Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Well kept

I finished the season in November with a stash of apples that I hoped would keep well: Baldwin, Golden Russet, Arkansas Black, and Blushing Golden.

These varieties all have reputations as good keepers. Some are said to improve with age.

By supplementing them with supermarket Macouns that have been carefully stored, I have enjoyed an agreeable and varied apple diet.

Rather than periodically revise my reviews of these fruits ("two months out and still crispy!"), here is how this experiment has fared.

I bought a small bag of Blushing Goldens from Kimball Farm at the very last farmers market of the year, in Davis Square the day before Thanksgiving. This batch of fruit had a bottom-of-the-barrel quality about it: on the small side, knocked about, and generally picked-over. But the apples I bought have held up well. In mid-December these were still firm and had a wonderful sweet aroma. The flesh had grown a bit tender but was still essentially crisp, juicy, and flavorful, with tart astringency overlaying the basic sweet pear and golden-delicious tastes.

By mid January these flavors had blurred and softened only a little. The very last one of these had started to rot and, anything for science (and you dear reader), I carefully cut the good parts away. Still firm and rewarding to eat. Blushing Golden is one good keeper!

I bought some Baldwins from the same vendor back then, too. These held up extraordinarily and I wish I'd had some more. The last of these had turned slightly tender (though still very satisfying) when I ate it, just in time, on December 19.

By contrast the Baldwins I bought about the same time from Red Apple Farm have not fared so well, indeed they were on the brink of mealy when I got them.

On the other hand the Golden Russets from Red Apple have been top notch, sweet and lemony and with hints of pear and vanilla. Much better than the Golden Russet I had off of Kimball in October, supposing that was a Golden Russet. I had the last of these good russets the week before Christmas, which seemed to me to mark a natural limit as the flavor and texture was just beginning to decline.

The singular Arkansas Blacks are a work in progress. I bought these on November 21 and ate the first one two weeks later. I'll just guess they were picked around Halloween. My second on December 20, the gateway of Winter. This sample is little different from the first, though a shade less crisp and its pear qualities are more pronounced. There is still something vaguely vegetable lurking in the mix. The peel is chewy and present in the finish, and there is also a flash of acidity at the outset. Slight residual astringency.

Oh, and I used my last Newtown Pippin in a recipe on December 25. It had been off the tree for at least two months and was still crisp and juicy. The flavors had mellowed and were not nearly as tart or distinctive.

Finally, a few Esopus Spitzenbergs showed up at a local supermarket towards the end of December. These have been pleasant to eat into early January, but are not as impressive as they were even a month earlier (when they were probably past their prime). Some are quite good, with a rich flavor set off with nice acidity and a little citrus, cider, and pear. Others are less distinctive, but I give this variety points for keeping well.


  1. You'd mentioned the apple that had become almost mealy. I had a mealy apple today. I can think of almost no food experience more objectionable to me than a mealy apple. Good to know what keeps well, refrigerated. Do you seal them in bags or just put them in the crisper drawer? And I keep meaning to ask if you take all these photos of the apples you review?


  2. Yes, in the spirit of this blog, the photos are all mine. I took them with a digital camera that is pretty basic. I don't blame you for wondering, since the quality is so uneven. My technique has gotten a little better since July, don't you think?

    I am quite pleased with some of them, such as my Opalescent, sitting on an old millstone by the Charles River. Lately I've been taking them off my back porch.

    My storage technique is not optimal, either, but I keep my apples in plastic bags in my refrigerator. The closer to freezing (without actually freezing) the better, and since my refrigerator isn't that chilly I'm not keeping them nearly cold enough.

    It does keep the apples from getting too warm, though, which makes a big difference. This time of year they would freeze in my mudroom. It can get quite crowded in my fridge in November, when I start hoarding for the winter.

  3. Actually, I was asking if you took your own photos because I thought they looked good, not because I thought they were amateurish. They are very straightforward photos but I don't see that they need to be otherwise. It would hardly do to dress them provocatively. If you did, you'd need to cover them with a fig leaf.

    I wondered about the refrigerator because mine does get too chilly. Things that are toward the back of it have a tendency to freeze. So maybe just putting mine in the drawer is better, though generally the apples I buy go pretty quickly and I keep them out on the kitchen counter where I can grab them easily. Fascinating, I'm sure!


  4. I really like your "Seasons Greetings" picture of the lustrously dark red Macoun sitting in snow.

    I'm still lovin the Ambrosias from my local QFC.

  5. Nina, apples actually have a little natural antifreeze and won't freeze until about 29 F or so (it varies). So your refrigerator could be perfect.

    As for provocative fruit: I did search briefly for an apple-sized Santa Claus hat for that seasonal photo that vonK appreciates, but in the end the snow, and the soft light, was all the dress-up required.

  6. I'm afraid this will be slightly off-topic, though still about apples. I had an apple today, an Ambrosia, which I had gotten at the grocery store a couple of days ago. Because I've been reading your descriptions of apples, I've been paying attention (or trying to) to flavors, to what I can detect. I noticed that the Ambrosia had a distinctly honey-like flavor. That had me thinking of honey, which is of course from the nectar of flowers, and that maybe it is honey that tastes like apple blossoms, at least some honey. The other thing I noticed was the way things tasted as I got close to the core of the apple. I noticed that the bites that I had that were close to the core and also at the stem end of the apple were sweet but not as sweet as the rest of the apple, and that I couldn't detect much flavor, no honey taste. But the bites that were near the core and also at the flower end of the apple were very sweet and honey-like, full of flavor. Have you noticed this kind of difference from one end of the apple to the other, or near the core as opposed to the outer fleshy areas? I'm going to have to pay more attention in the future to all apples and see if I notice these kinds of differences with any others. Perhaps this was just a fluke.


    1. You could certainly get a varietal honey like apple-blossom honey that might taste like apples (I haven't tried it). Most supermarket honey is so blended that it sadly just tastes sweet, however.

  7. Nina, I've never noticed a difference between the stem end and the calyx end, but apples do seem to lose their freshness starting at the equator, so there can be a very obvious difference between the waistline and the poles. I think of the crisper end bites as truer in that case.

    I remember noting that some early apples had woody or piney notes towards the core, also how struck I was by how consistent Honeycrisp's flavors were throughout the fruit. That suggests to me that some bite-by-bite variation is typical, though I've never tried to map it out as you have done. (And Honeycrisp's apparent evenness may be due to sweetness masking minor variations in flavor.)


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