Monday, November 30, 2009

Wickson ***

"Is that a really tiny apple or a really big cherry?"--my daughter's reaction to Wickson, which is either a small apple or a large crab.

With its bright saturated red blush (over a yellow not unlike that of a Rainier cherry), round, slightly elongated shape, and long stem, this small apple bears more than a passing resemblance to that fruit. Its skin is glossy and the small fruit is firm.

Wickson has coarse light-yellow flesh that is juicy and wonderfully crisp. It is well-balanced, tartness predominating but tempered by sugar, and with distinct malt-sugar notes.

This is not a flavor I have encountered in any other apple and I wonder what kind of cider these would produce.

In any case they make an excellent snack, full of snap and spice—but each is just a few bites. I found myself gnawing every eatable scrap of these little gems.

Trees of Antiquity says that Wickson was named for a famous California pomologist, and that it is indeed a "perfect cider apple."

Vintage Virginia Apples, among other sources, says that Wickson is bred from Newtown Pippin and Esopus Spitzenberg, two wonderful antique varieties. This was an inspired cross. (Update: But see this comment below).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ida Red *

Ida fire-engine Red is decorated with light yellow-green lenticels of varying size. The arresting blush covers the entire fruit, through it grows streaky around the base and my sample has russet in the stem well.

Ida is a large medium fruit, globular with just a little ribbing. Unbroken she is firm in my hand.

Her creamy-white flesh is on the fine side of coarse-grained, crisp though a little tender, and juicy. The balance is pleasantly tart, with sugar lurking underneath. Vinous and spicy flavors, and an astringent finish, combine to make Ida Red bracing and refreshing. There is also a hint of melon.

Ida Red, a Jonathan-Wagener cross, is a product of the University of Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, introduced in 1942. Many sources say it is good for pies and applesauce.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


J.R.R. Tolkien's elves divided the year into six seasons, not four. Between autumn and winter came fading, an ebb in the tide of nature.
Halfway between the cross-quarter day of Samhain (Halloween) and Yule, the trees at Nagog Hill Orchard stand bleak and bare under a gray November sky, so very different than that of early fall.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Apples on the Web: Heirlooms in the Ark

Slow Food USA identifies 129 heirloom apple varieties for its Ark of Taste, from American Beauty (reviewed here) to Yeats.

This is an interesting catalog, including may photos, and I should like to taste every one of them. Unfortunately, there are detailed descriptions of only a few of the selected varieties (seven at this writing), and no simple way to find them!

Until now, that is. Links below:

Capitol Reef
Granite Beauty
Harrison Cider
Hauer Pippin
Newtown Pippin
Sierra Beauty

To make matters more confusing, not all of these seven are on the list of 129.

Slow Food USA, like its international counterpart, promotes local food, biodiversity, and appreciation of good things to eat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hudson's Golden Gem *

If your idea of a russet apple is small and round, meet Hudson's Golden Gem.

These conical apples are medium to medium-large and obviously ribbed. The russetting, like that of other varieties, is a treat to look at: rusty, toasty brown and not entirely opaque, creating subtly shifting colors wonderfully variegated.

Green-brown lenticels, some with light specks in their centers (more russet?), provide further visual interest. Some samples have a bit of coppery blush. The firm fruit has a sweet smell of grass and yeast.

Hudson's flesh is firm but tender, coarse, pale yellow, and juicy. The texture is pear-like, though not melting, and the flavor suggest that of a Bosc. The mild flavor favors sweet, with strong pear notes, a faint nutty quality, and a hint of vanilla. Its flesh oxidizes quickly.

This variety is very pleasant and easy to eat. Even for those with conservative tastes, Hudson would make a change of pace that is easy to appreciate.

The Golden Gem hales from Oregon in the 1930s.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


On the small side of medium, this cheerful yellow variety recalls both Red and Golden Delicious. Coville has the exaggerated ribbed and tapered profile of the former and the color and dark lenticels of the latter, from which it surely must be descended.

Some have a small slight blush, rosy orange. At the base a circle of bumps surrounds an open calyx. These bruise easily and have a lush sweet aroma.

