Friday, March 30, 2012

Lady Alice tasting notes from all over

Reports of disappointing examples of the Lady Alice apple began to trickle in mid February.

This new variety was really a treat last year, crisp with unusual flavors, and for sale in March.

One reader this year, writing February 13, called Alice bland. Another checked in with accounts of Alices that were bitter.

Coincidentally I also had bought four Lady Alice apples on February 12, fond memories of the previous year's Ladies foremost in my mind.

I too was disappointed. Lady's flavors were dialed way back, her wonderful malt notes utterly absent.

Some varieties don't reach peak flavor until they mature in storage. According to the Rainier Fruit Company, Alice has an extreme case of that. Do not eat, says Rainier, until March.

Meanwhile, back in February, another reader reported a "chemical taste" and pulled no punches:

It was terrible.... I've got 3 more at home and I think I'm just going to chuck them into the woods.

Well, I didn't go quite so far. Instead I put the rest of my Ladies in a bag in my refrigerator.

I'm glad I did, because now (note: Late March, right?) they are delicious.

While waiting in the back of my fridge, starches turned to sugars and flavors came back, though not quite as vibrantly as I remember from last year. One of them even had those unusual malt notes, if only faintly.

Also last week the Fruit Maven got ahold of Lady Alice and pronounced her good.

Rainier has an online fruit finder that locates these in supermarkets right now in various neighboring towns. I checked two of them this week and came a cropper: no Ladies in sight.

Did they sell them all in February? If so, what a waste! The folks who bought then probably said, Meh, never again.

Two things follow from this. First, as Rainier says, do not eat until March. Second, why are these even for sale in February? What's the point?

As for those bad bitter Alices, who knows?

Update: Suzanne Wolter of Rainier Fruit has replied with a lengthy and thoughtful explanation in the comments.

21 comments:

  1. I'm disappointed to learn you had a poor eating experience with our Lady Alice apple. I'm remiss to report I had the same experience earlier this week with a few I purchased while traveling, something I do regularly to see how our fruit is holding up through the distribution channel. I addressed this with our QC department upon my return to the office yesterday and today came across your posting so I felt compelled to address your concerns. We have many new trees in the ground and several different lots of Lady Alice shipping to market. We strive to ship only the best but there are a few clunkers and unless we cut them all we unfortunately will miss a few. We are tracking the characteristics of each lot and comparing farming practises, weather patterns, etc. to try and figure out how to grow each orchard identically. Additionally, young trees can be inconsistent, so as the trees mature we believe these inconsistencies will go away.

    Regarding our March release. When our supplies were much more limited we chose March as our go-to-market month because they store so well and the flavor does improve during storage. This year, our volume increased and we felt they were ready to release in February. Some apples take awhile to "wake up" once they come out of storage, Lady Alice may be one of them so we'll consider letting them breathe a little longer before shipping to market.

    We are very passionate about our farming and have a tremendous amount of sweat equity invested in Lady Alice apples. Although difficult to hear, we do appreciate your candid comments. Most of what we've heard, seen and read from Lady Alice fans has been positive so we hope you and your readers will experience the same in the future.

    Suzanne Wolter
    Director of Marketing
    Rainier Fruit Company

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    1. Suzanne, thank you for this detailed and informative reply.

      I remain a huge fan of this apple and was surprised to hear unhappy reports this year. I only wish I could find some for sale now.

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  2. If you're close to a Wegmans and Whole Foods, they may have some organic in the stores still. Suzanne

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  3. I found some at Whole Foods in Houston last week ... not bad, but kind of bitter.

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  4. I bought Lady Alice several times this year from Camas Produce and, not certain but I think Chuck's Produce. I was sorely, sorely disappointed in them. I thought it was just me so am gratified to find this excellent blog.

    Unfortunately I did not find them to be greatly better into April. I did pull one from my fridge after weeks of storage and it was worth eating, but nothing compared to the last couple of years.

    I much prefered Aurora's as the best I could come up with. (I really like Golden Russet if I can find them).

    Hopefully next year will be better. Please don't let Lady Alice go the route of Honeycrisp.

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    1. I hope Suzanne Wolter (above) from Rainier Fruit is reading these comments! Alice is a very fine variety if you get her right.

      I had an interesting experience just today eating a Jazz apple that was way before its time. It was from New Zealand, hence harvested recently, and really needed another few months to mellow out.

      It was not a disaster from my point of view, but super hard and sharply acidic. Not what most people like.

      I imagine that supermarkets order some of these varieties because they are popular or have a persuasive marketing, but then when the apples arrive they are naturally just put out on the floor, whether ready to eat or not.

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    2. Major bummer. It seems to suck again this year. I'm once again very disappointed. I guess I'll put the few pounds I bought yesterday from QFC into the fridge for a month and see if they come out worth eating.

      As it is, I much prefer Envy right now. They are extremely sweet, dense and crunchy but don't have the depth of flavor that Lady Alice used to.

      At this point I'm not sure I can remember what it was that I loved about Lady Alice the first couple of years that I had them.

      At least I no longer have to feel like I'm missing out on something by the patent restrictions preventing me from growing Lady Alice myself.

