursor to the USDA, the University breeding programs and Cooperative Extension. They regularly imported, tested and disseminated fruits and other plants from around the world. Until Duchess of Oldenburg was imported, northernmost Maine remained without apples. Neither the varieties of Europe, nor their seedlings, were hardy enough to withstand the winters north of Bangor. Duchess brought the apple to the coldest parts of our state, as well as to the coldest areas of New York and New England, the plains states, the upper midwest and much of Canada.  Duchess was planted extensively wherever growers needed varieties with extreme cold hardiness. It isstill popular today in most of northern New England, especially Aroostook County where its name is practically synonymous with the word apple. In talking with Duchess growers over the years, it has often sounded to as though each Duchess is unique. All the trees were referred to as “Duchess” but growers would be likely to say that this Duchess was better than that Duchess. John suspects that up there most -or perhaps even all – the Duchess trees were planted as seedlings, not as grafted trees. In a culture with a long tradition of planting apples from seed, this is not too surprising. What is remarkable though is that Duchess is one apple that produces generally true to type seedlings. There are old fields in Aroostook that have been overgrown almost entirely with Duchess seedlings. You can wander through thickets of apple trees for hours tasting Duchess seedlings. They are all variations on a theme, and nearly all taste quite decent.

Duchess is the parent of one Aroostook variety and thought to be the parent of another. In fact, it has been the parent of a great many varieties in the past century. It is a variety with a multitude of desirable qualities, not the least of which are its incredible ruggedness and hardiness. Duchess seedling trees also make very good, uniform rootstock called Borowinka on which to graft other varieties.

Highly esteemed for all sorts of cooking, Duchess is an excellent pie apple. It makes a zesty pie, and it cooks up quickly into thick, creamy sauce. Duchess fruit is also excellent for tart fresh eating.