Coville's flesh is a very coarse-grained light yellow, and almost impossibly juicy. Indeed the flesh of both of my tasting samples is marbled with veins so saturated with juice as to be translucent, the beginings of water core. I cannot imagine that this variety would be good for cooking.

All Coville's juice is mild and sweet, with just a hint of tartness to liven things up. There is a hint of Golden Delicious's honey, and a tiny suggestion of melon. All these flavors are mild, light, attenuated, and eminently accessible.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ever fresh?

A fellow apple fanatic emailed me recently about a rot- and pest-resistant apple that will stay crisp and fresh for two weeks at room temperature.

Breeding will out, and the new variety has great genes, according to its patent.

Horticulturalists tout the fruit's green potential to save growers money while avoiding the need for pesticides and energy-intensive storage.

But--and excuse me for asking this--how does it taste?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pip pip

A pair of apple seeds from a Cox's Orange Pippin, November 2009.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fortune *

Today's pick is a pretty apple, medium-sized, lobed, and conical, with a blush that is deep red where saturated and studded with tiny light lenticels. It has no aroma that I can smell.

Fortune is part of the McIntosh family, and looks it, so I was surprised that its flesh is a light yellow, on the coarse side. (One sample's flesh had a green tint.) It is nicely crisp and juicy but with a little tenderness, and its peel is quite chewy: I imagine this variety travels well.

The apple's flavor is also a little unexpected. It is well balanced and generally rich, with a hint of melon and spice, but initially some tartness presents itself and overcomes everything else. Be patient, however--the fading aftertaste is sweeter and holds a little mango and tangerine. When even that has faded attend carefully and you will be rewarded with some distinct, if distant, cantaloupe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Photos of Kazakh Apples

A vigilant reader provides a link to this BBC photo essay of apples in Kazakhstan, where the fruit originated and still grows wild.

Thanks, ascorbic!

A friend who has been there tells me of fabulous, huge Kazakh apples--not the ur-apples in ascorbic's link, but maybe shown here, and mentioned in this companion news story.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turbo-charged apple trees

Matt Gunderson, writing in last week's Boston Globe, describes an experiment in high-density apple farming at Shelburne Farm and ten other orchards in Massachusetts.

According to the UMass Extension Program, this technique entails using dwarf rootstock and training, rather than pruning, to direct tree vigor into the production of fruit rather than wood. Trees are small and close together, and very high yielding; furthermore they produce earlier, and yield larger fruit. Gunderson describes, for example,

a 1.5-pound honey crisp specimen - the size of a small pumpkin - from the new orchard.

Acromegalic Honeycrisps? I admit to mixed feelings about that.

But I am glad to see apple journalism in my newspaper, and this seems to be the season: the Globe also published a recipe for apple cider sorbet. Yum!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Winesap **

This antique variety--more than 200 years old--is beloved, even legendary. It has a wonderful name, at once old (think Nodhead or Hubbardston Nonesuch) and new (Honeycrisp, Jazz).

I have never tasted one before, so you can imagine my keen interest.

I am holding a large, classically shaped apple with a red blush, both saturated and streaky, over yellow green, a little on the dull side. Light lenticels, mostly at the bottom, decorate the blush; they are barely visible elsewhere.

There's some ribbing and, on my sample, flyspeck. Its calyx is closed, but not tightly, and it sits firm in my hand, with a faint cidery aroma.

Biting into this apple for the first time reveals dense white flesh with a faint yellow cast, medium-fine grained and crunchy crisp. Winesap's flavor is surprisingly mild, neither tart nor sweet. Perhaps this why I am able to notice a nutty taste, though it is not a strong flavor.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What to eat in November

From October's explosive bounty, the transition to November is stark.

One week there might be nearly a score of choices at the market. Next week the harvest is in, the apples are picked, and the market is closed until June.*

There are still late season choices, at orchards, in supermarkets, and at the farmers markets (mostly in cities) that remain open. Not everything has been picked, and much of what has been picked keeps well.

Early November is also a chance for a last bite at varieties that don't do well in storage, at least not the storage that you or I can provide. Sometime this month the quality of the Macouns in supermarkets, industrially stored, will surpass that of those available from the farmers who grew them.