Sunday, August 31, 2008

Take two

In my eagerness to try the latest fruit, I've been tasting apples as soon as I find them at the market or farm stand. But buying at the very start of an apple's growing season might bias the sample towards greener, tarter, and less-ripe fruit. (For this reason I have refrained from reviewing the early McIntoshes I bought this week, though it is exciting to see them for sale at farmers' market.)

I've gone back for a second look at Paula Red, which has been around for more than two weeks, and Red Gravenstein, whose shorter picking season nonetheless spans a week or so.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gravenstein **

Gravenstein, and its sporty red sibling, may be the most sophisticated of the early apples. It has a complex taste and there is a Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol California every August.

The medium-sized, modestly ribbed fruit is mostly green with a streaky red blush and tan spots.

Its white-green flesh is firm, crisp and juicy. The taste is a balanced tart-and-sweet, with spice and floral notes. There is a tiny bit of pine towards the finish.

Similar to a Red Gravenstein, but not as sweet.

The Gravenstein Apple Fair folks provide recipes, history, and other juicy stuff about the Gravenstein.

Gravenstein's growing season is short, or maybe growers around here just pick them all at once to meet demand. They came and went too fast, alas. But now the stage is set for September and the high-season apples.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Scarlet Blush Conclusion

Part 1 is here.

"A 'newfangled apple' after all, Watson," Holmes said, looking up from the bowl of fruit before him. "With the outlandish name of Zest Star."

"But how did you know to contact Mr. Athay?" I asked, for it was from the grower himself that we learned the name of the cultivar that had borne my mysterious apples.

"That was elementary, Watson," Holmes told me. "Apples are a popular English food, but just two farms at the market grow the early apples. Douglas's only grows Williams' Prides, for which these could scarcely be mistaken, so I sent a message care of Athay's London agent." He sniffed. "I did not expect Mr. Athay to come in person."

Richard Athay had indeed only just left, after offering apologies and a basket of Zest Stars--which he called "Zestars."

"Well, o' course I know what I grow, Mr. Holmes!" the farmer had told us over a dish of tea. "The boy should attend to his work and know 'is apples. I'll learn him summat." He refused payment for the apples or his trouble, telling me as he left, "Tea with Mr. Sherlock Holmes repays all. Not every day do I speak to the greatest bee-man in Christendom."

"Bees, Holmes?" I asked later, as Mrs. Hudson came in with the post. It was my first inkling of the great detective's apiarian accomplishments.

My friend made an indistinct noise as he reached for a letter opener. "I have written several monographs on the subject," he said.

"Still, the man seemed not to know that he was drinking tea with--"

"Watson," Holmes interjected in a low tone, an opened letter clutched in his left hand. "Have you your revolver with you? Is it loaded?"

"Why yes, Holmes, but what--"

"Come then, Watson," he said, rising and reaching for his cape. "There is not a moment to be lost."

Public-domain illustration by Sidney Paget originally published in the Strand Magazine (1893).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Apples and time and place

Apples for me evoke timeless fall in New England as surely as Proust's madeline recalled his childhood.

Fall in New England!

Strange to say of a fruit that originated in Kazakhstan and was foreign here until a few hundred years ago, but to me apples are the essential native New England fruit.

Colonial puritans shunned beer, wine, and spirits, but had no problem with hard cider, and it was in any case easier to grow apples than grain. The historical Johnny Appleseed was born here, in Leominster. (Today, farmers bring apples from Leominster orchards to our farmers' market.) Old orchards bounded by stone walls march up the gentle hills across New England, New York, and Quebec.

Apples ripen in the fall, when New England's rocky ground grudgingly gives up its bounty. Summer's heat and sweat are past, the days are dry and the nights sweet and cool under the stars. The trees dress up. Best time for hiking and biking around here.

And for eating fresh local apples. The apple season spans about a third of the year, during which there are new treats every week.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mystery managed? You be the judge

Are these the same apple?

Scarlet Blush Mystery

or not?


Here's what they have in common.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Zestar *

I'll cut to the chase: these tasty, light apples are last week's mystery apple named.

The following tasting was without reference to my earlier description in the Adventure of the Scarlet Blush:

Medium-sized light green-yellow apple with a partial red blush that is streaky in spots. There are small spots that are dark green over the green and light colored against the blush. Very slight ribbing.

Fine-grained white flesh with a hint of green, juicy, crisp, and light. Sweetness tempered with some tart; sugar and banana notes, a tiny bit of spice, and mild astringent finish.

Note the unusual whiff of banana. And if you like, compare the two photos side by side.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Williams' Pride **

This handsome medium-sized apple sports a dark purplish blush with light speckles. It is somewhat ribbed and some are conical. The flesh is a dense and creamy (slightly yellow) and gives a nice crunch.

Willams' Pride is sweet but not cloying, juicy, and rich, with notes of pear. Something about the flavor brings to my mind that of the Baldwin apple, though I am sure the differences would be very obvious were it possible to take a time machine to October to compare the two. (Update: Judge for yourself!)

Though not very acid or tart it has a nice astringent tail that persists after eating, more a sensation than a flavor.

