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Wealthy apples are a small to medium-sized varietal, averaging 7 to 8 centimeters in diameter, and have a round, conical, to flattened shape with level shoulders, a broad center, and a tapered to slightly slanted or lopsided base. The fruit’s stem is slender, dark brown, and fibrous, connecting to the apple through a narrow, deep, and broad cavity. Some russeting may occur in the cavity, giving the top of the fruit a green-brown, raised, rough texture. The skin has a tough nature and is smooth, taut, and matte, showcasing pale yellow lenticels. As the skin matures, it also develops a greasy feel and ripens to golden yellow with a vibrant blush striped with dark red streaks. The amount of blush and saturation varies for each apple, depending on sun exposure during cultivation. Underneath the surface, the white to ivory flesh is occasionally stained with red and pink hues just below the skin and has a soft, aqueous, and crunchy consistency. The coarse-grained flesh also encases a small central core filled with tear-drop-shaped dark brown seeds. Apple seeds are inedible and should be discarded during consumption. Wealthy apples are mildly aromatic and can be eaten raw or cooked. The flesh has a refreshing, sweet, and sharp flavor with fruity, sprightly nuances of raspberries, strawberries, pears, and citrus. As the apples age, they become sweeter, milder, and honeyed in taste with a subtle vinous note.
Wealthy apples are harvested in the fall and can be stored through the winter.
Wealthy apples, botanically classified as Malus domestica, are an American variety belonging to the Rosaceae family. The early to mid-season apples are an heirloom cultivar developed in Minnesota in the 19th century. Wealthy apples were one of the first all-purpose apples bred to survive harsh midwestern winters and quickly became a treasured variety among American homesteaders. The fruits grow on small, compact trees with a long blooming period, producing pink and white flowers. This blooming period allows for ample pollination throughout orchards and acts as an ornamental for home gardens. Growers also favor Wealthy apple trees for their cold hardiness, prolific nature, and sweet-tart fruits with extended storage properties. Wealthy apples were among the top cultivated apple varieties in the United States in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, but they have since faded from popularity due to the influx of modern cultivars. The all-purpose apple is now grown as a novelty and historical heirloom and is mainly produced through home orchards and small farms.
Wealthy apples have not been studied for their nutritional properties. Like other apples, the variety is a source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, fiber to regulate the digestive tract, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, and calcium to protect bones and teeth. The apples also provide vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, iron to produce the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream, copper to develop connective tissues, and other nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, boron, zinc, and vitamin K. The apple's pigmented skin contains anthocyanins, natural compounds with antioxidant-like properties that protect the cells against free radical damage.
Wealthy apples have a sweet and tangy taste suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The variety was famous as a multi-purpose apple and was frequently eaten out of hand as a snack. Wealthy apples were also notably added raw to salads, fruit medleys, or served on appetizer platters. Nowadays, Wealthy apples can be used in any recipe calling for sweet apples. The fruits can be sliced and layered into sandwiches, used as a topping over oatmeal and other breakfast dishes, or added to cider blends. In addition to fresh preparations, Wealthy apples can be baked into crumbles, crisps, pies, cakes, muffins, and bread, fried into fritters, or simmered into jams, jellies, and compotes. The variety can also be cooked into sauce and served as a side to savory meat mains or folded into batters. Try sautéing the apples in browned butter and spices and pouring the mixture over ice cream or dipping the fruits whole into melted caramel or candy as a sweet treat. Wealthy apples are also dried into thin, chewy rings and are said to have a peach-ring-like, sugary taste. Wealthy apples pair well with dried fruits, nuts including pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts, spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, maple syrup, vanilla, and fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, grapes, pineapple, and stone fruits. Whole, unwashed Wealthy apples will keep for 1 to 3 months when stored in a cool, dry, and dark location such as a cellar or the refrigerator’s crisper drawer.
Wealthy apples were named after breeder Peter Gideon’s wife, Wealthy Hull Gideon. Despite their initial success as a widespread apple throughout the Midwestern United States, Wealthy apples were not named from their monetary value. Rumor has it that Peter Giddeon often freely gave seeds of Wealthy apples away to friends and other growers, leading the breeder never to acquire large monetary sums off the variety. The apple was instead named after his loving wife. Peter and Wealthy wed in 1849, and Wealthy was said to be related to Isaac Hull, the famous American Naval Commodore who commanded Old Ironsides, also known as the USS Constitution, in the War of 1812. Wealthy apples remain a variety of historical importance in American apple breeding. The Minnesota Historical Society constructed a landmark in 1965, marking the apple’s site of origin in Excelsior, Minnesota. The marker is at the intersection of Glen Road and Gideon’s Lane and is on the southeastern corner of the original homestead, the location of the apple orchards.
Wealthy apples are native to Minnesota and were developed through apple breeder and grower Peter Gideon. There are several theories about the apple’s origins, with some of the stories including more dramatic touches, but the most retold version begins with Peter Gideon moving to Minnesota with his wife in 1853. It is said Peter moved to Minnesota for health reasons and established a homestead along the shores of Lake Minnetonka. On his homestead, Peter trialed apple, crab apple, plum, cherry, quince, pear, and peach trees to develop varieties that could survive the harsh climate of the Midwest. Most of the trialed fruit trees did not survive. Around the 1860s, Peter purchased a bushel of apple seeds from a grower named Albert Emerson in Bangor, Maine. The apple seeds were planted, and years later, all the seedling trees had died except for one. The tree was initially thought to be of Siberian crab apple descent, but over time, it was determined through DNA testing that the seedlings were a cross between Jonathan apples and Duchess of Oldenburg apples. The unnamed seedling continued to produce fruits each year, and Peter Gideon shared the apple’s seeds with other growers, especially other members of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. The apple variety was eventually named Wealthy, released in 1868, and quickly became a popular apple nationally. By the early 20th century, Wealthy apples were being grown throughout the United States and England and remained a favored variety for several decades. Wealthy apples ultimately declined in production as newer, improved varieties were introduced as apple breeding advanced. Today, Wealthy apples are mostly grown as a historical heirloom in preservation orchards. They are also grown by apple enthusiasts in home gardens and seasonally sold through farmer’s markets in the United States.