Rome apples are an heirloom apple with a tangy taste that make great baking apples. Unfortunately, the trees are highly susceptible to the major apple diseases, so many home growers end up frustrated by trees with short lives or poor fruit production.
Rome apples were originally called Gillet’s seedlings after Joel Gillet. Gillet lived in Rome Township, Ohio and found an apple seedling that he planted on his property. Several years later, the tree produced apples that he and his neighbors thought to be especially tasty.
Gillet’s cousin, Horatio Gillet, then took cuttings from the tree to reproduce it via grafts, and the variety took off in the local area. That apple tree began being known as the Rome, red Rome, or Rome beauty after the area from which it originated.
In the mid 1800s, when Gillet came across his seedling, there were thousands of types of apples in the united states. It would have been common for communities to gravitate to a particular tree variety found in nearby area. Before the world of commercial agriculture, our 19th century ancestors did not get apples shipped across the country.
Instead, they had what was local to them, so the Rome likely seemed noteworthy in comparison to the other apples they had available. The red color, sweet flavor, and softball size that we appreciate are actually biologically rare traits in apples, making the Rome seedling quite the find back in 1817.
How do Rome apples taste?
Rome apples sport a very traditional flavor – mildly sweet and slightly tangy with a bit of a floral aroma. It is exactly that middle-of-the-road flavor that makes it one of the top-10 sold apples in the United States.
Ways to Use Rome Apples
Rome apples hold their shape well when baked because they have a thick skin, so they are generally chosen for baking project, so you can use them in your favorite apple dumpling or apple muffin recipe. In the 1900s, they were called the Queen of Baking Apples.
Rome aficionados lean toward to preparations: fried apples and baked apples.
Fried apple slices are like onion rings made of apples! Apples are thinly sliced, dipped in batter, and fried. You can dust them with cinnamon and sugar and dip in caramel or chocolate sauce.
With baked apples, you hollow out the center and fill with sugar, cinnamon, butter, and spices before baking the whole apple in the oven. You will end up with a soft, gooey apple dessert that is hard to beat. Another option is to fill your baked apples with a cheesecake mixture, or, if you are trying to make better life choices, granola and honey for breakfast.
Health Benefits of Rome Apples
There is a reason mothers and doctors everywhere push apples into children’s hands: they are consistently a low-calorie snack with important nutritional elements.
Rome apples have plenty of soluble and insoluble fire, which in addition to controlling cholesterol, helps with digestion. The skin is loaded with Vitamin C. Calorie counters can plan for 70 to 80 calories per apple.
Where to Buy Rome Apples
The trees will be marketed under both the Rome and Rome beauty names; keep in mind they are two names for the exact same apple tree. They are fairly easy to find, so there is a good chance you can pick up a tree at your local nursery.
If you find a Rome tree in your local, in-person options are limited, you may have more success online.
If you cannot find the fresh fruit in your local grocery store, try a different apple tree from Nature Hills Nursery.
How to Grow Rome Apples
Rome apple trees are considered easy to grow, so they are great trees for first-time apple planters. They grow best in zones 4-9 and require 700 chill hours.
Appearance and What to Expect in Your New Tree
The growth of this fruit tree ranges depending on which version of the tree you get; they come in dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard sizes. Dwarfs grow 8 to 10 feet; semi-dwarfs grow 12 to 15 feet; and the standard size trees grow up to 20 feet.
Many of the newer apple cultivars only come in dwarf and semi-dwarf sizes, so the availability of the standard size is a huge bonus for people who would love a fruiting shade tree, or a big, old-fashioned tree for kids to play on.
Keep in mind that Rome apple trees are highly susceptible to scab, fire blight, powdery mildew, and cedar-apple rust. Providing they stay healthy, they produce prolific yields, and they were once called a mortgage maker for apple growers.
The apple itself will be a bright, shiny red with many lenticels dotting the skin.
Planting and Growth
Plant your apple tree in full sun and loamy, well-drained soil so when you are digging your hole that is at least twice as wide and deep as the root ball, toss in some compost or manure as you backfill if you do not have naturally loamy soil. They do the best in neutral soil (soil pH of 6.0-7.0), and if you have any doubts about the makeup of your soil, check in with your local extension office. They usually offer soil sample testing.
These trees are self-pollinating, meaning they do not need another nearby apple tree to produce fruit, but you can expect improved fruit production if you plant another apple tree nearby, and they produce apples in only 2-3 years after planting.
Rome apple trees benefit from aggressive pruning. While it can seem counter-intuitive to chop off fruit-bearing trees, your grit will be rewarded with increased yields and improved tree health in following seasons. Because Rome apple trees produce such large crops, failure to prune set your tree up to break under the weight of a big crop on a poorly managed canopy.
Failure to properly prune your fruit trees can lead to needless breakage from inclement weather and can promote the growth of molds and fungi due to decreased air circulation in the canopy.
Rome apples are far from the only good baking apple nowadays. Thanks to the professional apple breeding programs across the world, we no longer rely on a chance seedling to create a good apple. Instead, botanists intentionally graft and cross-pollinate trees to give us different apply varieties with specific desirable traits. Other cooking apples that maintain their form and provide a sweet, tart taste are the honeycrisp and pink lady.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many types of apples were there when the Rome apple was found?
Botanists estimate that there were about 14,000 types of apples in North America in the 1800s! Apples are native to North America, but today’s consumer would not recognize many of those now-extinct types of apples. Some apples were rough and bumpy, some were shaped like potatoes, some were tiny like cherries, and others were huge like grapefruits!
For how long will Rome apples keep?
Red Rome apples will last 3-5 months in cold storage. Remember to keep them in your crisper on the vegetable setting to maintain enough humidity to prevent the skin from shriveling. Do not wash the apples until you are ready to eat. Apples kept at room temperature age much more quickly than those stored in the refrigerator.