How do you like them Keener Seedling (Rusty Coat) apples from Leepers Creek?
After two years of research into my paternal family history and genealogy I must admit that I have missed the boat with respect to fruits (if not nuts) while paying too much attention to more distant meats. My little sister just informed me of the existence of a vintage southern apple created by one of our ancestors on the family homestead. According to Creighton Lee Calhoun’s Old Southern Apples:
Keener Seedling (Rusty Coat): Listed in the 1890 catalog of the Catawba County Nursery of Newton, North Carolina: ‘Originated in Lincoln County, North Carolina, about four miles from our place. We know this apple from first to last and find it one of the finest keeping apples for the South. It is known by the name Rusty Coat. Color greenish russet; somewhat flat; flesh white with good flavor; fine for cooking, canning, and jellies, besides being one of the best table and keeping varieties. Stays on the tree till the leaves fall off and keeps until late spring.’
Also known as Rusty Coat This apple was first noted in 1890 by the Catawba County Nursery of Newton, North Carolina…bighorsecreekfarm.com
In 1992 I received a fact-filled letter from Bertha Kiser Goodson of Lincoln County, North Carolina. She said that a Mr. Keener had a land grant along Leeper Creek in Lincoln County and first grew the Keener Seedling. About 1880 a mining engineer from Missouri, who came to work with the iron ore mines in Lincoln County, married the daughter of Mr. Keener and bought sixty-six acres of the Keener land. The man grafted fruit trees and distributed Keener Seedling trees throughout Lincoln County. Mrs. Goodson further writes: ‘The trees are large, some 30 or 35 feet in height, They are early bloomers and the fruit ripens in late fall. The fruit is round with a rosy, rusty-brown coloring — a good keeper…
As early as 1878 J. C. Warlick of Lincolnton entered this variety of Limbertwig apple “for premium at the fair” (The Charlotte Observer, October 30, 1878). You can still buy the trees today, and a Horticulture Extension Agent at Louisiana State University (writing for the Lincoln Herald) recently noted that a man named Jack Keener, whose family “owned part of the land grant along Leeper Creek until about 10 years ago,” was reminiscing on Big Horse Creek Farm’s website back in 2014 about finding Rusty Coat apples in the snow on the family homestead during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Who knew?
Oh, the pain of passing by a lonesome old apple tree that’s dropping apples on the bank of the road — and to be riding with somebody that won’t stop…Course, now lots of folks don’t like to fool with apples like that, because some of ’em are a little bit wormy. But if a thing’s not fit for a worm to eat, I say, it won’t taste like much to people, either. Store apples may be pretty, but there is something about old Rusty-coats and Jonathans and Grimeses and Greenings, and the ones that didn’t know their father, that folks called “horse apples” — maybe it is character. — Aunt Biddie’s Kitchen column in The Foothills View (November 11, 1983)