The Pippin: Proof that Newtown Creek’s Not as Nasty as You Think

The Newtown Pippin, "prince of apples."

These days you’d probably envision upended shopping carts along the banks of Newtown Creek, that 3-plus mile estuary that separates Queens and Brooklyn, now famous for the 30 million gallons of oil and raw sewage that spilled into its waters over its years of use as an oil shipping channel.

But if Newtown Creek is now a Superfund site (it was declared so just a few weeks ago), it once was home, when much of Brooklyn and Queens was still farmland 300 years ago, to apple groves.

In fact one of the most celebrated apples in the colonial era — we’re talking props from Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington — came right from what is probably now Queens. That’s the green, sweet-tart, still sold from city farmstands apple called Newtown Pippin. (Pippin being the old-school word for a new tree grown from a seed rather than a cutting, which you’d already know was pretty rare indeed if you’d read our recent article on Upstate apple picking.)

Today there is even a non-profit group trying to preserve, promote and even cultivate the N.P. here once again: You can even order a free sapling! But if you don’t have a backyard in which to plant your tree, you could settle for listening to a lecture from the New York Public Library on the history of the plant. The first is this Saturday at the Hamilton Fish Park Library on the Lower East Side at 1 pm. Yes, Newtown Pippins will be served!

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.