Thursday, October 30, 2008

Have a bite

These Apples are, of course, only a personal labor of love published on that greatest of all vanity presses, the internet. I'm pleasing myself--and creating an opinionated catalog of apple varieties.

If I also please you, that pleases me too. I know I have readers by the web logs of this site (no personal data about you, have no fear).

If you've wandered here and are surprised or informed or amused, please leave a comment, here or in response to any post.

If you have a favorite orchard or apple, or you've sampled these apples and have your own tasting notes, memories, stories, or links, I hope you will share them.

Here's to Autumn in New England, to you, and to the pomaceous fruit!

Update: Here's a quick tour of the site.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Things are winding down

Today was the last farmers market in Arlington until next summer. Lexington's was yesterday. Many of the same vendors will continue in Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston until Thanksgiving. Davis Square, I'll be there.

I took my bicycle out by several orchards over the weekend. Some were closed--picked out, owing in part to the exceptionally nice weather we have had on the weekends this fall. (No doubt my letter to the Boston Globe also had something to do with this.) Most others had their last pick-your-own day on Sunday.

Ozark Gold **

The well-known Golden Delicious lends its even flavor and pomocultural robustness to many offspring varieties, including today's apple.

Ozark Gold is a medium-large apple with light yellow skin that has a hint of translucency. My sample shows the gentle mark of the sun, a light rose blush in a few small patches. Tiny dark lenticels are red inside the blush. Its shape is generally round and more than a little cylindrical. There are a few small patches of tiny black stipples. The whole apple itself has a sweet fragrance.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Macoun Ages Gracefully

I waited--oh how I waited--when the first Macoun and McIntosh apples first appeared at the market in late summer.

I did not review these New England beauties then because the extra-tart, extra-acidic, not-quite-ripe early apples would not have been representative. You see, I eat to serve.

Instead I waited until maturity, tasting McIntosh at the very end of September and Macoun a week or so later.

Now at the end of October, these apples have changed further. Their color is deeper. Their flesh no longer has green highlights. They are less acid, and their flavors have melded.


Look at the beautiful deep red, almost purple, of this Macoun. The blush covers virtually all of the apple, and there is even a little dusty bloom almost reminiscent of that of a Blue Pearmain (a much larger and very different variety).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pomme Gris (Pomme Grise) **

So why isn't it "Pomme Grise?"

A classic, the first of the russets that I usually see around here, Pomme Gris is good for eating or cider.

A small apple, firm in the hand, the Gray Apple is more of a rusty brown suede, with variegated colors--green streaks and a rosy orange blush--peeping shyly through the gauzy russet. Its shape is irregular and I'm not sure whether to say it has a little ribbing or none.

The flesh is a creamy yellow and tender, medium coarse.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Apples on the Web: Vintage Virginia Apples

I am, alas, nowhere near the Rural Ridge Orchard in North Garden, Virginia. Fortunately that family farm not only grows but also has described many apple varieties at its web site, Vintage Virginia Apples.

Rural Ridge offers a lot to tempt both the grower and the enthusiast, including fruit (not just apples, but also peaches, quince, pears, and plums), seedlings, tasting events, and workshops about pomiculture. To this distant voyer, however, the main attraction is its thoughtful and evocative catalog of apple varieties, based substantially on Apples: A Catalog of International Varieties, by Tom Burford—which Vintage Virginia also sells.

This listing is indexed by use (cider, cooking, eating) and describes more than 100 American varieties.

Update: The web site has been reorganized to feature the orchard's cider venture, the Albemarle Cider Works.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Blue Pearmain *

Nor is it every apple I desire,
Nor that which pleases every palate best;
'T is not the lasting Deuxan I require,
Nor yet the red-cheeked Greening I request,
Nor that which first beshrewed the name of wife,
Nor that whose beauty caused the golden strife:
No, no! bring me an apple from the tree of life!

Thoreau asked for apples of the spirit, but many sources say that the Blue Pearmain was one of his earthly favorites.

