Sunday, November 16, 2014

Virginia Beauty *

Today's apple is a daughter of the South, but mine grew in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.

Apples have their own territories, but I can only taste what I have.

Today that is two of these oblate, slightly conical apples grown far north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

A dull red blush covers about half the surface over spring green. Large light lenticels are striking, as is an iridescent coppery sheen reflecting from the peel's satiny finish.

Virginia has an open calyx, a thick stem, and no aroma.

Crisp green flesh, more coarse-grained than otherwise, makes me wonder right away if these apples were picked too early. However, the texture is so very good that I doubt that. Virginia Beauty crackles and is full of juice.

Beauty's flavors are mild and the chewy peel persists long after the pulp is done. The taste is sweet but balanced by some tartness that flairs up momentarily during the chew, and the peel ends things on an almost vegetable note.

There is one pleasant and not entirely unfamiliar flavor that I nonetheless cannot peg right away. It's not vinous (there is nothing of the grape about it) but it echoes in a way the fine flavors of the McIntosh family.

Then I realize it reminds me of a flavor I found in Zabergau Reinette, a taste that Orange Pippin described as "nettles." It's a clean flavor and good to taste. There is also a pleasantly astringent finish.

There are many descriptions of Virginia online from orchards and others south of the Mason-Dixon. (Here's one from Creighton Lee Calhoun, along with some history and other observations. Calhoun says the apple is also known as Zach's Red, after its 1810 discoverer, Zachary Safewright.)

These reviewers might be describing a different apple: a darker, more saturated blush, sometimes russeted, stronger flavors, and even texture that is more fine grained. (I note however that these descriptions do not always agree with each other in every respect.)

I call them as I find them—what else can I do? But of course I would like to try these in their native environment. It's not exactly terroir, but region and climate matter.

Meanwhile though I've never sampled a nettle (how do you eat them anyhow?) I now have an idea, by proxy, of how they taste.


  1. You eat stinging nettles by using scissors to trim young tender leaves into a pot, then boil them. Boiling renders the stinging hairs limp, and you eat it like spinich. It has a Lipton tea taste to it, and is very nutritious. By the way, Virginia Beauty isn't that great in Southern California either.

    1. It's not bad, and the texture is great. I just have the feeling I am not getting the whole story this time.

      Thanks for filling me in about nettles. The flavor in the apples is sort of tea-like, if you were to subtract the tannins from the tea.


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