Left to right: Reine de Reinettes, Ashmead's Kernel, Macoun, Wickson, Cox's Orange Pippin
All 5 of the apples I've rated as "exceptional, worth a quest"—3 of 3 possible stars—together in one place.
Given all the trouble I've had getting just red and green Gravensteins together at the same time, I never expected to convene this meeting.
But this has been a great fall for apples. Also, there seem to be more opportunities every year to get fine old heritage varieties and other wonderful apples.
Reine de Reinettes (in the UK: King of the Pippins) comes to us from Holland by way of France, where it is not uncommon. It bears a melange of wonderful flavors—exquisite ones when at peak in a good year.
Ashmead's Kernel, an old English variety, is a gorgeous russet with many strata of blush and suede and mustard. Its flavors are every bit as layered, complex, and interesting.
Macoun, bred in New York nearly a hundred years ago, is a New England classic. Try one of these vinous members of the vast McIntosh family in early October. You'll understand why John Clements of the extension service at UMass calls Macoun a "cult apple."
Tiny Wickson is the triumph of one of the 20th Century's most creative apple breeders, Albert Etter of California. Loaded with crisp snap, spice, and malt-sugar flavor, it is named for another great California pomologist, E.J. Wickson.
Cox's Orange Pippin: Some call this the greatest eating apple of all time. When Cox's is good it is impressive in its orderly presentation of harmonious flavors, which include orange juice, hazelnut, and mango. (Also, it rattles.)
Are these the best apples in the world? That is certainly debatable! and some of these apples are temperamental and do not always reach their best flavors every year.
(I explain my rating system here; I revise my ratings once a year.)
Still these are superb apples. To gather them together is to conjure the spirit of fall.