Sponselli is the hardest, most dense-fleshed golden variety we’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s the hardest variety we’ve seen of any color. At its proper picking time (early September) it can be so hard you can hardly get the first bite off of it without sustaining some minor injury to your mouth! It’s unreasonably hard. And it has good flavor when it’s that hard. It tastes kind of like a honeydew melon. Kind of an understated, nice flavor. Certainly not overpowering.
We know that hard apples aren’t for everyone. Some people love hard apples and some people like mushy apples, but usually a person who likes one extreme doesn’t like the other. And all the brag we put on, about how hard Sponselli apples are, is not done to offend anyone who likes a more moderate texture. It’s just that this is the extreme, and there are people (like me!) who are extreme. And my statement to hard apple lovers is this: It is unnecessary to look for a harder apple. This is it.
The features I love about the Sponselli apple, beyond that dense, fine-textured crispness are many. I love the unusually tight, multi-puckered calyx. I love how the skin is nearly transparent at harvest time, and how ultra-glossy it feels. I love how the apples glow on the tree, possessing a fluorescent yellow highlighted by a fluorescent pink, hanging out in the open, on display, hidden only minimally by leaves. I love the tropical, alluring look of the Sponselli tree laden with its large globes. Each tree is a postcard you should send to folks far away, saying “Greetings! These are real! We ate some!”
We almost lost Sponselli altogether. The original tree died soon after we topworked five random escaped rootstock trees to Sponselli. That meant that the only living tissue of Sponselli in the world was surviving only on those cleft-grafted trees, each having just two scions with two buds each. So there were twenty living buds. All of them grew, but, after several years, we discovered there was only one graft surviving. We cut all of the possible budwood from that survivor, knowing that it may not survive the winter after the taking of the budwood, which is done in mid-August. We thought it was worth the risk, knowing its peers had already perished. It didn’t bud out the following spring. It was dead. But we had sent the budwood to a nursery to propagate as many Sponselli trees as possible with the little bit of material that the surviving graft had provided. The nursery was able to start 140 trees, which we planted two springs after cutting the budwood. They’ve done very well, and, using them as source trees, we’ve propagated two more plantings.
Wow! Some story. We had this great apple and almost lost it twice. What were we thinking? Well, we were busy running an orchard, and the developments take years. Often there is very little fruit from which to base any judgment, so we’re not at all sure of what it is we’re trying to protect. In the case of Sponselli, we were aware that it was a really hard yellow apple. But when we planted the 140 maiden trees, that’s about all we knew. It was only after those trees started producing that we re-discovered and confirmed what it was that had gotten our attention years earlier. There are many times when favorable early impressions aren’t borne out. In this case, they were. So Sponselli is a success story that nearly wasn’t.