Saturday, March 28, 2009

Vinous, as in wine

This word describes the wine-like flavor of some apples.

Vinous apples don't actually taste much like a glass of wine, but they do share a quality of flavor that has wine-like depth and complexity. Think of Homer's wine-dark sea.

At least "vinous" has a definite meaning, unlike some of the descriptive terms still kicking around from the old days. I'd tried to write a post about the term "aromatic flavor," which has described apples for hundreds of years, but its practical meaning is even more elusive than that of "sub-acid," which was also a bit of a stumper.

Vinous, on the other hand, pegs a recognizable slice of flavor shared by many members of the McIntosh family (and some other varieties). It's not a single flavor but rather a kind of clean and distictive balanced range of taste within which individual flavors play in interesting and pleasing ways.

This vinous quality is lighter and more delicate than the hearty richness of Ribston Pippin or Cox's, for all the nuanced flavors that those varieties present. It's not especially grapey, vines notwithstanding. Berry notes are often present.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The big stone apple

A few years ago quite by accident I came across this marvelous monument to the Baldwin Apple. This discovery was a complete surprise to me, though it's no great secret and has been standing here quietly for more than a century.

This granite monument is about seven feet tall. You can imagine my delight to find it standing, unlooked for, by a field at the side of the road.

I took this photo last fall, against just such a hopeful spring day as today. There are better photos, and some more information, at Wikipedia and

The inscription reads as follows:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More than the Spice of Life

I may have been a bit hard on Red Delicious earlier. I've never hidden my tastes, and there are more than a few apples that don't thrill me. But my actual feeling is, the more varieties the better, whether or not they are my personal favorites.

In that respect, the story of Red Delicious is a cautionary tale.

Since its discovery more than a century ago, Red Delicious (originally "Hawkeye") has been mercilessly tweaked by breeders, growers, and market forces to produce the elongated bright red fruit we know today. These are beautiful, indestructible, shippable, commercial, and tasteless. And, we love them. Or did.

By 1980 Red Delicious comprised three quarters of the apple harvest in Washington State's Apple Basket, the growing region east of the Cascade Mountains. But apparently my own childhood preference for this fruit, and subsequent disillusionment, mirrored America's. The public turned away from this variety, and the apple industry crashed badly.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Red Delicious

Perfect, sultry Red Delicious was my childhood favorite, but I haven't had one in decades. Will this apple be my Proustian madeline?

Everyone probably knows Red Delicious--large, ribbed, impossibly elongated, and a beautiful glossy red with deep purplish streaks, freckled attractively with many light lenticels. Its characteristic conical shape tapers down to prominent bumps or "chins" at its base.

This is the apple the witch gave to Snow White. My sample is extra shiny from wax.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Most apples sold in stores are waxed for appearance, and also to protect and preserve the fruit.

Like many fruits and vegetables, apples produce their own waxy coating that sheds water and retains moisture. The commercial washing that most apples undergo after harvesting is extensive enough to clean this coating away. The non-apple wax added after that serves the same purpose.

Apples direct from an orchard aren't washed or waxed. Many organic growers also do not wax their fruits.