Friday, December 31, 2010

Black Oxford *

Not the shoe and not the fabric, today's fruit is named for its unusual deep color and a county in western Maine.

It is small and quite dark, spattered with rust-colored lenticels like some polished victorian curio of exotic hardwood or stone.

The blush is a deep red with purple overtones, almost mahogany, sometimes described as having a blackish bloom. The apple is slightly ribbed and classically shaped, round to conical. Its unbroken peel has a faint grassy smell.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Unnatural selection

The apple thought of the day must surely be this one, about Hawkeye's slow evolution into Red Delicious:

More than 30 mutations later, we have an apple that’s gotten redder and redder, with lots of emphasis on an elongated conic nose.... The ones in a supermarket could be as much as a year old, and they’ve had quite a journey.... So when you bite into one, you’re often disappointed.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Esopus Spitzenberg

I snagged a small bag of these elusive apples this year and a few were in pretty good shape.

So while I am keeping my original review in place (of an imperfect sample), here are tasting notes based on fresher fruit.

Esopus Spitzenberg is attractive: large and classically shaped with prominent ribs and a slightly conical profile. The red blush has a matte finish and runs from various shades of true red to orange to the underlying yellow. Many large irregular tan lenticels accentuate the shape.

Esopus has a lovely old-fashioned cidery smell with a whiff of spice.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Apples on the Web: My Grandpap's Apple Orchard

John Henderson, a farmer and social-sciences librarian at Ithaca College (New York), shares three generations of apple lore and memories at My Grandpap's Apple Orchard.

This no-frills web site succeeds on several levels: as a catalog of apple descriptions, a collection of memories and stories, and an an impressive and well organized collection of links, categorized with a librarian's sensibility.

Henderson's farm includes both a small new orchard and "remnants from a much older apple orchard now part of a mixed deciduous woods." On a parallel web site he describes those apples in terms of physical and growing characteristics, and also ratings from various historical sources, meticulously documented.

Back at Grandpap's, the apple descriptions are layered, being Henderson's account not just of the apples in his grandfather's Pennsylvania orchard but also of what his grandfather and other family members thought of them. These are all as viewed though the lense of Henderson's father's memories, adding a patina of family tradition to these descriptions and stories.

Anyone lonesome for apples in the winter months could do worse than to graze here, or among the many interesting links.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roll Call

The apple-blogging niche is not crowded, but things change and people come and go.

Here is where things stand at the end of 2010.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Banana **

Besides the blush, this apple is really two-toned: a banana yellow (sure enough) tinged a little with green, and a distinctly green-yellow hue. Flecked with brown lenticels, the resemblance to the long tropical fruit is clear, if not necessarily obvious.

The blush is small, a light pink whose translucency, over the yellow, makes a peachy orange. The general effect is striking.

The apple runs medium to large and is ribbed and slightly conical. The skin is naturally waxy. A week off the tree it is firm and has a sweet grassy fragrance.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ananas Reinette *

"Ananas" is "pineapple" in French. This small-to-medium variety is ribbed and conical.

I selected the apple for today's photoshoot for its striking lime-green stripes over a lighter spring green. However, some other samples have distinctly yellow regions, and one has a pale orange blush over one third of its surface.

The lenticels are dark green, though much less prominent in the blush, and the apple is quite firm. It has no scent.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Apples of November (2010)

The local apple season starts with a thin trickle in July and slowly builds to its October climax.

In November things drop off the edge of a cliff.

This year the end of the harvest felt particularly abrupt. At those few farmers markets that continue past Halloween, pickings were slim compared to last year, when you could buy Blushing Goldens the day before Thanksgiving.

I chalk this up to the vagaries of the harvest, from this year's odd Spring to Fall's windstorms. I wonder how long the Macouns will last in supermarkets this winter.

Treasures were few this month, and if you are reading this wondering what to buy in some future November I refer you to the guide I wrote last year.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thome Empire *

What a pretty color!

Thome is a sport of Empire--a genetic mutation, with but a single parent.

Looks count at the market, so a sport that is redder or prettier than its parent can be valuable.

