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.
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.