This doughty apple gets its name from what many call a "deep blue bloom." I'd describe this as a dusty bluish coating over the blush, which is itself crimson with deep purple streaks. The "bloom" rubs off.

Many small light-brown lenticels freckle this handsome finish, which is also (to my mind) made even more striking by a touch of orange russet, mostly in and around the stem well. The fruit itself is ribbed and very firm in the hand, and--unbroken--smells sweet and grassy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The market explodes


We are now at peak season and the apples are getting wild. The extremely popular McIntosh and Macoun crop is nearly all harvested, though still available (and delicious), and they have no obvious late-season heir. (The Honeycrisps are similarly done.)

Instead, many different and colorful apples vie for attention. Today the three growers who sell at Arlington's farmers market are selling Brock, Cameo, Shamrock, Baldwin, Northen Spy, Empire, McIntosh, Fuji, Macoun, Golden Delicious, Splendor, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Roxbury Russet, Honeycrisp, Blushing Golden, Cortland, Jonagold, and Mutsu.

Compare that bounty to the summer or early fall.

Nodhead *

Another great name! Though apparently "Jewett Red" may sometimes be preferred.

Nodhead is roughly medium sized with pronounced ribs and a blush that runs from streaky (over greenish yellow) to crimson with deep purplish streaks (rather like the coloring of Blue Pearmain). The blush is accented with many small light lenticels.

The flesh is a tender coarse yellow and carries a good amount of juice. Nodhead is mild and mellow, not at all acid but also not overpoweringly sweet, and with enough range to be interesting. A mild old-style apple with cider and watermelon notes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Frankenfruit!

Today, gentle reader, step into my laboratory for a tale of science run amok. As related a few years ago in The Fruit Blog, two years before the accident at Three Mile Island researchers in Ohio decided that a little radiation might create a better Melrose.

Mutant apples? Oh right, like you've never thought of it.

Large amounts of scion wood was collected and sent to the Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus where the wood was exposed to radiation. Calls to radiation experts found that no one had a guide for how much radiation was necessary, so the scion wood was divided into three lots and exposed at a best guess rate and rates to either side of it.

The experiment was not a success:

Instead of “shaking up the genes” in an effort to find a beneficial mutation, we had fried the graft tissue.

Ouch.

But, dear reader, does sublime Science give up so easily? Nay, of course not--but to make a long story short

. . . so much for nearly 25 years of research. I use this as an object lesson for why there are fewer and fewer tree fruit breeding programs at our state universities. You are not guaranteed success, no matter how much time, effort, and resources you bring to the program.

The Fruit Blog leans towards serious growers but still has plenty of matter for amateurs like me. The above story is from John Schmid (whom I picture reminding us that mutations occur naturally all the time).


Friday, October 17, 2008

Ribston Pippin **

When I asked for some Cox's Orange Pippin at Gould Hill Orchard, the staff apologized and offered these. They are an introduction to a whole different cohort of apples, full flavored, dense, and complex.

Also know as Glory of York, this apple's story is summarized in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable as follows:

So called from Ribston, in Yorkshire, where Sir Henry Goodricke planted three pips, sent to him from Rouen, in Normandy. Two pips died, but from the third came all the Ribston apple-trees in England.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hubbardston Nonesuch (or Nonsuch) *

Don't you love that name! A real crotchety English apple name. A name for a Hobbit. It says, This apple has been around for a while and if ye don't like them apples then who asked ye?

Modern apples have names invented by marketing departments, like Gingergold and Zestar and Honeycrisp. Old apples have names that sound like a Morris dance tune or a craft beer. Hey ho, lad, get me some a that Auld Whistlin' Pete's Pegleg Stout Pearmain.

Hubbardston Nonesuch is an old apple named for the Massachusetts town (are those apples on the Town Seal?) where it was found in the early 19th century. I got this one at Gould Hill. It's on the large side, firm, classically shaped with some ribbing. The blush predominates and runs from orange-red to red over yellow-green. It is attractively freckled with light lenticels, and there is a little bit of russet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gould Hill Orchard

Gould Hill Apple Orchard, in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, is one of my all-time apple favorites. The selection of heirloom and other apples for sale around Columbus Day weekend is truly fabulous, including one variety that is exclusive to Gould Hill.

