Monday, June 8, 2015

Bad apples

May and June, so far from the harvest, make an especially bleak season of the apple year. High-tech industrial storage only gets you so far, and the supermarket apples are really showing their age.

These babies are months away. June 6 photo.
This year where I live the problem is exacerbated by an inexplicable absence of apples from New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina.

Usually these fruits, fresh from the spring harvest below the equator, provide a welcome relief.

The imports ride in around the end of April and tide us over until the real thing begins here in late July.

Though unwelcome, this year's absence creates an opportunity for me to report on apples that I would otherwise avoid: those that have been in storage for as much as 9 months (and counting).

They are dreadful.

Nothing is actually mealy, but the texture is very bad. Flavors are all run together and generic.

Of the Empires, some are okay but some are so fragile you can put your thumb through them and the flesh is discolored.

The best of the lot was Lady Alice, still quite good in May though not as excellent as in March or April. Alice seem to be done, though.

These mostly horrible apples give the lie to the industry line that, gee whiz, year-old apples are perfectly great. In fact, I've indulged in a little rant about that:

I can't believe that Consumer Reports, of all publications, let itself get suckered into publishing this industry press release, bypassing its own famous independent analysis and review.

Just to be clear, I have no beef with the technology, which gives us pretty good apples through about April.

However there are limits, and if you doubt that go and bite into a domestic apple this month.

Just don't say I didn't warn you.


  1. Since it is the off season, when northern hemisphere apple gourmands gripe about not having any, here is a technical apple website to occupy the mind. It is intended to assist people identify unknown apples they are eating. It is unbelieveably common to read comments on OrangePippin by people eating apples they do not know. Much to the chagrin of Brother's Grimm, who warned youngsters and old alike about eating apples unknown, and unlike with other fruits, people will eat apples without knowing anything about the apple.

    One can use the photos, or enter what data you do know, such as bloomtime etc, in order to ascertain the variety.

    1. Thanks for the tip, anonymous! I reviewed applename in 2012, but it looks as though they have spiffed things up since then.

      The "varieties" page you link to is new. It looks to be a mashup of photos from (mostly) the UK National Fruit Collection and material from Orange Pippin.

  2. That's funny, Adam. I just posted on my family's food blog about tasting some McIntosh. I thought they were quite good, considering - but I don't know that I've ever had a really good fresh off the tree McIntosh to compare.

    1. Steve, I really enjoyed your approach to the question!

      None of the Mac family is a really great keeper, but modern storage can keep them crisp for quite a while.

      I hope you can find a fresh one in the fall.

    2. Thanks Adam. It was a long post, so I'm impressed if you made it all the way through.

      By the way, my coworker had a Fuji from Chile yesterday and today we picked up some huge Braeburns from New Zealand. Are you getting those yet?

    3. Steve, things are starting to trickle into the stores finally. There have been some very good NZ Jazz this week and I had a passable Cripps from Argentina yesterday.

  3. I was surprised with the domestic cold-storage Braeburns this year. The best Braeburns are either the NZ ones we should be getting now, or the small organic ones with the Stemilt (WA USA) label that show up fresh in late fall. As is usually the pattern, the disappearance of fresh Braeburns was followed up by the half-green tasteless sort in late Winter, early Spring. But then, all of a sudden, there were some fully red, relatively flavorful (but too big) Braeburns showing up in late Spring. It is as if some clever grower/storer figured out how to better pick and store ripe Braeburns, but didn't release them to the marketplace until late Spring. It may help that the supermarket I shop at is produce-oriented, and is more likely to select wholesale suppliers who know how to do it right. So I'm still buying USA Braeburns in June and not being terribly unhappy about them. I hope the NZ ones get here, though.

    I came here because I just had a pretty good Opal that I bought at the store yesterday. So I guess I am sorta surprised how down you are about current apple supply.

    But then, it may be a regional thing. It could be that, on the East Coast, there are lots of orchards given over to apples that don't store well. I couldn't imagine Empires storing well, actually. But they sell them because they're there. I think West Coast growers are a little more aggressive in pursuing new varieties and techniques with an eye to the world market.

    1. Mike, your comment could be another post for your hypothetical Braeburn blog.

      I am sure this is a "regional thing," but I imagine it as an effect of New England's position at the end of the supply chain.

      Or maybe the retailers are just going with the cheaper (and older) domestic apples because they don;t know any better.

  4. I wandered over to the organic section of the supermarket today and saw some southern hemisphere apples there. Could be that the economics of shipping apples make more sense when the produce is sold for a higher price. There were some Chilean Braeburns that I passed on, because they looked pretty green. There were also some New Zealand Divas, which I did buy a few of, at an exorbitant $2.49 a pound. I had never tried them before. Definitely a "modern" apple, plenty sweet and plenty crisp (but in a somewhat coarse-fleshed way), but with some nice complexity in the background.


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