Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lady Alice **

To my surprise and pleasure, there's a new variety to try. In March.

I am holding a medium-sized apple with an orange-red blush over yellow that is tinted with a little green. There are darker red streaks in the wash of the blush, and tiny dark lenticels that are widely spaced.

The fruit is well-formed, slightly ribbed, and firm. There's a little russet in the stem well and the calyx is loosely closed. Her faint sweet aroma suggests both apples and pears.

Lady Alice's light-yellow flesh is more fine-grained than coarse, and hard, crunching off in satisfying juicy chunks.

Alice is quite sweet, with a little redeeming tartness. As is sometimes the case with sugary apples, the initial taste impression changes as the sweetness overwhelms some of the more delicate flavors. Alice starts out with cane sugar and a hint of honey with lemon or perhaps pineapple, balanced by a suggestion of Wickson's malt and Golden Delicious's low vegetable note.

The malt asserts itself, and the citrus fades, after a few bites as the sweetness really takes over.

Although I wish she were not quite so sugary, Lady Alice provides a very agreeable mix of flavors and her crisp hard crunch is especially rewarding. I immediately regretted that I did not pack two.

Alice was a foundling, a chance seedling that rivals any product of an organized breeding program. But her story is a little unusual.

According to the Rainier Fruit Company, which owns rights to the fruit,

While cultivating the neglected orchard in 1979, a plow disc hit the base of a Red Delicious tree injuring its trunk. The damage tree sent out a new shoot. The new shoot had a decidedly different appearance from the rest of the tree so the chance seedling shoot was allowed to grow and bear fruit.

Rainier goes on to say, "Since the new tree was discovered in an orchard with many different varieties of apple trees scattered throughout, its parentage is unknown."

Well yes, but if the plow-disc story is true, Lady Alice is not a by-blow from any of those trees. Since physical trauma does not, as far as I know, produce genetic mutation, this sounds to me as though we are happily tasting the fruit of the root stock to which the Delicious apples were grafted. (Or perhaps one of my learned colleagues will set me straight and explain the real story.)

No one looks to root stock as a source for new varieties, so I guess the apple gods were smiling on us the day this happened.

Rainier is the sole marketer of these apples, which is in short supply. The orchard says they will only be available in March for now. Availability will grow if Alice catches on.

I don't have enough of these to try, but Alice has qualities that recommend it as all all-purpose apple. She is hard enough, probably, to stand up in pies and tarts. Cut, she does not seem to turn brown, so like slow-oxidizing Cortland she would be a good choice for salads. She's great for dessert, and with all that sugar and interesting flavors I'd just love to try some hard Alice cider.

Because Alice is so crisp and fresh in March, I guess she must be starchy when harvested in the late fall, all that starch turning to sugar over the winter. Buy a bag of these this month if you are lucky enough to see them. I went back for more but came away empty handed--until next year.

27 comments:

  1. Interesting serindipity (sp?), I came home yesterday to find that my wife had bought three of these Alices. I haven't tried any yet, but will today!

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  2. Alice is on the hard side, von K, though not dense like Arkansas Black or Blue Pearmain.

    So given your tastes I wonder what you think of this one.

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  3. Yeah, a little hard on the tooth for me to really appreciate. Oh well, Ambrosias are back on the shelf!

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  4. You are lucky to have Ambrosia, and this person, who posted yesterday, is lucky to have Pacific Rose.

    March isn't turning out as bad as I'd thought, but choices are getting a bit thin on the ground here in New England.

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  5. I know the man whose orchard this was found in and then sold the rights to Rainer. According to him it was indeed a root sprout, so it would have been a chance seedling with no way of knowing what the parents were.

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  6. Whitapple, I wonder if he grew his own rootstock from seed, and how many other growers do so.

    Potentially a whole untapped world of biodiversity in rootstock, I suppose.

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  7. My wife and I tried a Lady Alice I bought at our local grocer earlier this week. I peeled this apple as we were using this in an apple tart we were making. The apple was hard to peel. It was hard like a potato. I always cut my apples prior to eating but I can imagine that this might be a tough apple to eat straight out of hand for some folks due to it's hardness. It's flavor was difficult to determine. The flavors I got were sasparilla on the front side and a melon flavor on the back side. My wife got one distinct flavor of white chocolate from the apple however as a disclaimer my palate was cleansed by water and her's by some red wine.

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  8. Matt, thanks to you and your wife for sharing these tastes and observations. I was unable to find these this year, alas.

    How did it work out in the tart? Or are you describing the flavors after cooking?

