Friday, October 23, 2009

A fresh Empire

Available nearly year round, this durable variety is a personal mainstay in the winter and spring, when they are shipped from controlled-atmosphere storage to the supermarkets.

I've already reviewed Empire, but since I eat so many of these felt I should, for once, try one fresh from the orchard.

That's the story of today's apple: the grower picked it, put it in a wooden bin with its brothers, and drove it to Arlington's farmer's market on October 7. I bought it and ate it, as follows.

This handsome large medium apple has a deep and glossy red finish, streaky on the shade side of the fruit. It is firm and modestly ribbed with small light lenticels.

My Empire's flesh is fine-grained, white with a light yellow tint, and very firm. It is crisp and juicy, though the crunch is just a tad soft. The sweet-tart balance is very good, more tart than that of Spartan, another McIntosh offspring that it in some respects resembles. Against this backdrop are some vinous notes with berries and (maybe) some spice.

There is also a tart accent that I do not remember from the supermarket samples, and a nice astringent finish. Otherwise Empire changes very little from tree to storage to retail six months later.

I wrote the above without referring to my previous Empire review. Except for the tart accent and suggestion of spice (which might just be the tart talking), it is identical, evidence of the durable consistency of this variety. Appearance, texture, taste, vinous, berries; check, check, check.

I value this variety very much for what it provides in winter and spring, but find it is less appealing than Macoun or McIntosh, which are at peak in early October, when Empire is picked. If you like this variety, you might also try the slightly sweeter Spartan.

So: This description is a footnote to, not a replacement of, the earlier review, which retains the primary "apple review" tag because most Empires are eaten after storage. Not that there is much difference.

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