The fruit is medium to large and ribbed, a slightly elongated sphere. The deep plum-purple blush is decorated by many small light lenticels and a dusty blue bloom. It's nice and firm.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Washington Royal (Palmer Greening) *

The variegated skin of this ironically named antique mixes shades of yellow green and green yellow in an attractive way. You can see what little blush there is, faint spotty brownish orange, in the photo on the tops of the lobes of this ribbed apple.

The lenticels are dark and the peel--see it shine?--is waxy.

This variety is also known as Palmer Greening, which was apparently the more popular name in New England. It is hard to know which name to use today, but it is mostly an academic question, since it is so little grown.

Whatever name, unbroken it is very firm in my hand and has a sweet grassy fragrance.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jonagored (Jona-Go-Red) *

Jona-gored? Worst name ever, but let's eat it.

This apple is "just" a sport of Jonagold, but is redder and much, much bigger. My sample approached King Luscious territory, and was far from the largest in the bin.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Apple haiku no. 2

From the back roads of Massachusetts at the end of October.

Scent of
apple fades
and trees
fall into
drowsy sleep

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lyscom **

Large and prominently ribbed with distinct lobes, Lyscom has an open calyx and a very shallow stem well. Its blush is a streakey blotchy wash of dull red and purple over green: the effect is almost brown in places.

Large Lyscom unbroken has a sweet grassy aroma and a firm feel.

The flesh is light yellow, moderately crisp, and slightly coarse. Lyscom's flavor is balanced with some tartness, pear at first giving way to some astringent notes: lemon, spice, and a vinous quality.

These assertive flavors may not appeal to the sweet-tooth crowd but Lyscom is fun to eat. Texture, size, and flavors combine with a light acidity to make a refreshing substantial snack.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November sun

The lovely low light of November's sun kisses the trees at Nagog Farm like a stone skipped over a pond.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


This large, classically shaped apple is visually striking, with a variegated blush (quite deep red in spots, but mostly streaky over yellow) and some unusual effects from russet and other superficial defects.

Of course this sort of thing is the kiss of death in the big-time fruit world, where obsession with physical perfection has been known to compromise quality. But this fruit is from an organic farm and wears its blemishes like dueling scars. I find it ruggedly handsome.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ben Davis

Seldom sought (or grown), obscure Ben Davis is the sire of sturdy stalwart Cortland.

Ben is a big ribbed guy with a streaky red blush over a bright yellow green. The blush is almost granular, like small discrete blobs of pigment washed over a green canvas. His calyx is dry and open.

My sample is nobbed and gnarled and host to a harmless skin condition called sooty blotch. It is quite firm and, unbroken, has a sweet yeasty fragrance.

Ben's flesh is a fine-grained snowy white, not very juicy, and firm but yielding and chewy rather than crunchy. Spongy, even. The flavors are very mild and balanced--there is nothing here to offend anyone--with some delicate floral notes and a cool hint of the vine.

Though pleasant to eat, the dry texture is subpar, and Ben is not going to rock anyone's world. He has all but faded from view.

Jim Cummings has a pretty good story about Ben. It is interesting to contemplate the alchemy that crosses McIntosh with this variety to produce Cortland.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Topaz **

Proposition: Today's apple, crunchy, juicy, and flavorful, is the un-Honeycrisp.

I have two Topaz apples, one medium sized and one quite large. Both are ribbed oblate spheres with an attractive red blush, streaky over a vivid yellow green. Tan lenticels are of varying size. The whole apple is rock hard (but not to the tooth, see below).

Inside is very crisp, very juicy coarse yellow flesh. Despite considerable balancing sugar the flavors are tart with some pleasantly fizzy acidity. The taste is spicy, with hints of corn and grass, and one sample has mineral and brine notes.

Jon Clements, the UMass Extension Fruit Advisor, has recorded this short video about Topaz.

These flavors work very well, and the crisp firm juicy flesh is tops. Still I could not in good conscience recommend Topaz to a Honeycrisp lover, except for one with broad tastes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Apples of October (2010)

Left to Right: Winter Banana, Thome Empire, Ananas Reinette, Roxbury Russet.

October is always exciting, the principal month for apples in the principle apple season. (Further emphasized by the abrupt end of the harvest around Halloween.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Swaar *

The green apple with the Dutch name is on the large end of medium-sized and moderately rubbed.

Beneath all that superficial sooty blotch (this is from Tower Hill's very-low-spray heirloom orchard), Swaar is two-toned, a bright spring green over a greenish yellow.

