by Joy Albright-Souza
Revised from an article originally published in The Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 2013.
Designing edible landscapes is a privilege. During the design process for an edible garden I am often asked what I enjoy most in my own garden. While there are a number of possible answers, when the subject is apples, I have to hand the top prize to the variety “Pink Pearl.”
Sometimes people think they know this rare variety, but usually they are thinking of an apple that’s pink on the outside, like the popular “Pink Lady.” But “Pink Pearl” is pink on the INSIDE. This memorable heirloom apple, which is being rediscovered by edible garden enthusiasts, exhibits an ancient color trait that really has to be seen to be appreciated.
The Pink Pearl apple was developed in northern California in 1944 by Albert Etter. It was developed from an older pink-fleshed apple variety named Surprise. The Surprise apple was thought to be originally from Turkey and brought to the US by German immigrants in the mid-1800s. It is now believed that Surprise may be a descendent of Malus “Niedzwetzkyana.” Etter grew out many seedlings from his pink-fleshed crosses, and selected the one that had the most favorable characteristics, which was offered to the public through the California Nursery Company in 1945.
A Unique Fruit
Like its luminous namesake, Pink Pearl is a thing of beauty. The cream-colored, unremarkable skin gives barely a blush as a hint to what lies beneath. The pink flesh inside, from my experience, can be the color of a soft delicate rose or a vivid swirl of crimson, depending on the individual apple, the time of maturity, and the seasonal conditions. The blossoms too are noteworthy for their dark fuchsia color, more like some crabapples, and are a lovely addition to any landscape.
People who have grown this apple can sometimes dismiss it as being mealy, but from my experience, that is only if you wait too long to pick them. On the central California coast they start to ripen in late July and are at their peak in August. They are most reliable when used early, while they are still somewhat sour. If you enjoy the more sweet-tart varieties, then they are delicious from an early stage. If you prefer sweeter apples, then they are still perfect for cooking and baking at this early stage, when you can add the amount of sugar you desire. Because they are useful early, they are terrific for harvesting over a relatively long period of time. This is an added benefit to a home orchard, where you might not want to deal with a lot of fruit at once.
Kids love their unusual color, and harvested right off the tree they add conversation-starting interest to any fresh use. Adding them to salads or fruit plates definitely features their remarkable beauty. When not using them as fresh apples, I’ve found that the best way to preserve their color is to dry or freeze them. Adding them sliced or chopped to baked goods, like tarts, crumbles and pies, shows off their pink coloration in an inimitable way.
Pink Pearl apples last relatively long on the tree. Some years, I’ve harvested them over a six to eight week period. Often the later ones really sweeten up and stay crisp and juicy, but in some years they do get a bit mealy as they wait. I haven’t yet figured out what factors are influencing this, but they generally retain their beautiful coloration even into this later stage and can still be used for sauce and juice if they get too soft for your taste. They can last for up to eight weeks in cool storage, once they are picked.
Designing with Pink Pearl
These hardy apples don’t require any special care in the garden. My personal tree has been grown organically and without much help from me, since the beginning. Pink Pearl is dependable and less susceptible to disease than some of my more modern varieties. They are considered to be susceptible to scab, although I have not found this to be the case. For landscapers and homeowners who want to include this variety in their gardens, the tree care that is recommended for apples in your particular zone or area should be sufficient.
Siting these lovely trees in the landscape is easy. They take very well to summer pruning so they can fit perfectly into a small permaculture design as well as a more traditional orchard. They work well as an espalier, which dramatically increases their design usefulness, because they can fit nicely into two dimensions, against a wall or fence or by adding their framework to a garden border. They can be grafted to established rootstock to create interesting color mixes or take advantage of an occupied location. They can be somewhat self-fruitful, but work much better with a pollinizer, especially another early variety.
So whether you’re adding a little something to a fruit salad or planning an addition to an edible landscape, Pink Pearl Apple is a nice “surprise”.
Note on availability
Pink Pearl Apple trees are offered by Trees of Antiquity and shipped seasonally throughout the U.S.
Take a chance on some of Etter’s other pink-fleshed crosses, trademarked as Rossetta™ apples and offered for sale by Greenmantle Nursery, down the street from Etter’s original test orchard in Garberville, CA.
About the Author
Joy Albright-Souza is a garden designer specializing in sustainable landscapes. She shares her perspective on creating and enjoying gardens at www.per-joy.com and she can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org