Thursday, November 5, 2009

Winesap **

This antique variety--more than 200 years old--is beloved, even legendary. It has a wonderful name, at once old (think Nodhead or Hubbardston Nonesuch) and new (Honeycrisp, Jazz).

I have never tasted one before, so you can imagine my keen interest.

I am holding a large, classically shaped apple with a red blush, both saturated and streaky, over yellow green, a little on the dull side. Light lenticels, mostly at the bottom, decorate the blush; they are barely visible elsewhere.

There's some ribbing and, on my sample, flyspeck. Its calyx is closed, but not tightly, and it sits firm in my hand, with a faint cidery aroma.

Biting into this apple for the first time reveals dense white flesh with a faint yellow cast, medium-fine grained and crunchy crisp. Winesap's flavor is surprisingly mild, neither tart nor sweet. Perhaps this why I am able to notice a nutty taste, though it is not a strong flavor.

There is a hint of vinous clarity and fruit flavors at the start of each bite, followed by a kind of roasted flavor that is almost savory--what the Japanese call umami. Finally the thick peel dominates the finish, emphasizing the darker, almost vegetable tastes.

After the finish a kind of savoriness remains. The wine in this Winesap is surely a hearty red.

At the same time, this is not at all a heavy apple. Indeed, the wonderful contrast between the crisp, McIntosh-like texture and these faint roast-grain flavors is one of the things that makes this a great and distinctive apple.

The name Winesap is from wine sop, bread dipped in wine.

My usual approach, as in this case, is to taste and describe an apple without reference to other descriptions. Only when I have written my impressions will I fire up the old search engine and see what else there is to know (always learning something).

That research led me to descriptions of Winesap that disagreed so markedly from my experience (and sometimes from each other) as to make me at least question the classification.

It does not help that there are other varieties with "Winesap" in the name, but I can say for certain that this is not the Stayman Winesap (also known as Stayman), which I reviewed last year and which has a different appearance and taste.

If you know a different Winesap--perhaps the medium-sized fruit with yellow flesh that is sometimes tinged with red--I would be interested in hearing from you about it.

In the mean time, I trust the grower who sold me this fruit under this name. I also note that the photographs of Winesap in the National Fruit Collection (UK) are a nearly perfect match for what I have. (And NFC says another name for Winesap is "Potpie Apple"--is that the savory quality I noticed?)

6 comments:

  1. I'm just starting a small home orchard (15 trees so far) in Tennessee and have some varieties of winesap. The only one that has produced so far (3 yr old semidwarf) is Kinnaird's Choice. I purchased these trees from Century Farm Orchards (link below). I have the original Winesap, the "Old fashioned" Winesap (Red Winter), Stayman, and a couple of other sons of winesap: Blacktwig, Arkansas Black, and Kinnaird’s Choice.
    I read your nice review of Ark Black - no matter how many I buy they never last long enough to mellow. Hard, as they say, as a rock.
    http://www.centuryfarmorchards.com/descripts/osapage3.html
    Mark

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  2. Mark, I am jealous of your Winesap collection.

    Century Farm Orchards has some nice photos at that link you provide. It really is marvelous to think of a whole different universe of apples prospering below the Mason-Dixon. Their Winesaps are here.

    Good luck with your orchard, and thanks for dropping by!

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  3. I have one tree of what I think is a Winesap on my place, and it fits your descrition perfectly. My father said that this place used to be an apple orchard when he was a boy (in the 1930's), so we have a lot of old apple trees on the property - some of them I have had to cut down, as they are deteriorating, and we had too many of them. This one in a good year produces a very good cider - we made about 30 gallons last Saturday, about 2/3rds of the apples we used came from this tree. The birds, including a pair of pileated woodpeckers, enjoy the ones that I can't get to!

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    1. Birds and apples have quite a history. The famous Baldwin apple was originally known as "Peckers" for the woodpeckers that worried the mother tree.

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  4. I concur with your take on the roasty undertones and vegetal zing in the skin. A friend has what I think is an old-style Winesap, and mature. It takes all afternoon to strip this tree. Even though I thin the fruit heavily in June most of the apples turn out to be medium-small. But the flavor! They keep in cellar until May, and keep shape when cooked: chunky apple sauce and fabulous pies/tarts. If I ever get a cider press...

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    1. I wish I had a few about now! Did not see any this year.

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