There is a subtle hint of orangey coppery blush in a few spots; click on the photo for a better look.

Russeted lenticels are all but lost in the intricate tattoo of russet, flyspeck, and the previously noted blotch.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hutchins Farm

A mile north of Concord's historic

rude bridge that arched the flood

where, in Emerson's words,

once th' embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

is Hutchins Farm, an organic farm with a small but diverse orchard. I have been eating--and reviewing--apples from these trees for the past month.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Apple haiku

Apple leaves of gold

trees at Nagog resting now—

yet red fruit remains.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Davey **

Davey (rhymes with "savvy," not "gravy") is medium-sized, conical, and lightly ribbed. Its attractive red blush is a little striped and streaked over a yellow peel that is much greener at the crown than the base.

Large green-yellow lenticels are prominent in the blush--many at the base thinning to none at the crown.

Davey's calyx is partly open. The apple is firm and has a pretty cidery aroma.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Brigham Farm Stand

What impressed me first about this little farm stand was the hand-written note warning that the Macouns were "not at peak" yet. (That was in early September: the Macouns have been pretty wonderful for the past month.)

Since then Brigham has surprised me with several unusual varieties. But the sign signals a respect both for apples and the people who appreciate them.

Located three miles south of Concord Center since the early 19th century, Brigham no longer grows its own apples. It's still a good place to buy them, though.

I found a healthy selection of some sixteen varieties, changing a bit each visit. These include popular apples like Macoun but also such lesser-knowns as Golden Supreme, Suncrisp, and even Winter Banana, an heirloom.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Smokehouse *

An unexpected perquisite of this blog is that sometimes people send me apples to try. (Okay, twice. But a man can dream.)

Today's variety is just such a gift, picked and mailed in early October.

Smokehouse, named for the proximity of its ur-tree to a Pennsylvania smokehouse, ranges from medium to large.

The streaky blush of this round apple includes some dark red stripes. Large tan lenticels set off the blush handsomely, presenting as dark green in the yellow-green unblushed peel.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Awesome *

Hutchins Farm reports that this apple, a sport (apparently) of Empire, has no name. Nature abhors a vacuum, so we will use Hutchins's home-grown appellation.*

This sport is very large and moderately ribbed, with a red blush that is mostly streaky over a bright yellow-green. Many small light lenticels decorate the blush, which manages to be quite dark in places, and as the photo shows there are some jagged swaths of what I take to be russet. (Or perhaps it is something else?)

Fameuse (Snow) *

This variety is either old or very old, and may be a parent of the popular McIntosh. There is a family resemblance.

Fameuse is a medium-sized apple, round and firm, with a red blush that is streaky in most places over yellow-green (about a third of the skin is unblushed in my samples). Its calyx is closed.

The flesh is indeed a snowy white (shot with green highlights in my case), crisp and dense-grained. Snow's flavor is balanced and vinous with berries and caramel, and without much acidity. It is a little Mac-like, pleasing and fine. Some later samples, less crisp (but still good) also have some coconut flavor.

Monday, October 18, 2010

28 from the market

Thanks to a reader for forwarding this link to New York Magazine's micro-reviews of 28 apples.

The authors made their picks from 60 varieties bought at the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan (map).

Lucky Rose Golden *

This pretty variety, a large medium, is mostly an unblushed yellow. Though the blush is often streaky, it ranges from a saturated red to a faint orange-pink wash. (It's quite solid on one sample). The lenticels are dark.

Lucky is ribbed and well-formed, a bit conical.

The flesh is a coarse, juicy yellow, satisfyingly crisp. Its simple, sweet flavors embrace some of the qualities of a Golden Delicious, with a hit of ripe pear and a little pineapple, which is faint but provides a nice counterpoint. Lucky Rose is sweet, but has enough tartness to stay tasty.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A walk in an orchard

Last weekend I had the pleasure of a tasting tour through an orchard of 119 heirloom apple varieties.

This remarkable collection, conserved and curated by the Worcester County Horticultural Society, lives today at the Society's center at Tower Hill in Boylston, Massachusetts.

Worcester Horticultural's Joann Vierra in action.
For more than an hour we walked from tree to tree while volunteers cut slices of apples fresh off the bough, the autumn sun and breezes in our faces and hair.

