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The Black Oxford Apple

Move over Stephen King. Black Oxford apples are the true pride and joy of Maine. Little known outside of the Pine Tree state, Black Oxfords are neck-and-neck with Honeycrisp to be the most popular apple consumed in Maine — and for good reason. They are a dream crop. Their trees can withstand disease, and their apples can store longer than average while still maintaining their sweet, tart taste.

If black apples are a new concept to you, or if you’ve just never heard of this particular variety, read on to learn more about Maine’s best kept secret, the Black Oxford apple!

Girl holding very dark red apples on a branch, similar to Black Oxford apples.

History of the Black Oxford Apple

Black Oxford apples originated in Maine around 1790. They’re named for their county of origin, Oxford County, which sits on the border of Maine and New Hampshire, about 75 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The parentage of Black Oxfords are still unclear, but their seedlings were originally discovered by Nathaniel Haskell, a Revolutionary War vet.

The original Black Oxford tree stood until the early 1900s on a farm owned by John Swett, father of the California school system. You can still find some of these old trees growing wild across the state.

Black Oxford Apple Characteristics

The Black Oxford produces a medium-sized round apple. Its color may have you believing you were growing plums by accident. The biggest giveaway that you’re growing a Black Oxford is the apple’s skin, which is a deep purple, almost blackish with some flecks of green. Inside, it has a bright white flesh and is moderately juicy.

Two dark reddish-purple apples on tree.

When you bite into a Black Oxford apple, your taste buds will be hit with a sweet, tart sensation and a hint of spice. They have a good mix of sugar and acid, combining to form their signature taste. Some apple connoisseurs have noted that Black Oxfords have hints of sweet corn and vanilla, and their sweetness is reminiscent of that of cane sugar.

One of the Black Oxford’s most distinctive and appealing qualities is how well it stores. They last for a long time, longer than most apples. Thanks to their northern climate, they’ve built up a tolerance to cold that enables them to preserve their flavor while refrigerated. In fact, the longer they’re stored, the more flavorful they become. Black Oxfords can keep for up to 3 months refrigerated, though farmers have reported successfully storing them for longer. It’s no wonder that a nickname of the Black Oxford is “rock” because of their durability.

Cooking and Eating Black Oxfords

Black Oxfords are well-known for being excellent apples for pies and ciders. Their unique mix of sweetness and tartness adds rich flavor when baking. They’re superb apples for making late-season cider, and their hint of spice gives your fall beverage an extra kick. Since they store so well, they’re good for cooking throughout the winter when you need an apple pie to get you through cold, bleak weather.

Overhead view of dark red apples on table.

They can be eaten raw and make for great snacks. Their natural fiber and sugar get you full faster. If you leave the skins on and mash them up, you can produce a delicious and beautiful pink applesauce ideal for snacking. Cook up some potato pancakes (or buy the frozen ones at the grocery store – no judgment here!) and dip them in applesauce. It’s the sweet and savory combination you didn’t know your mouth needed.

Closeup of pancakes topped with spiced apples.
Apple pancakes.

You can also sprinkle cinnamon on Black Oxford apple slices as a quick way to shake things up with the snack. Or add those sliced apples to your charcuterie board for color and variety.

Because of their sweet flavor, Black Oxford apples would make a great snack for children and help them achieve their daily fruit intake goals. Apples account for 19% of the fruit children are consuming. But steel yourself for the pickier eaters. Because Black Oxfords are so blackish, some kids may be turned off since they lack the traditional red coloring of an apple. Once they bite in, though, they’ll fall in love.

Black Oxford Apples are a diabetes-friendly fruit with natural sugars that the body can easily process. They are full of fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C. Like with other apples, they can aid with digestion and help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. As with any food, though, moderation is key.

Recipe Ideas

Spiced Apple Pancakes

Apple Cheesecake Galettes

Apple Coffee Cake

Apple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter and Apple Yogurt Dip

Growing a Black Oxford Apple Tree

Black Oxford apple trees can grow up to 6 feet, and it’s recommended to space them 12-16 feet apart. When in bloom, they have beautiful light pink blossoms coloring their branches, and blooms usually happen in the spring. Their peak harvest period is early-to-mid October. It takes about 2-4 years for a Black Oxford tree to bear fruit. To ensure they continue to grow, water Black Oxford trees with 12-15 gallons of water per week May through September.

Very dark red apples growing on a tree.

Black Oxford trees can live to be over 100 years old. However, they can crop heavily, and if they’re not well maintained, they may tend to biennial blossoming, only producing fruit every other year.

The biggest benefit to growing Black Oxfords is that they’re naturally disease resistant, an outlier among apple trees. They are resistant against cedar apple rust, fire blight, and apple scab, diseases which can obliterate orchards. Thanks to their origination in the brutal Maine climate, these trees have developed a toughness against cold and other malicious elements, which make them a solid addition to your orchard. Like a rock!

If you want to plant these trees in a tropical climate, it may be worth doing extra research to see how Black Oxfords would handle local elements. There may be geographically specific diseases that the seed hasn’t built up a tolerance to.

Closeup of dark red apples on tree.

Where to Buy Black Oxfords

Black Oxford trees are commonly sold at nurseries, especially those in the Northeastern U.S. Many New England nurseries can ship trees throughout the country. You can buy them as 1-2 foot bare root trees for planting. It may be checking with your local nursery. If they don’t have these trees, they can probably recommend other nurseries within their network who can ship.

Where To Buy the Apples

Depending on where you live, Black Oxfords may be available at your grocery store. The closer to Maine you are, the more plentiful they are, showing up at farmers markets and places like Whole Foods. Several orchards can ship you apples, and because Black Oxfords store so well, they’re one of the best fruits that can travel.

Closing Thoughts On the Black Oxford Apple

Overhead view of a green apple among very dark red apples.

With their unique coloring and sweet-tart taste, Black Oxford apples can liven up any meal. And they are a grower’s dream thanks to their natural disease resistance, long storage life, and general hardiness against the weather. Black Oxford apples deserve to be as popular around the world as they are in Maine. The secret is out!

Do you have one of these rare Black Oxford apples growing in your garden? Or do you know where to buy them in season? If so, tell us about it in the comments section below! To read about other apples, click here for our apple blog posts.