Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reine de Reinettes (King of the Pippins) ***

This apple's name means--oh wait, no it doesn't. (And shouldn't that be des Reinettes?)

Etymological questions aside, I have two of these, both on the small side of large, round, slightly oblate, with the merest hint of ribbing.

Both have significant russeting on the unblushed peel, which is a muted green-yellow.

The pair blush differently, however. The main photo shows a cheerful red tinged with orange and mottled with russet; russeted lenticels are large. The other's blush is darker and more saturated, and some of the russet on the blush, in the lenticels and elsewhere, is black.

Both are quite firm and smell sweetly of grass and yeast, tokens of the surface flora. Okay, bite.

Wow. What a wonderfully complex apple. Reine de Reinettes has medium-grained white flesh and a tender crunch. Its flavors are rich and intricate against a balanced backdrop enlivened by considerable tart.

There are lush orange and bergamot (my wife says lemon) notes. Something a bit more tropical--Mango? Melon?--is overwhelmed by the citric trend. Perhaps it is the distinct plum flavor I find in the second sample, along with some lemon. There is some very faint vanilla in the finish.

All of these flavors linger on the palate long after the last bite is done. A wonderfully satisfying apple, high flavored after the manner of Ribston and Cox.

This queen is a classic French variety but seems to have originated in Holland. Here is a charming story (and recipe) about this apple. (And look, it is "des Reinettes," seemingly, in French.)

Digression alert: "Reine" of course is French for "Queen," but "reinette" is not "little queen" or "princess" and this fruit is not their sovereign. Some think that reinette means small frog.

Second example
In the apple sense reinette seems to correspond to "pippin," an apple grown from seed, not grafted. (This is an equally puzzling distinction, however; isn't every variety originally a pippin? My Reinettes were grafts!)

In that sense "King of the Pippins," as this variety is known in Great Britain, is a reasonable Anglicization (given the sex change; what does that say about the cultural differences between England and France?). One old source, however, gives exactly the opposite meaning.

Beech, in Apples of New York, details the frog theory and also quotes an even older pomologist to the effect that Reinette is a particular French appelation for apples with certain fine qualities, for instance "fine-grained, delicate, crisp, firm flesh."

The "reinette"-named apples I've tried have had many of these great qualities. Little queens, or froglets, all.

21 comments:

  1. YEA! YEA! YEAAA! You have just reviewed the apple that I've been searching for, desperately, for five years -asking at every orchard I've visited, every farmer's market stall. I had two bites of this apple at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, fell in love. Asked it's name, hadn't seen it since.

    Thank you, Adam. You are officially my apple-hero.

    Now that I've got the name, all I need to do is find the apples, somewhere.

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    1. Same experience as you at that festival, and they set me up with a produce bag full as they were closing on Sunday afternoon. I do not understand why anyone grows anything else for anything other than economic reasons or laziness, but there is a tree in a SW suburb of Boston that comes close and achieves it's pinnacle in late November, when much else is past. Perhaps we can put something together, as this tree is very productive and there's only so much my friend and I are inclined to eat or process

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    2. Scott Farm, Brattleboro, Vermont. Orchardist Ezekiel Goodband (I kid you not) is wonderfully informative and their stand has an amazing variety of heirloom apple varieties, including Reine de Reinettes and the repulsive looking but delicious Knobbed Russet. Go there. Now.

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    3. Scott Farm is a great recommendation, anonymous apple person. In fact, the Reinette in my photo grew at Scott Farm (I bought it at a specialty store in Cambridge.)

      I hope to get up there some day.

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  2. @Library, you're very welcome and have made my day.

    Please do let us know if you find a local source for these great apples. I'd love to get more next year, they really are marvelous.

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  3. If you are looking for this variety, then i am fairly sure you can get it from Ron and Suzanne Joyner at Big Horse Creek Farm in Ashe County NC. E-mail them on Oldapple@bighorsecreekfarm.com these guys are really helpful and have a heap of knowledge. They have this variety in their home orchard

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  4. Different years, different results. Our King of the Pippins was one of the first trees in our orchard to bear fruit, so I have a special fondness for it. That first year, I thought it had a special, pleasing flavor. The next year, in a small taste testing with some friends, it finished last among five apple varieties. Last year I was agreeably surprised with its complex and satisfying flavor. None this year, as we too were hit hard by the early heat and late frost, and only got apples off half a dozen trees.

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    1. John, I guess consistency is another dimension of apple quality. I admit to not taking that into account in my new-fangled rating system.

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  5. Scott Farm in Vermont grows these! I tasted them there fall of 2012.

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    1. Aren't they great? Though there does seem to be considerable variation in quality by harvest.

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  6. Anyone know where I might find a Reine de Reinettes (King of the Pippins) tree for my yard?

    Cheers,

    Ryan
    ryan.sackman@gmail.com

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  7. It is interesting that the French seem to specify Calville Blanc d'Hiver OR Reine des Reinettes for their tartes, and yet you give them very different reviews. You seem to dismiss Calville as better suited for cooking, whereas you are raving about Reine des Reinettes as a dessert apple. In reading your review about the Calville Blanc, however, I can't quite figure out what makes it better as a cooker than an eater. I am not picking nits here, but am wondering which of these apples to experiment with here in Southern California. (Neither of them has been shown to do well here by Kevin Hauser, SoCal apple expert, but neither seems to have been tested by him, either.)

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    1. I do try to acknowledge the culinary qualities of apples such as Calville Blanche, but for the most part based on reputation not experience.

      On the other hand, my rating of Calville's eating qualities is based on eating them.

      By the way I don't "dismiss" cooking apples, it's just that I only evaluate them, in any sort of systematic way, for eating. (I have baked with Calville and found it excellent, but I can't critically appraise it versus other apples because I do not bake much.)

      Good luck with the SoCal thing. Kevin H might have some ideas for you, have you asked him?

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    2. Yes, I actually have 7 benchgrafts from Hauser growing in my yard--now I am just trying to figure out which other apples to graft to those seven once their big enough! I have King David, Belle de Boskoop, Sierra Beauty, Wickson, Arkansas Black and Lady Williams, and Kerr Crab.

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  8. I think that "Reine de [not "des"] Reinettes makes perfectly good sense. We say "King of kings", not "King of the kings", don't we?

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    1. Vous avez le droit, I guess; I'm just not able to know what is right in French based on English usage.

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  9. Scott Farm in Dummerston VT (right near Brattleboro) is a good source of Reine de Reinettes. A few years ago, local Whole Foods stores carried 4 of Scott Farm's heirloom apples (I think through another distributor), but the apples were poorly labeled--some mixed up--and no additional information or samples to tell people what the apples were like. After getting one store's produce assistants to swap labels around I got him to cut open and taste one Reine de Reinettes. He couldn't believe the intense flavor. Sadly, Whole Foods didn't sell many (no consumer education) and seems to have stopped carrying them.

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    1. The Scott Farm is an incredible resource for heirloom apple varieties. Zeke Goodband (no, really, his name is Ezekiel Goodband!) apparently wanders through abandoned orchards and brings back cuttings of strange-but-true apples. This year I found, for the first time, a REALLY strange looking but delicious apple called the Knobbed Russet. It looks like one of those apples you'd skip because it's obviously been infected by Ebola, SARS, AIDS, Swine Flu, shingles, and the Gleet. (It's UGLY.) But it is amazingly delicious. Go to Brattleboro soon; you won't regret it.

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  10. Northwest Cider Supply has RdR whips (teeny-tiny trees with no branches) for sale if you're willing to wait a few years for fruit.

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  11. Reine means Queen not King

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