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Black Oxford
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Winter. Unknown parentage. Paris, ME (Oxford County), about 1790. Black Oxford's most distinctive characteristic is its rich dark purple skin color. Sometimes the purple looks almost black. Occasionally there may be patches where the purple is striped and the yellow/green ground color shows through. Around the cavity (stem end) there is often a light purple splash, and there are usually numerous light purple dots. A tree full of deep purple Black Oxfords is a sight everyone should see some time in their life. The visual effect is unique and even awe-inspiring.  The trees tend to overbear which looks all the more spectacular, but can result in smaller sized fruit.

In his book, The Apples of Maine, George Stilphen writes, "Black Oxford was found as a seedling by Nathaniel Haskell on the farm of one Valentine, a nailmaker and farmer of Paris in Oxford County, about 1790 and the original tree was still standing in 1907, the farm being then owned by John Swett." During the nineteenth century it was spread by itinerant grafters and was commonly grown on farms throughout central Maine. Many old trees still survive and easy to locate because of the distinctive color of the fruit. One contorted, hollow specimen dating from before 1800 is still bearing large crops in Hallowell. Perhaps because of its affinity to cold weather, it has never reached much popularity outside of Maine. As more out-of-staters try growing it however, it may prove to be adaptable to other areas.

Black Oxford undoubtedly gained its popularity from its excellent storage quality and heavy regular bearing, combined with its unique and desirable flavor. With its near perfect blend of sweet and tart flavor, it is my favorite winter eating apple. The fruit is medium sized (about 2 1/4"), roundish with a tendency to be slightly conical. The flesh is white, or ever so slightly green, sometimes with a bit of red bleeding in from the surface. They are hard, keep extremely well and reach their best flavor as the winter progresses. We keep ours in a common root cellar, loose in apple boxes, eating them until late spring.

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