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Nickajack apples are fairly large, with a round, conical, or even rectangular shape. The skin of this variety is greenish-yellow overlaid with orangish, dull, or dark red and an indistinct red striping. Nickajacks also have round white lenticels all over the skin and a white or gray bloom. The flesh is creamy-white or yellow in color, with some green tinting directly under the skin. Nickajacks are firm, coarse-grained, crisp, and juicy. The flavor is not particularly notable, but is subacidic and brisk, with a nice aroma.
Nickajack apples are available in the fall and winter.
Nickajack apples are a southern American variety of Malus domestica from the nineteenth century or even earlier. Most apples produce seeds that grow fruits that are very different from its parents. Nickajacks are one of the few exceptions, and a Nickajack seed will grow another Nickajack apple tree. The trees are reliable and heavy bearers, contributing to the variety’s popularity in the 1800s.
Apples are high in several important nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C, and other antioxidants. An apple’s fiber benefits digestive health and creates a feeling of fullness. Antioxidants are anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. The rest of an apple consists mostly of water and carbohydrates, including fructose, sucrose, and glucose.
The Nickajack apple can be used as both a dessert and a baking variety. Pair with cheddar cheese, caramel, or maple syrup, or bake with other fruits such as apricots and pears. This is a good storage variety, and can be stored in proper cool, dry storage for three to six months. In fact, its storage quality was one of the reasons it became popular in the south.
Many apples, especially antique or heirlooms, are known by several different names. The Nickajack has a particularly large number of alternate names—forty-two! Some of its more-common alternate names are Summerour, Winter Horse, and Jackson Red. There is another variety of apple called Nickajack, which should not be confused with the American one. The other is from England, small and greenish-yellow.
The first record of the Nickajack is from 1853, but it may have been growing from as early as the late 1700s. No one knows exactly how the first Nickajack apple tree came to be, but there are at least two stories. It is often said to have first been grown by Cherokee Indians in the early 1800s near Nickajack Creek in Macon County, North Carolina. It may also have first been grown on the farm of Colonel John Summerour of Lincoln or Burke County, North Carolina. The Nickajack grows well in its original southern climate of the US, and will ripen earlier in warmer areas and later in cooler climates, such as the mountains of the south.