Meanwhile the society's horticultural director, Joann Vieira, told us about the apples, quoting Spencer Beech's Apples of New York extensively.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reinette Simirenko (Wood's Greening) **

This large-medium - sized apple is conical and distinctively ribbed: one jutting corner of my sample cleaves the air like the prow of a ship.

The peel is delicately colored with green streaks over a lighter green, but some samples have a small fragile pink blush. There are light lenticels, and my sample has flyspeck, sooty blotch, and a corona of russet flairing out fron the stem well.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sister of Fortune (NY428) *

Like Early Spy, this is another apple with a purely "local" name. But it beats "NY428," this apple's official designation as part of the breeding program of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.

Sister is named for her relationship to the better-known Fortune, which was originally NY429.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Deep red

The blushes seem more saturated and intense to me this year. Above, Chestnut Crabapples cluster around Melrouge.

The crabs are sadly not good to eat this year, dry and mealy (though firm to the touch). Their uncharacteristic deep color may be a symptom of too much heat or time on the tree.

However, fiery, russet-blasted Melrouge is excellent.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Elstar *

Elstar is generally medium-sized, with some variation. It is moderately ribbed with a streaky red blush over yellow, and with tan, nearly invisible lenticels (a few have dark specks in the center).

This apple is firm with a sweet aroma that suggest the Golden Delicious variety. (Aptly so, as it turns out.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Looking for something?

Maybe you found this blog by looking for something (on Google, for instance).

Here are some search-related tips about links, labels, sidebar links, comments, photos, search, and other features.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spigold *

Crossing Northern Spy with Golden Delicious can get you a huge apple, at least if Spigold is any indication.
This lopsided, oblate, and very slightly ribbed variety has a dull red blush streaky over a light green yellow. Its light tan lenticels look smaller in the blushed area.

Unbroken Spigold feels hefty and firm with a sweet cidery aroma.

Inside, this variety's yellow flesh is coarse, juicy, and satisfyingly crisp. Crosses like Spigold do not always produce a recognizable blend, but in this case the flavors neatly bisect those of its parents. The apple is sweet but (mostly) balanced by a little tartness, and presents both Northern Spy's spicy flavor along with the honeyed richness of Golden Delicious.

The result includes a little pleasant vinousness. This is a fabulous combination of flavors and I had no trouble polishing off my very large sample. The flesh oxidizes quickly.

I wonder, are these good in pie? Because I don't think you'd need more than one or two.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Views from an orchard

A few trees did not survive hurricane season at Nagog Hill Farm

Yet many apples remain to be picked (Photos October 2)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Apples of September (2010)

September starts with a parade of interesting but short-lived summer apples and ends with some of the finest varieties at their peak.

This year I was especially interested to see how Spring's unusual weather would affect the harvest. One grower had wildly predicted McIntosh in mid-August (even as he was selling Lodi apples harvested much too early).

We dodged that particular sign of the apocalypse, though the same grower was selling russets in mid-September that were pretty much ripe. (These were not very flavorful, though.) I started eating Macouns the end of the first week in September that were very good, though not at peak. That's a bit early but not beyond the pale.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finding your apple

A reader asks,

I just have one simple question where can I buy Russet Apples, NOT the tree the actual apples.

You could swap in almost any variety for this request. One fellow wrote to me three times asking if I could ship Baldwin and Northern Spy apples to him, and would I like his credit-card number. (Needless to say, I do not grow apples--I just eat them.)

Monday, September 27, 2010


Senshu, a daughter of Fuji, is slightly ribbed and runs from medium to large. She has a red blush over yellow-green peel, starred with large lenticels that are dark, except in the blush. This variety is firm and smells sweet.

Senshu has delightfully crisp light-yellow flesh, on the coarse-grained side and juicy. The flavor is light and sweet with just a suggestion of balancing tart. There is a hint of cider and corn syrup, and also something very like melon, celery, and B-vitamins, though these are faint.

The peel adds a vegetable note to the finish. Flavors of a second and riper tasting sample were more assertive.

This is a pleasing variety with an Asian (or at any rate Japanese) aesthetic, light, sweet, and crisp. Senshu's other parent (with Fuji) is called Toko.