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  5. I just had a Lady Alice for the first time today and it was WONDERFUL!! now my favorite apple as I can't afford the Honey Crisps anymore... I hope that Lady Alice stay at a resonable rate. How long will they stay good in the fridge if I were to stock up on them now?

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    1. I am delighted to hear a positive report about this apple, which can be wonderful. I just had my first one of the year too.

      That experience just confirmed for me that mid-February is too early for this variety. There were no off notes, but Lady A just better in late March, with more intense and interesting flavors.

      It's a shame that Rainier Fruit, the sole grower of this variety, can't arrange to keep Alice off the shelves until then.

      This variety is not going to catch on if it's sold in February.

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    2. I bought two from a local Stop&Shop earlier this week, which were wonderful. They measured 16-16.5 brix and reminded me of an excellent Orleans Reinette tempered with a Fuji. I also detected a hint of Braeburn. I've seen that it was open pollinated, so I would guess that Fuji is one parent, due to the sweetness and how well it keeps. I would have guessed that Orleans Reinette is the second parent, except it just isn't that common an apple. Braeburn would seem to be a more likely candidate.

      Interestingly, I bought a larger quantity a few days later (I go fruit shopping often) from a different store (A&P). This batch seemed very different. While still crunchy and OK tasting, they lacked the strong flavor of the first batch. They also had lower brix, ranging from 13-14.5. I'll try storing a few of these to see if they improve.

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    3. Bob, Brix is sugar content, right? How do you check that?

      You make me want to be scientific.

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    4. Yes, brix equates to the sugar concentration (also called soluble solids). It is actually very easy to measure with a refractometer (you can find them on Amazon for ~$30). I got mine last year and have been using it on everything. Just take a tiny wedge from the apple and squeeze a few drops on the glass, then look through the eye-hole. The model I have measures from 0-30 and colors the bottom with white on a blue background. The place where the color changes from white to blue is the reading. Interestingly, the same apple can have different brix at different points. Often, the calyx end of the apple has the higher reading by 1-2 points. I've also seen higher readings in the blushed areas.

      I've noticed a real correlation between brix and how tasty the apple is. It's not a perfect relationship- I had a 11 brix Braeburn the other day that wasn't bad and a 15 brix Gala which was only OK. But normally, 16+ makes for a pretty good apple. A 14-16 which is still crunchy is usually pretty good. The only one I've had which exceeded 20 was Golden Russet (21.8), with Goldrush, SweeTango, and Jonathan all being in the neighborhood. All 4 of those were great apples, though at other times I've had examples of each which didn't impress me.

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  6. So interesting! I "discovered" Lady Alice apples in 2012, surely in March, when a local food co-op put them out. Quickly became my very favorite. But I didn't know until now why they only showed up in March.

    I don't like super cold fruit, so I keep mine at home out on the counter (the old fruit bowl). They're always good; a couple were less than stellar, but mostly, really good.

    This year, the same co-op has had them again, as well as Whole Foods. I think the ones from the co-op have been a bit better and since they're from the same producer, perhaps the storage has something to do with it? Last year, I was able to get the (smaller size) Lady Alice's already bagged (three pounds maybe?) as well as larger, "loose stock". This year, no pre-bagged. Curious.

    Anyway, I really enjoy them, and now that May is here, perhaps for not much longer? *sigh*

    JEF

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    1. @jef, I think we are seeing the yield from the one orchard that grows these ramp up. This is the first year they were easy to find around here, though not in bags. The quality did seem to vary by retailer.

      I hope they become a regular springtime treat. February is really too early for them.

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  7. Thanks for this note. I had my first taste of fairly expensive Lady Alice last year and was blown away by the unusual spicy taste. Really torxed I cannot buy some bud wood to see how it would do in Phoenix. But I will keep the storage recommendation in mind should I get some duds in Feb.-March.

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  8. Got some Lady Alice here in WA at a grocery store and they were awesome! I'm a fan of this variety now.

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  9. I first tried these apples last year and loved them. I've been keeping an eye out and they finally had them again at my local store. I just ate one and it was excellent. I decided to research them and stumbled across this blog. I'm happy to report that they are wonderful despite it still being February.

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    1. Hi Selena! I'm glad you got some good ones.

      As you can see from these comments, some of us have had disappointing Ladies this early in the year.

      I do not doubt however that different storage techniques can produce different results.

      Suzanne Wolter said as much in her remark above about "letting them breathe a little longer."

      So it clearly is possible, and maybe the grower is fine-tuning things to accommodate growing production of these apples.

      Thanks for your report from the field! I am always looking for the best apples I can find in the wintertime.

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  10. Kroger put some old/damaged Lady Alices on clearance for a dollar, so I figured what the heck. I bought two small bags of slightly shriveled, yet still rather hard apples and was extremely pleased to bite into some of the best apples I've ever eaten. I bought them the first week of March and am very happy that the produce manager thought they were well past their peak. I will be on the lookout for more of these great tasting apples in the future. Of course, I will wait until March from now on and look for the softer ones as they are scrumptious.

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    1. John, Alice certainly gets a lot of comment on this blog!

      You may know that as the crop grows Rainier has been bringing these out of storage earlier. I saw them for sale in January this year. Sometimes the skin does get a little wrinkled.

      Do you find that your wrinkled-but-good Alice's get a little rubbery? That is the sign of a very good keeper.

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