Besides the apples, Gould Hill presses its own cider and sells it unpasteurized, and offers sweeping panoramic views. There are no corn mazes or moon bounces or cider donuts, but there is an unusual small nature museum and guided nature trail.

The orchard also sells seedlings in the spring and, in the summer, peaches that a friend tells me are the best anywhere.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apples on the Web: All About Apples

Another ambitious site with lots of apple information, All About Apples seeks to be no less than "the premier internet site for the Apple Industry."

(Update: All About Apples merged with Orange Pippin in 2011 and as of 2012 nearly all links to AAA redirect to OP.)

Chief attractions here are hundreds of apple descriptions and a geographical catalog of orchards, which invites listings from growers. But there is also a bulletin board, a short list of articles of interest to orchardists, book reviews, and other bells and whistles.

Still, All About Apples feels a little like a labor of love that is on hiatus. Except for the bulletin boards, where people post question and, sometimes, answer about apple varieties and pomaculture, there doesn't seem to be any new content on the site since 2008.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Macoun ***

Ah, Macoun, lady fair! If McIntosh is the king of the New England apples, then Macoun, with its distinctive bouquet, is surely queen.

Macoun (pronounced "Ma-cow-an") is medium to medium-large and sports a red blush that runs from deep and purplish to streaky over bright green, freckled with small light tan lenticels. The fruit is ribbed--I've had three-lobed Macouns that boasted a triangular horizontal cross-section--but with considerable variation. The stem is short, which poses some problems for growers.

The flesh is a snowy white sometimes tinged with green, fine-grained, juicy, and very crisp. Macoun tastes wonderful--a nice sweet-tart balance with hints of strawberries, plus spice and floral notes.

The fruit's wine-like acidity swims thrillingly in the river of these flavors. Macoun's distinctive savor lingers like a cool drink and elevates this apple to the first rank. Eating one is a treat.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Melrouge*

I had read about Melrouge, a sport of Melrose, but I didn't expect to find any around here. Yet this week they were a few bins down from Melrose at farmers market.

This medium-large apple sports a partial crimson blush over yellow-green. Its large lenticels are light tan (greenish where the blush doesn't reach). It is moderately ribbed and firm in the hand.

My sample apple has a very deep stem well and what may be two kinds of russet--brown stripes in one area and little black stipples in another. The apple also has very dark red dimples in the blush, about 5 mm across. All in all, character rather than beauty.

Botany lesson

The Botanical Society of America has published this charming poster and, online, an annotated photo essay showing the development of an apple from bud to fruit.

Of course the illustrating apple would be the popular McIntosh.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Stayman **

Also known as Stayman Winesap, though the Winesap is a different (and even older) variety.

These run medium to large and have a deep red blush that is matte rather than glossy, freckled with light spots. The Stayman I am sampling today is on the large side and is oddly asymmetrical--from one angle its profile describes a rough parallelogram. It sits nice and firm in my hand.

The flesh is a creamy off-white, not as fine-grained as McIntosh and its offspring, crisp but yielding, and a little dense. You chew a bite of Stayman a bit longer.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Melrose

Today on our menu: Melrose.

This medium-large apple is firm and well-formed with slight ribbing, a little oblate. Note: The word for the day is lenticel, the name of those tiny freckles that decorate most apple varieties. Melrose's are largish (still small), light against a streaky red blush that covers green-yellow.

Its flesh is yellow, on the coarse side, very crisp, and juicy. Flavor uncomplicated and sweet, with pear notes. Pleasant, but there isn't nearly enough tartness or acidity to balance that sugar.

Melrose's crunch is fun. If you like sweet and simple, but Honeycrisp is a sugar lump too far, this might be your apple.

