Wednesday, October 5, 2011

loo loo loo

Without a doubt the best thing about this time of year in New England, the saving remnant, is the apples.


Off to the side: Swiss Gourmet.

On the plate, the large apple is Albemarle Pippin; the balancing act is Esopus Spitzenberg; hiding the back is something that was labeled as a Roxbury Russet but looks the same as what I know as a Golden Russet (and I have had Roxbury Russets that were red and green, not golden) - either way, one of my favorites; four o'clock is an Ashmead's Kernel, and at six o'clock is a Blue Permain, which I am now eating. It's crunchy and quite tannic, but otherwise tastes a lot like a Golden Delicious.

Modern apple varieties like you get in the supermarket are not very good.

They're very good at what they were made to do: like supermarket tomato varieties, they have been developed to travel long distances in crates without bruising or becoming too soft, to be sweet, to be bright, to be colorful, to be shiny, to avoid russeting (rough brown patches on the skin), to weather the weather and the insects, and to produce a good bit of fruit per tree.

And that's fine. It's also why Kimballs charges eighty cents a pound more for the heirloom varieties - they're often small, often less productive trees, and there's more waste when insects or diseases like cedar apple rust, fire blight, or powdery mildew claim some of the crop. Northern Spy, one of my favorite apples, doesn't produce any fruit until it's nearly a decade old, and doesn't produce it every year. That's a hard crop to profit from when you have Honeycrisp.

But flavor is not on that checklist. (Flavor gets added to the checklist when Big Aggro tosses funding at a few Midwest faculty members and grad students and says, generate some apple patents for us.) And with the exception of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Zestar, supermarket varieties have almost no textural interest at all.

Not all older varieties are better. And some of them were grown for making cider, or baking with a lot of sugar - two hundred years ago, nobody was eating them raw.

But a lot of them are especially tart, or juicy, or crunchy - I love crunchy, not just crisp but crunchy, which you never get from supermarket apples - and if they're not pretty in a bright red apple for the teacher's desk sort of way, they can still be pretty stunning.

More than anything, you just get more variety of flavor and texture when you can buy from actual apple growers.

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