Wealthy


Wealthy is one of the most famous of the hardy, all-purpose varieties, Wealthy is also considered to be a standout among pie apples.  If you want to try a single-variety crisp or pie, try one with Wealthy.  At peak ripeness, the flavor is more sweet than tart, and the texture is soft without being mushy.  (Before it’s ripe, the pie flavor tends to be slightly tart.)   Wealthy makes a tart, creamy sauce.  It’s also a good acid source for fermented cider. Our old friend, long-time orchardist, 97-year-old Francis Fenton of Sandy River Orchards, believes Wealthy—not McIntosh—should be the favorite commercial apple of northern New England. The trees his father planted in Mercer 106 years ago are still going strong. So where did Wealthy come from? Here is one Creation Story that we like: Peter Gideon of Excelsior, Minnesota planted the seed that grew into the Wealthy apple by divine inspiration. As his Lake Minnetonka nursery neared failure, a voice from the prairie spoke to him, suggesting that he order seed from a specific address in Bangor, Maine. In return for Gideon’s last 8 dollars, Albert Emerson of Bangor sent seeds of the Cherry Crab. These seeds grew into a tree that produced the Wealthy apple that saved Gideon’s business.  Actually we don’t know if the apple made him rich; Wealthy was his wife’s maiden name, and he named the apple after her.

And here is another - less magical but perhaps more accurate.  You can decide.  Peter Gideon was born in Ohio in 1818.  When he was still young, his family moved to Illinois.  In 1849, he married Wealthy Hull.  Wealthy was a descendant of Joseph Hull, founder of Barnstable Mass, and the niece of Isaac Hull, commander of “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812.  Peter and Wealthy moved to Minnesota in 1853 where they farmed and raised seven children in Excelsior. Gideon was a man with a mission.  Soon after arriving in Excelsior, he planted 350 apple trees from seed and began his long search for an apple hardy enough to survive the harsh Minnesota winters.

Years earlier back in England,  the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew had unknowingly assisted him in his effort when in 1784 they imported the Siberian crab (Malus baccata).  Siberian was subsequently the first crab to be imported into the US, long before the days of small, pink flowering trees on suburban lawns.  Siberian is a huge tree with small, variable fruit suitable for jelly.  It is exceedingly hardy and crosses easily with the domestic apple.  Gideon was perhaps the first to take note that M. baccata imparted its hardiness to its seedlings.  He determined that the future of apple breeding in northern areas would be to cross M. baccata with common apples.

In about 1860 he sent to Bangor, Maine for seeds of Cherry Crab, a variety of Siberian crab (or Siberian cross) of unknown origin with small yellow fruit and a red blush.   Sending to Maine for seed was an expensive endeavor in those days, and Gideon was not a rich man.  How he even knew about the seed source in Bangor is only a guess (See Creation Story #1), but he did.  The result was a seedling apple that he named ‘Wealthy’ after his wife.  Wealthy became an instant hit in Excelsior, then throughout the state, and before long, in all northern fruit growing areas.

In 1875 Gideon became the first superintendent of the Minnesota State Experimental Fruit Farm in Excelsior.  The farmlater introduced many excellent apples, pears, plums and small fruits.  Its most important introduction has been Honeycrisp, but HC is only the most recent in a long line than began during Peter Gideon’s tenure as director.   One of the apples the farm introduced along the way was Beacon, a Wealthy x Malinda cross.  Gideon continued to cross crabs and apples.  His most well known apple after Wealthy is called “Gideon”.  There are still old Gideon trees in Maine, including an ancient one at Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont.  He also introduced a number of edible crabs, including Martha and Florence, named for his daughters.  Gideon died in 1899.