Although Melrose, a Jonathan-Delicious cross, has a light-and-sweet modern sensibility, it was introduced in the 1940s in Ohio. Some sources suggest that Melrose, a good keeper, grows more fragrant and flavorful a few weeks (or longer) after harvest.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Losing ground rejoinder

Today's Boston Globe includes my letter in response to last week's story about the decline of local orchards:

It's sad, and ironic, that local apple growers are losing ground to imports ("Local apple growers losing ground," Sept. 28).

The durable industrial apples from Washington or Chile are welcome in the spring, but why would anyone eat them during apple season in New England?

Besides the popular seasonal McIntosh and Macoun apples, many local orchards still grow wonderful heirlooms such as Jonathan, Baldwin, and Opalescent. Some are available nowhere else.

October is high season for apples, and there is no better time to visit an orchard, farm stand, or farmers' market to try some of these authentic--and singular--New England treats.

The Globe also echoed these sentiments in an editorial praising local apples:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Apples on the Web: Orange Pippin

Web searches for apple varieties often find a link to Orange Pippin, an ambitious and impressive web site that is all about apples.

The site includes an apple tree registry with the goal of charting "an international map of apple tree varieties;" anyone with a tree is invited to contribute. For lowly apple enthusiasts like me there is an index of apple varieties and descriptions; though some descriptions are short readers are invited to comment and share their own tasting notes (many have). Other descriptions provide a wealth of information.

Orange Pippin also provides articles about apples and orchards and a service where readers can help each other to identify apple trees. The site is based in the United Kingdom and provides a British perspective; it apparently is also a labor (or labour) of love, with no obvious commercial ties. An admirable and useful work that will always be a work in progress.

The site is named for Cox's Orange Pippin, an excellent dessert apple popular in Europe and much prized by the site's webmaster. They are not common on this side of the pond but I will get some this month if I can.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Honeycrisp *

Full disclosure: Honeycrisp makes my teeth hurt.

Lots of people like the sweet juicy guys, though, and you might too.

It's a handsome fruit, running medium-to-large, with a streaky red blush over yellow (to yellow-green). There's a little ribbing and some russet in the stem well, and spots that look light tan against the blush and a darker green where there is none. The surface is a little uneven, with minor pocks and swells, but the effect is not unattractive.

The flesh is firm, a crisp coarse yellow that holds a lot of juice. The flavor is super sweet with very little balancing tartness and negligible acidity; there are accents of pear and melon. Honeycrisp's flavor is simple, direct, and consistent from the beginning of the first bite to the end of the last.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A bumper crop of apple news

Today's Boston Globe strikes a cheerier note than Sunday's economic report: this year's wet weather has produced a great crop of apples.

Reporter Jesse Kimler writes,

Local orchardists are unanimous that this year's crop is not to be missed. One says the fruit is "bursting with juice."

The Globe also published a companion directory of area orchards, and on its web site is hosting a recorded interview (about 7 minutes) in which Northborough grower Mo Tougas (of Tougas Farms) is enthusiastic about the harvest.

McIntosh **

Perhaps the most famous, familiar, and popular of Northeastern apples. Available year-round, though quality varies. Also known as "Mac." They even named a computer after it (misspelling the name).

McIntosh is generally medium-sized and nearly perfectly round, though some show a little ribbing. Its attractive crimson blush can be streaky and is accented with light spots that are larger than most.

The flesh is fine-grained, juicy, and white, sometimes with green highlights. It is reasonably crisp and firm though yielding.

McIntosh's superb flavor is tart balanced with sweet, with some acidity and a mix of berry and spice. There are hints of melon and zinc, and the skin is on the chewy side.

The net effect is greater than the sum of the parts of this description. Some describe the result as vinous (as in wine). This is an immensely satisfying apple with a complex and appealing taste that lingers pleasingly. It is well worth seeking out in season and is often a good bet after the season is done.

Many sources agree the McIntosh was discovered by John McIntosh on his farm in Ontario in 1811. O, Canada! The Mac is the sire of many other varieties, including Macoun, Spencer, Empire, Spartan, and Cortland.