Thursday, February 26, 2009

Golden Delicious *

My medium-large Golden Delicious is a cheerful yellow tinged with green. It has distinctive dark green lenticels that fade to nearly nothing on the blushed area, which is a faint orange pink.

My example is ribbed and conical, with a round ridge of chins at the bottom, and theres a small stellation of russet radiating within the stem well.


Nineteenth-century handbooks classify and describe apples using charming, if enigmatic, terms such as aromatic and sprightly. The old descriptions have been cribbed and copied many times, with the result that many of these terms are still thrown about today; some old descriptions are on the Internet, word for word.

And why not? These varieties don't change--if they do, by cross-breeding or mutation, they become something else. One of the charms of heirloom and antique apples lies in their patrimony of taste. But though varieties don't change (if you can still find them at all), language does.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Empire *

The blush on this apple often runs to a handsome deep purplish red, decorated with many light lenticels. Even where the blush is uneven and streaky, (over yellow green), some of the stripes may reach this deep color. The fruit is a large medium, moderately ribbed, and can be conical, as in our photo. There are faint dull patches on the skin of my sample that are almost like a bloom, but I take them to be scuffs in the wax that is regularly applied to apples shipped across country.

For Empires keep and travel well, and even though they are grown locally the Empires sold out of season generally come from New York (where they were bred) or farther. This is the time of year I start to eat a lot of them. Of all the industrial apples they have the most traditional taste. (McIntoshs are available in supermarkets into the spring, but they just do not hold up well in long-term storage.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Apples (and other things) on the web: The Fruit Blog

This eclectic blog, started by a scientist when he was "a PhD student, working in strawberry genetics," defies neat categorization. So, think of The Fruit Blog as ye old fruit curiosity shop—the boing boing of botany.

Here you will find not just posts about durians and medlars, but about a medlar variety that is, apparently, indigenous to North America. (Or perhaps not.)

Under the name Evil Fruit Lord, this blogger explores not just oddities but also breeding issues, taxonomy, and news of new varieties of fruit. All kinds of fruit (and not just evil ones), easily sortable ("apples" is one variety, but look further). Sometimes the Evil Fruit Lord tastes and describes these for us. His posts, and many of the far-ranging comments, sometimes go clear down to DNA.

It is a pleasure to watch his curiosity at work.

The Fruit Blog also sports many relevant links and photos, and a separate forum for questions and discussions. Evil FL has been at it with only minor hiatuses for four years (gaining his doctorate on the way), and there's lots to see here. I've hardly done the thing justice, so if this whets your appetite you should really check it out for yourself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Piñata - Ambrosia Smackdown

I've had two new varieties this month, both yummy, artfully marketed, and trucked in from the West Coast. So, who is the fairest of them all?

The two apples have similar colors, a red tinged with pink and orange over greenish yellow, for an orange effect. But Piñata's blush is more extensive and also variegated, with attractive flamelike streaks. Ambrosia is perhaps slightly more ribbed with lobed chins at the base. Piñata has larger lenticels. To my eye, Piñata is the more striking of the two, though Ambrosia is shaplier.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Turn your apple over and you will see a small star-shaped mark or opening. That's the calyx, from the Greek kalyx via Latin. It tells a story.

Your apple was once a flower. An apple blossom fluttering in the perfumed breeze, her petals wide to all comers. Or maybe I should say his petals, because this baby has a stamen, too, about 20 of them.

In the only pretty little ring time a bee comes and does his thing, or maybe it's another bug or even a botanist. Hey ding a ding a ding. The petals whither and fall away, pink scented snow. Five green sepals remain. The ovary swells and the sepals contract into a little bee-stung mouth that still holds the whithered stamens.

The calyx comprises the sepals, and the term applies to the blossom stage too.

With the help of the sun and the rain (and, frequently, the farmer) this fruit grows through several phases into a ripe apple, hanging heavily down now by its stem. The mouth closes entirely, or nearly so. If it's open, or if you cut the apple lengthwise, you can usually see the dried up stamens if you look closely.

This whole marvelous process is charmingly documented in a photo essay by the Botanical Society of America, reviewed here.

Calyx is an elegant word, lovely in the mouth and on the page. It is related to chalice, another bon mot. I like to use it, perhaps too much, as I've gotten the habit of describing the calyx when I review an apple.

Is this really useful or interesting? Maybe from a taxonomical perspective, but that's not what I aim for. So I'll try to throttle back on the calyx a little. But every apple has one.

The above photo of the apple blossom, by Roger Griffith, is in the public domain. The entire lovely image (and its license) is here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Piñata (Pinova, Sonata) **

Piñata appeared at the market complete with snazzy name and the slogan, "Classic apple flavors with a tropical twist." Clearly the marketing gurus pulled an all-nighter on this one, but let's have a look.

This is a medium-large apple with a streaky pink blush over yellow; the fusion effect is a variegated flamboyant orange and very pretty. My photographed sample is a bit lopsided but most of the apples were more symmetrical and had a pronounced conical silhouette. These are moderately ribbed and firm, with a clenched calyx and small light lenticels (many surrounding a tiny dark spot). The unbroken apple has a lovely lush aroma with hints of melon.

Wow! What a surprising bouquet of flavors. Okay, the light yellow flesh is juicy and crunchy crisp, on the coarser end of fine-grained. This is a sweet apple with notes of honey, pineapple, and banana. There's even a little something suggestive of coconut. These tastes are most prominent in the first few bites, after which the sweetness starts to overwhelm them.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Keep your apples cool

A grower once shared this rule of thumb with me: An apple ages as much in a day on your kitchen table as in a week in your fridge.

The effect is probably even great than that, depending on the warmth of your kitchen and the coolness of your refrigerator.

As DeEll, Saad, and Khanizadeh (1999) put it,
Temperature is the single most important factor governing the maintenance of postharvest quality. Therefore, rapid cooling after harvest greatly improves firmness retention in apples during storage. Low storage temperatures are equally important. McIntosh apples have been shown to soften as much as 20 times faster at 21 degrees C than at 0 degrees C.

So even if you like to eat your apples at room temperature, refrigerate your apple purchases as quickly as possible if you want to keep them fresh.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ambrosia *

I'd never heard of this apple until a reader mentioned it, so when Ambrosia showed up at a local supermarket I had to try one. Place of origin was just listed as "Canada," and I'm guessing British Columbia, where Ambrosia was born.

This shapely apple has the tapered, wasp-waisted profile of a Red Delicious. There is an orange-pink blush in streaks over light yellow, with yellow-green lenticels (a bit darker than the skin) throughout. It is medium large and prominently ribbed, to the point of having distinct "chins" on the bottom. The calyx is tucked far behind those chins and is closed. Unbroken, the apple smells promisingly of cider and strawberries.