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  9. The tart was great - we had some Idareds and another apple I believe it was a Jonathan or Rome in there too. It was hard to tell the individual flavors since the apples were mixed in the tart but all of them stood up well and kept their form with some bite.

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  10. I stopped by our local grocery store yesterday and to my surprise we had in addition to the current selections of Opal, Sonya and Jazz....the Lady Alice. I just finished the first one of the year for me. It was rather juicy and not as dense as I remember from last year. It was sweet and pretty bland overall - although an upgrade from a regular Red Delish. This apple to me would be great only if it were to completly replace the Red Delish. I probably won't buy anymore of these as there are too many other good apples out there to be eaten this time of year for my taste buds. Try an Opal, Jazz or Sonya as these are all better apples in my opinion. But as apples go, we are all different so try one of these if you can and make up your own mind.

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    1. I also got some of these yesterday, but while the flavors were disappointingly muted the texture was crisp and dense.

      There are two possible explanations for this disappointing showing that relate to storage and handling.

      The first is that lady Alice needs time in storage for its flavors to develop, according to the grower, and this is about a month too early.

      The second is that some storage techniques can dial back flavor. To the extent this is the problem the flavors should return after a few days of regular storage.

      So I don't blame you for preferring something else (note that I found Sonya uninspiring), but if you see Alice next month you might take a second bite.

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  11. I have yet to try the Sonya this year. I recall tasting the Lady Alice later in the season last year and they has some nice aromatics. I do think they are too early at this point.

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  12. I just tried a Lady Alice earlier this afternoon and was surprised to discover that it was extremely bitter! This didn't fit its description at all! Was it a bad apple, or what?

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    1. All I can think is, Did you wash it well? In case there was something on the peel. Or the knife you cut it with, if you did.

      I haven't had enough of these to make broad pronouncements, but nobody likes a bitter apple. So I wonder if it got contaminated with something. Sounds unpleasant!

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  13. I had one of these for the first time today, and it was terrible, with a chemical taste. I'm surprised to see so many people like them - I'll assume I got a bad batch. I've got 3 more at home and I think I'm just going to chuck them into the woods.

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    1. Okay, second report of bad Alice. What is going on here?

      I wonder if you live near Anonymous No. 1, above, so that your apples passed though the same distribution chain. Same truckload, for instance.

      I'd be tempted to save one of these bad girls, refrigerated in a paper bag, until late March, then wash really well and see what the story is.

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  14. I had the wonderful surprise of discovering the Lady Alice last spring at my local "Canadian Superstore" in Calgary AB. I ususally prefer to purchase on ly Canadian grown fruit - however the unfamiliar variety looked so tempting I couldn't resist! I was hooked instantly and eagerly searched them out again only to find a few weeks later they were no longer available. Now I know why! So disappointing to hear no one grows them up here (yet!!) - although the UBC Apple festival has over sixty varieties - so I can't sneak any home from WA.:( I will be eagerly waiting for them to make their appearance here again in the spring!Hopefully sometime soon Rainier will share the growing rights... else we'll just have to smuggle in some seeds....

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  15. This apple is sometimes VERY reminiscent of Golden Delicious in both taste and texture. Given that it was from a rootstock, I wouldn't be surprised if it was seedling rootstock that somebody grew from some GD seeds. The other parent? Well, GD is known to be at least partially fertile--maybe a selfing of GD?

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    1. @mschmidth: I very much appreciate your observations, but I have to say that for my part the resemblance to Golden Delicious completely eludes me.

      They are still available here in mid April. In contrast to those of February these show off many of Lady A's finer qualities.

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    2. Well, I may have been hallucinating. Or maybe it depends on where and how they're grown and stored.

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    3. In matters of taste your experience is at least as good as mine! These travel far, and pass though many hands, to reach me.

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  16. I LOVE them. The best apple I have had in years. I cant wait till I can grow them myself.

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  17. I would have never thought that I would pay $3.00 a pound for apple but I figure I'd give this one a try now I'm hooked on them.

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    1. I look for these every spring. But I still feel February is too early for these gems.

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  18. They taste great in Seattle right now and only $2/lb. Maybe I'll they'll be even better in March?

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    1. I just bought one with low expectations (it being February) and it was not bad at all.

      I don't know if Rainier is handling these differently this year or what. They are still not at peak, but will not say no. Going to get a few more.

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  19. I just happily discovered Lady Alice apples yesterday in the Super Walmart in Carson City, Nevada. Wow, I love them. In fact, Lady Alice may be my new "favorite apple."

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