It'll be many months before I eat anything fresh-picked from an orchard, so the topic of keepers, and of the long-lived varieties that do well in controlled atmosphere storage, has been much on my mind.
I make a distinction between the old-fashioned meaning of "keeper" and the use of chemicals, precision chilling, and controlled atmosphere to arrest the ripening-rotting process.
The latter is a kind of high-tech suspended animation for apples. At least some of these methods are applied to all of the industrial apples you'd find in your supermarket in the off season.
Many of those are not naturally keepers and would not be good to eat if you just stashed them in your fridge for 4 months. They don't last long out of storage.
However, other supermarket apples keep well in a regular refrigerator. Some even get better with age.
A prime example is Lady Alice, which peaks in March or April depending on exactly how she is stored and for how long. If you eat one in January or February, though, you are likely to be disappointed, because they won't have been sitting enough.
That's right, Alice improves with age. Significantly.
On top of all of this are handling issues. Expert application of storage technologies may keep an apple at its peak in vain if the fruit gets knocked about in the store or left out in the produce section too long.
This winter I enjoyed Opal apples, a new variety that seems to have had a bumper crop this year. But the quality is variable, and I chalk the differences up to handling.
So there is a lot going on that determines the quality of the apples we can get this time of year. Is it well stored? Was it allowed to mature? Is at peak? Was it well handled?
Some of it is quite technical. At every stage, a misstep can thwart the apple's potential.
For instance, the grower of Lady Alice claims to be able to regulate peak time by varying storage time. In theory, you could have a batch ready to eat in February, and another in March. Maybe another in January! Better not mix them up though.
Or this: Smartfresh, an anti-ripening treatment, has an unfortunate side effect: it suppresses flavor!
Not to worry, because the flavor returns after a few days out of storage. But depending on how quickly the apples move to your table, you could bite into an apple that is crisp, juicy, and tasteless.
So many things that you do not control will determine whether that winter (or spring) apple is any good: how it was stored and for how long, how it was handled, how long it lasts once removed from high-tech storage, and what about that Smartfresh thing?
Whereas with regular old keepers, all you have to do is buy them, store them, and eat them at the appointed time.
Drawback? You may need a second refrigerator.