I would guess that Williams' Pride would appeal to many different tastes, as it is mild without blandness and has an unusual character of its own.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I was in Clinton (Massachusetts) today and stopped at Bolton Orchards to see what they had. Turns out, a lot, though mostly stored apples from 2007.

Milton here, though, was recent. As you can see from the photo (taken outside the store) this is a yellow-green apple with a (mostly) solid red blush. It's medium sized with light tan spots and understated ribs.

The flesh is white with a hint of green and fine grained, somewhat tender but quite edible. Taste is juicy and astringent, a little acid and tart with faint grapefruit and lime notes and a little pepper. Overall a pleasantly dry effect that would be noteworthy were the apple crisper.

Gingergold *


Gingergold is a medium-to-large fruit, a sprightly green-yellow with tiny dark-green speckles. Some of the apples have a pale red-orange blush, usually over only a small portion of the skin.

The sample pictured is more conical than most, but all seem to have some ribbing and many have a little russetting in the stem well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Red Gravenstein **

I got two of these at Lexington's farmers market, one so different from the other that maybe two varieties got confused in the box.

I am describing the more traditional-looking of the two (shown): medium sized, yellow-green with a streaky red blush with some faint speckles that you have to look very carefully to see. I had thought my mystery apple might turn out to be one of these, but based on appearance alone I'd say not so even before tasting it.

The taste is also different--and quite fine--spicy and floral, nicely balanced though there is a hint of pine in the acid notes. Of course these might be a little early, which would make the flavor sharper.

If the Paula Red is the most "McIntosh-like" of the early apples, this one is the most Macoun-like. I like it best so far, I think; the flavors fairly burst forth at first though it does go a bit flat and woody at the end as the the juice thins out.

The flesh is fine-grained and white with a hint of green, crisp for being a little tender.

Wikipedia says Red Gravenstein is "considered a sport not a true variety," and Trees of Antiquity calls it "a red sport...similar to Gravenstein but sweeter."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Adventure of the Scarlet Blush

I burst into the drawing room at 221B Baker Street as the first drops of afternoon rain struck the windowpane. "Holmes!" I gasped.

"Calm yourself, Watson," my friend replied languidly, failing to rise from the sofa before the fire. "I perceive you have something for me." He gestured to a small table at his side, on which I placed the fruits of my hunt.

"Apples?" he said, with noticeable indifference. "In August? What are they, Watson? Come, tell all."

"That's just the problem, Holmes," I said. "The grower at the market couldn't say. Just a sign saying, 'Our own fresh-picked apples.' Can you identify them?"

"Hmph. A grower who doesn't know what he grows does not inspire confidence." He looked into the fire, the trace of a weary smile on his lips. "Describe them for me, Watson," he said suddenly.

I stepped forward and held one of the fruits into the failing light, determined to give as complete an account of their physical appearance as my medical training allowed. "These are well-formed medium-sized apples with the merest hint of ribbing. They are a bright spring green with an inconsistent and streaky scarlet blush and light green spots."

"Does that suggest anything to you, Watson?"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Paula Red *

I was out of town on Wednesday, but today scored some Paula Reds at Belmont's farmers market.

Paula Red is a medium-sized apple that is mostly red, though with green streaks and small light speckles. Skin is more matte than glossy.

The fruit is slightly ribbed and where the red fails the underlying color is a spring green that is bright and saturated. (In fact it looks like that of a Vista Bella.)

I have had some Paula Reds that were not very interesting, but these are the most McIntosh-like apples of the summer so far. Crisp and a tart, with spice notes and assertive acidity.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Yellow Transparent (White Transparent) **

I got three pretty little Yellow Transparent apples at Lexington's farmers market last Tuesday.

These are small-to-medium apples with pale yellow-green skin attractively set off by darker green speckles. One has a faint pink blush about an inch in diameter. The flesh is white and fine-grained with yellow-green highlights and is pleasingly crisp with a satisfying crunch.

The Yellow Transparent has a delicate flavor with lime and vanilla notes and a good balance of tart and sweet. Really, this is a surprisingly sophisticated taste for such an early apple. There is a mildly acid finish and a hint of astringency. The thin skin just vanishes into the flesh when you eat it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Puritan *

As told previously, I bought two of these on August 5th at Lexington's Farmers Market. They're not bad!

This is a medium-sized apple with just a hint of ribs. The blush is streaky and a little washed out. There is a some russetting in the stem well.

The taste begins tart, with pine notes, but then fades as does that of most early apples. Exceptionally crisp and crunchy for an early apple. The dense white flesh has green highlights and calves just a little when bitten, with only slight softness afterwards. I wonder, in fact, if these are a little unripe. (Maybe they're better that way.)

The finish is pleasingly astringent.

So, not a fashion plate, but toothsome. I wish I'd snagged a few more of these—they're better than the Jersey Macs.

A taste of things to come

Tuesday was unseasonably cool and nice, so I pedaled out to Nagog Hill Farm in Littleton.

This orchard, in part of the old Sarah Doublet lands overlooking Nagog Pond, has been in business for years even as neighboring farms fell to development. (A recent interview with one of the chief chroniclers of this plot of land includes some tantalizing historical details.)

Alas, Nagog Hill Farm grows no early apples (though the peaches and plums were tempting).

But look closely at the deep red spots in the photograph to see what's headed our way.