The “Bronx Seedless” grape (or “Bronx Grape") was named in 1936-1937 and was developed by Dr. A. B. (Arlow) Stout of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, NY. The grape was developed in conjunction with the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, of Cornell University at Geneva, NY.
The Bronx grape is said to have a superior taste, somewhat like a berry. However, because the grape is fragile and is difficult to both grow and transport, the Bronx grape has long been deemed a failure. John Lagier grew the Bronx Seedless in San Francisco (CA) and sold it at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Alice Waters, owner of the Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, used the Bronx Seedless in her dishes and helped make the once-obscure Bronx Seedless regionally popular in the San Francisco Bay area.
The Bronx Seedless grape is almost unknown today in the Bronx, NY.
Cornell-Geneva NYS Agricultural Experiment Station
The ‘Bronx Seedless’ Grape:
An early success from the Cornell-Geneva and New York Botanical Garden
Grape Breeding Project
Table grape breeding began at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in 1888, and a breeding project to develop seedless table grapes began in 1919. This project started as a cooperative venture between the Station and the New York Botanical Gardens. Bronx, NY. The project leader was Dr. A.B. Stout of the Botanical Gardens. He directed the project from 1919 until his retirement in 1948. The first grape named was called ‘Stout Seedless’ and the second grape was the ‘Bronx Seedless’. The cross was made in 1925 and 68 seedlings were raised. ‘Bronx Seedless’ was selected from among these 68 seedlings in 1931 and officially named in 1937.
In the eastern United States, the ‘Bronx Seedless’ grape is not an ideal choice. Though noted for good flavor and fruit quality along with large attractive clusters of pink seedless berries, the vine is susceptible to fungal diseases, fruit cracking, and cold damage following most winters in Geneva. Though it never did well in the east, it appears to have a following in western states, where it can sometimes be found for sale at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmer’s market in the month of August. Nursery catalogs continue to carry the ‘Bronx Seedless’ grape.
(Photo of ‘Bronx Seedless’ at right was scanned from: Stout, A.B., “Seedlessness in Grapes”, Technical Bulletin no. 238, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, January 1936.)
The New York Botanical Garden
About the Garden
The New York Botanical Garden is a museum of plants, an educational institution, and a scientific research organization. Founded in 1891 and now a National Historic Landmark, it is one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world and the largest in any city in the United States, distinguished by the beauty of its diverse landscape and extensive collections and gardens, as well as by the scope and excellence of its programs in horticulture, education, and science.
The Botanical Garden’s curated living collections contain more than 1 million plants; its Continuing Education program is the largest and most diverse of any botanical garden in the world; its Children’s Education program has been a pioneer in innovative, informal science discovery facilities and activities; and its scientific research on plants and fungi is unmatched in scope, depth, and authority.
The Garden’s resources are as exceptional as its programs. They include the most important botanical and horticultural library in the world and an herbarium that is the fourth largest in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The greenhouses are the most sophisticated behind-the-scenes facility at any botanical garden in the United States, and the conservatory—a New York City Landmark—is the largest Victorian-era glasshouse in America.
The Garden also offers a sweeping 250-acre landscape, 50 curated display gardens, an expansive 50-acre native Forest, and a wealth of programs, exhibitions, and activities for visitors to enjoy. The grounds display masterpieces, some dating to the 1840s, by many of the nation’s most accomplished architects and designers, both past and contemporary. The Botanical Garden’s innovative programs, unparalleled resources, and talented staff are rivaled by few and exceeded by none.
Slow Food USA
In 1933 at the Cornell Biological Field Station in Geneva, New York, the Concord crape and the Thompson grape where mixed to for the Bronx Grape. The Bronx has the robust flavor of the Concord grape and the texture of the Thompson grape.
As the Bronx ripen, they change from slightly tart, firm, pale green grapes to a grape with a honey-like taste, delicate skin and a rosy pink color. A ripe Bronx Grape has a light, musty and floral perfume. The grapes are highly vulnerable to splitting while is transit, as their thin skins fracture with even the slightest piercing making the Bronx Grape very limited in production.
Currently only two mother vines exist. John Lagier, of Lagier Ranches, is the only producer in California to have obtained cuttings of the original Bronx grapevines. Lagier grows organic Bronx grapes on his vineyard in Northern California and sells the grapes at San Francisco Bay Area farmers’ markets.
Journal of the New York Botanical Garden
By New York Botanical Garden
Item notes: v. 37
... in this number of the JOURNAL illustrates a cluster of the fruit borne by a new hardy seedless grape which has been named the BRONX SEEDLESS GRAPE.
Technical Bulletin ...
By New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
Item notes: v. 238-251
This seedling has been named Bronx Seedless.
