Saturday, September 1, 2012

Empress vs. NY 652 smackdown

Once upon a time, at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, the apple known only as NY 651 earned a name: Empress.

Its close companion, NY 652, did not.

Ovoid Empress (L) and her consort, NY 652. Empress began life as NY 651.

Here's how they compare.

I like the unusual Empress, so when the grower described this history and relationship, I was especially keen to give 652 a bite.

My assumption is that these varieties share parents (in this case, Jonamac and Vista Bella) and could be similar. 652 might even be better. I review it here.

A week later, I found some Empress apples, so the match was on.

Early apples often have short shelf lives, so I just want to note for the record that these two varieties were picked about a week apart.

After a week my one remaining 652 had deteriorated slightly and was a bit softer, but still good.

NY 652
Physically these apples are similar but not identical. Both have a blush that at its most saturated is dark red with purple highlights.

Both are about the same size (Empress examples slightly larger, but I can't say that is typical). Both have very moderate ribbing. Both often come with a smokey bloom on the peel (more visible on 652 in today's photo).

Plum-shaped Empress
Where 652 has a round, slightly conical shape, however, Empress is often ovoid or even egg shaped, bottom wider than top, for an upside-down effect. Empress's lenticels are large and prominent, but those of 652 are small and faint.

Of the two Empress has coarser, juicier flesh and stronger flavors, more saturated and less delicate than those of 651. Her skin is not quite so thick and chewy.

Both are well balanced between sweet and tart, but where 652 mixes berries, wine, watermelon, and nectarine, Empress offers a succulent mix of plum and prune and perhaps a whiff of banana.

There is also a discordant flavor, when the watermelon-candy fleetingly peaks into something plasticky and unpleasant. I had forgotten that, though I described it in my 2010 review, but that jarring note was waiting for me inside of Empress in 2012.

Clearly related, but clearly different, it would be hard to choose between these two were both regularly available in August. Both are exotic, but Empress is more so. I think Empress may have the better texture, if that is a tie breaker.

Oh, and both ripen at the same time of year. This has not worked out to 652's advantage.

Scroll down to the ninth unnumbered page of this 1997 evaluation of new varieties performed by the Washington State University Extension Service and you will see 652 summarily dismissed for the following reason: "Too similar to Empress in same season."

I am glad to taste it anyway.


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