Thursday, March 11, 2010

Golden vs. Roxbury Russet Smackdown

They make a distinct family of apples, yet all russets are not the same. The Golden and Roxbury varieties are so alike that some growers and sellers mislabel them (to my confusion).

So, let's set the record straight.

On our left sits Roxbury Russet, an oblate, slightly ribbed medium-sized apple. Sometimes know as the Roz, this is one of America's oldest cultivated varieties. Its russet is patchy, for a piebald effect, and the color of the russet itself is a gray coppery brown, on skin that is spring green. The calyx is partly open.

At right, Golden Russet is also middle-sized and of similar shape to Roxbury, though I should say that the ribs are slightly more pronounced. I bought many of these (they are great keepers), and my tasting sample, as shown in the photo, is one of the larger ones--most are a bit smaller.

Golden's russet is complete, and compared to Roxbury's is brighter, thicker, and more orange. Also compared to the Roz, the Golden's calyx is similarly partly open, its stem well is not as deep, and its stem is slightly thicker.

Beauty may be only skin deep, but I give the Golden one points for looks.

The flesh of my Roxbury Russet is granular, its feet on the path to mealy, a creamy yellow and moderately fine-grained. Like most russets, it has a enough acidity to balance its sweetness, and into that mix Roxbury brings a little citrus, a hint of vanilla, and cane sugar.

The Golden Russet is crisper, with flesh that is similarly medium fine, slightly yellower than Golden's, and a little juicier. Compared to Roxbury, Golden's citric notes are more assertive and lemony, and the taste is more tart (though still sweet), with hits of honey, vanilla, and pear. Nonetheless, though I'm not sure that Golden is the sweeter of the pair (Roxbury is said to have more sugar content), its sweetness is more prominent.

I'm prepared to declare Golden the winner of this little bout. Its texture is clearly better, and I also like its sweet-tart balance very much. However, for those who are averse to any tartness, Roxbury Russet is the safer choice.

Russets are traditionally cider apples, and West County Cider presses a Roxbury Russet varietal. Trees of Antiquity calls Golden Russet "the champagne of old-time cider apples," and as previously noted Bolton Orchard presses a pleasing Golden sweet cider as well.

Finally, Apples of New York (1905) made this comparison.

Note: These apples compared in November, picked (probably) in October. When I ate the last of them in late January they were still sound and sweet.


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