By John Michels, American Association for the Advancement of Science, HighWire Press, JSTOR (Organization)
Published by American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1936
Item notes: v. 83
THE New York State Experiment Station at Geneva, cooperating with the New York Botanic Garden, announces the development of a new seedless grape which has been named “Bronx Seedless.”
Report on the Agricultural Experiment Stations
By United States. Office of Experiment Stations
Published by Govt. print. off., 1929 (The correct year appears to be 1936 or 1937—ed.)
Bronx Seedless was the name given a new hardy seedless grape developed jointly by the New York State Station and the New York Botanical Garden as an ...
22 August 1937, New York (NY) Times, “Fruits and Vegetables Now Made to Order; To Supply the Family Table the Breeder Has Improved Them in Contour, Color and Flavor” by Edna Morgan, pg. SM18:
Word comes of a Bronx Seedless grape being developed by Dr. A. B. Stout of the New York Botanical Garden, in cooperation with the New York Agricultural Experiment Station;...
22 January 1950, New York (NY) Times, “New Fruits for the Small Orchard” by George Haeglj, pg. 104:
Bronx Seedless is a new red grape in this class and ripens in September. It is said to have excellent quality and good-sized fruits have a crisp flesh.
By New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
Published by Agricultural Experiment Station, 1960
Item notes: nos. 787-799
Bronx Seedless was introduced in 1937 and it is herein described.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Fruit: Bronx Grapes
The Produce Market at Market Hall has Bronx grapes in for 4.59 a pound. Don’t know much about them, the chronicle describes them as an “obscure hybrid”:
Considered by some to be the Rolls Royce of table grapes, this rare hybrid is grown by Lagier Ranches in the Ripon area. It has a reddish- gray color, silken texture and muscat-like flavor.
We first had them at Chez Panisse a couple of Fridays ago. They served a cluster of the grapes along side two figs and a peach. The flavor was intense, almost berry-like.
The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market Cookbook:
A Comprehensive Guide to Impeccable Produce Plus 130 Seasonal Recipes
By Christopher Hirsheimer, Peggy Knickerbocker
Photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer
Contributor Christopher Hirsheimer
San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books
Lots of different table-grape varieties show up at the Ferry Plaza market, but John Lagier’s Bronx Seedless is legendary. (There is some irony that arguably the best table grape grown in California is named the Bronx Seedless.)
“My Dad was a grape grower,” says Lagier. “He grew wine grapes commercially. When I left home I wanted to be a farmer, too, so I started out managing a ten-acre farm for a guy who worked in the Silicon Valley. That farm was a botanical Garden of Eden. The owner was from the East Coast, and so we grew a table-grape variety developed at Cornell in New York State—the Bronx Seedless. I loved those grapes, so I took cuttings and propagated vines for my own farm.”
Renewing America’s Food Traditions:
Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods
By Gary Paul Nabhan, Makale Faber, Deborah Madison, Ashley Rood
Published by Chelsea Green Publishing
Bronx Seedless Grape
The admirable traits of the Bronx Seedless were brought together in one grape by Dr. Arlow Stout of the New York Botanical Gardens, in partnership with the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.
Bred for taste and texture more than for high production, uniformity, and the ability to withstand long-distance shipping, the Bronx Seedless is what some might call a twentieth-century anachronism. The texture of the Bronx Seedless is bot ha blessing and a curse, for its juicy flesh and extremely thin skin make it prone to cracking under high summer heat or the most ordinary of afternoon rains. No wonder it has had a difficult time holding its own in a dog-eat-dog world focused on transportability more than taste.
San Francisco Chronicle
Seasonal Cook: Short-lived Concord grapes elevate humble pie
Carol Ness, Special to The Chronicle
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
My favorites of the season are the Bronx grapes grown by John Lagier out in Escalon and sold at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. These grapes, a Concord-Thompson hybrid developed at Cornell, are small and delicate and have a delightfully complex flavor - like the Concords, a delicious dessert on their own, with no crust or work required.
Alice Waters on 60 Minutes: Choose Grapes Over Nikes
Monday, March 16, 2009, by Amanda
If you missed slow food diva Alice Waters on 60 Minutes last night, have no fear: the full 12 minute piece is online.
All in, it’s a bit of a snooze: they touch upon her suggestions for the White House, the Slow Food festival in SF, her children’s gardening program, the accusations of elitism and self-righteousness, and the reality of Americans buying “luxury” food during a recession. The real highlight is the visit to Waters’ kitchen, where (shock!) she does not have a microwave and (hilarious!) she cooks her farm fresh eggs in a roaring fireplace. And there’s this comment of course:
“We make decisions every day about we we’re going to eat. And some people want to buy Nikes, two pairs. And other people want to eat Bronx grapes and nourish themselves.”