Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ashmead vs. Ashmead

Ashmead's Kernel. The one on the left was picked 2 weeks too soon.
Two Ashmead's Kernel apples. One picked too early. Six weeks later, what difference does it make?

Let's find out.

Ashmead's at peak is a fabulous treat. I rate it highly. Finding this elusive apple at a local farmers market on September 23 was like finding fairy gold in my garden.

Of course, I bought a bag. But around here September 23 is too early to pick this apple. They were not at peak, and never would be.

I did not regret my purchase, as they were still very good, but I was still disappointed.

A few days ago I found more Ashmeads for sale, shipped down from Vermont. (Is this a great harvest or what?) I' also still had some of the September bunch.

So today I'm able to compare two separate harvests of this variety. Which is better?

If nothing else, here is a great excuse to gorge on two of these magnificent apples.

My farmers-market Ashmeads (from Southern New Hampshire, actually) are a little smaller than the Vermont crop, but otherwise not that different looking. Both cohorts are well russeted and many of each group had Ashmead's occasional subtle blush.

Some of the larger ones, from the Vermont batch, are more ribbed. The yeasty aroma I associate with russet and other peel flora is more pronounced in these.

The farmers-market apple is still in good shape 6 weeks later, with a real crunch. The flavors are a bit melded and mellowed, but still well-balanced,  complex, and rewarding.

My Vermont sample, however, is crisper and fresher. The citric acidity is more prominent and the flavors brighter.

The savory quality noted by some, though present in both, comes forward further in the older sample, perhaps because other flavors have deteriorated.

These are both excellent and both perhaps slightly past peak, depending on what you like.

Nonetheless the Vermont Ashmead is clearly the better apple. But, can I really lay this at the feet of the grower of my earlier sample? Specifically, do I have more grounds to say, Pick no apple before its time?

That is not so clear.

Ashmead Number 1 was picked in Southern New Hampshire on or before September 23 and stored after that date in my refrigerator. Ashmead Number 2 was picked at an unknown date at Scott Farm in Vermont.

I should be surprised if the Vermont grower, who specializes in heirlooms, had also picked in September, but the truth is I don't know. And though my refrigerator is not a bad place for an apple, Scott Farm's is probably better.

On the other hand, I got my apples direct from the grower at farmers market. The Vermont apples were trucked down here and have been sitting around outdoors at the farm stand that is selling them. Probably, storage plus handling is a wash.

What I am left with are two observations. The New Hampshire Ashmeads, regrettably, were not as good as they might have been when picked. Six weeks later they were not as good as another harvest that probably was not as early.

Based on this, I wish more than ever that farmers would resist the urge to pick too soon. Especially the really good stuff.

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