Monday, May 4, 2009

The Ballad of Arkansas Black

Here among the daffodils is my final Arkansas Black, picked more than six months ago. It's the very last of my autumn stash and I just ate it.

This unusual apple has held up remarkably, but sampling one every month or so has shown a gradual change over time: a (very) slow softening of texture and melding and mellowing of flavors. Arguably this variety was better in January than in November. By March it was clearly past its prime, though still toothsome.

Some notable changes: texture, from very hard to granular (which might be mealy in another apple); flavor, from sharp with notable acidity and distinct flavors to more mellow and blended. One unusual flavor, which I described as "tobacco" or "vegetable," persisted for a long time but gradually transmuted into more of a baritone suggestion of molasses. Some flavors, like pear, persisted throughout.

I would have been curious to keep sampling these through the summer if I had more, but they are clearly best eaten earlier in the year and are not going to be everyone's cup of tea at any time.

That's the last of the local apples until late July.

For what it's worth, my periodic tasting notes on Arkansas Black follow, the many verses of a ballad documenting every minute change in texture, aroma, and taste. For the full effect you can also start with my original review.

Or you can just call it quits here--I won't mind.

Back in January, I said,
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.

On January 5, these are slightly more yielding in the hand, but still very firm and crunchy. Other than that, my impression is essentially the same as December 20: cider and pear, with a faint bitter tobacco-y hit (maybe it's the peel?) towards the end, in the back of the palate and throat. (This sounds unpleasant but it's not; it's just interesting.)

The Arkansas Black I ate on January 27 was perhaps a little sweeter, but essentially the same.

My February 20 sample has a slight dimple that may be from July's hailstorm. It has aged, but only a little. The flesh has more give in it, what in another apple might be onset of mealiness. The flavors have blended. If this trend continues, I'd say we are passed the sweet spot for this variety.

By March 11, Arkasas Black has a pronounced cidery aroma. The texture of the flesh is more granular, though still firm, and the flavors are blended and mellow, sweet balanced with some tartness. The tobacco notes are gone, or are transmuted, but there's a brief faint flash of something harshly chemical, sort of like alcohol. You have to really hunt for it though.

Despite that clinical description, which I'm afraid sounds much worse than the reality, it's still a good eat and a pleasant change of pace from the Empires and other winter supermarket apples. Not bad for fruit that has just been sitting in regular refrigeration for five months.

The unblushed portion of my April 4 Arkansas Black has discolored to an unattractive streaky light brown, and has grown less smooth, as though a prelude to wrinkles. This may be just because the apple has been sitting on this section these many months. The blushed part is unchanged. Whatever this deterioration represents, it is only skin deep: the flesh is unaffected. The fruit is still firm, though with some give, and has a very pleasing sweet smell.

The progression since last month is slight but consistent and noticeable: texture more granular, flavors more melded. That fleeting impression of tobacco is no longer present, except as a sort of baritone quality in the taste, which otherwise manages to blend apple and starchy flavors with the faintest possible suggestion of pear and molasses.

I ate my last of these very interesting apples on May 4. One interesting point: when I washed my fruit, the streak of russet that is visible in the photo above largely washed off, leaving a firm region that is a lighter red than the very dark red, "black," blush that characterizes this variety.

Outwardly this fruit resembles last month's. At six months off the tree and some change, it is still heavy but not as firm. Parts of the skin show the beginning of wrinkles. The apple smells like it tastes in its prime: a mix of apple, pear, and vegetable-tobacco, though this really is no longer present in the flavor.

The flesh and flavor of this apple are very like last month's as well, perhaps a little starchier but not mealy. I'm sorry I can't continue this experiment for a few more month, because this one is really not bad, though I think AR Black starts its slow decline in February or so.

So ends the last of my local apples! For now.


  1. The Arkansas Black in your photo with this entry is especially beautiful.


  2. Thanks, Nina. I like this photo too, but am not terribly satisfied with any of my attempts to capture the color of this apple.

    Arkansas Black is, as the name suggests, a deep red, and though I bracket my exposures and f-stop settings I can't seem to approach it except by making everything underexposed. Could be the problem is my penchant for using natural light.

    Still the spring flowers in the background do tell a story about this Fall apple!

  3. I'm curious how you store the apples for this long. I've always been worried that apples kept for months on end would go bad, but I have a few of these Arkansas Blacks and I'm worried they may be too young!

    1. Keep them as cold as possible without freezing.

      My absolutely-not-foolproof method is to wrap each in newspaper and place them in a plastic bag with a few air holes punched in it in the back of my fridge,


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