Note: Revised slightly in 2011.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gray Pearmain *

Gray Pearmain is a medium-to-medium-large apple, oblate with barely any ribbing. Its peel is a pale yellow with regions of pale yellow-green. The closest thing to a blush is a small rosy tinge.

My tasting samples bear many inconsequential marks of Nature's affection: russet, fly speck, sooty blotch, and other imperfections. The fruit feels firm with a faint promising fruity aroma.

The Gray Pearmain's flesh is crisp and firm, a coarse pale white. Its flavors are nicely balanced though on the sweet side of that range, something like a russet but without the lemony acidity. There are honey and pear, something like an Asian Pear, and a kiss of vanilla. These are subtle and mild.

This delicate, elegant apple is a pentimento of a gentler age that should appeal to many tastes both callow and sophisticated. Kudos to Hutchins Farm for growing it. I nibbled mine down to the seeds.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Golden Supreme *

Today's handsome apple runs to to large: a shapely, conical, and slightly ribbed fruit. Its yellow skin has green highlights. Some sport a small, delicate orange-pink blush, nearly transparent.

There are many small lenticels, most light-green, some dark (perhaps with russet). The calyx is partly open, and there is faint sweet aroma.

Golden Supreme's flesh is crisp, coarse-grained, and light yellow. It bears juice with some of the honey-and-pear qualities of a Golden Delicious, but lighter and less complex. The flavor is more sweet than otherwise but well balanced, and the firm but juicy flesh is satisfying to chew.

This uncluttered refreshing variety is easy to enjoy and would make a pleasant addition to a tasting assortment.

I almost passed Golden Supreme by, thinking it was "just" a minor sport of Golden Delicious, but according to The Natural Food Hub it was a chance seedling found in Idaho around 1960.

Monday, September 20, 2010

99 apple reviews on the blog, 99 apple reviews...

To mark my impending 100th variety review (hooray!), I have added to this blog a page of the images of all my apples.

I like to look at them; if nothing else, they document my journey as a pomophile (and photographer).

If you are seeking a particular variety, your best bet is the alphabetical list in the sidebar at below right.

But if you want to quiz yourself, or match an unknown apple you have in hand, or just see a lot of apples, each of the thumbnails will provide you with the name of its variety on mouse hover, and a link to its full review.

A link to the visual page joins the tabs at the top of the page, or you can just
Read more»

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Early Spy (NY75423-30) *

This apple doesn't really have a name. It is identified by the grower as Early Spy, but that is a purely local title, neither patented, trademarked, nor enrolled in any one's Registry of Fruit Names.

Instead it is known to the fruit world (if at all) as NY75423-30, which identifies it as a product of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The solar orchard

This is what a quarter-megawatt looks like.

Carlson Orchards, in Harvard, Mass., has installed a two-acre photovoltaic array to power its operation.

I viewed it for the first time on September 6.

It's quite the largest of its kind that I have seen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wealthy **

This large medium-sized apple is round with only a faint trace of ribbing, a cheerful yellow-green partially covered with a streaky blush of vivid red with orange accents. The lenticels are a slightly darker green on the skin and lighter in the blush.

Wealthy feels reasonably firm and has no appreciable aroma.

The flesh is a somewhat tender--but crisp--medium-coarse white tinged with yellow, bearing juice that is tart but not unbalanced. There is a little banana, lemon-lime citrus, something like tart strawberries, and some fizzy acidity. This constellation of tastes approaches the vinous quality without hitting it dead on.

Wealthy's flavors are layered, interesting, and refreshing, with a pleasantly astringent finish. Tart-averse palates might be better off with Mollie's Delicious (I bought these two varieties the same day), but for my taste buds Wealthy gives Gravenstein a run for best of August.

Wealthy was first recorded in Minnesota in the 1860s, an open-pollinated seedling of a Cherry Crab. For a charming history of this variety, including the meaning of its name, click here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Olympic apple

The mountains are Olympic, wreathed in cloud, as seen from across the Hood Canal in Washington State.

The apple is an early Shamrock from Pike Place Market, Seattle's justly famous green market (map).

I bought a few of these out of curiosity and confusion. They do not look much like the Shamrocks I've had here in Massachusetts, in fact I thought these might be Lodis. They are way out of season for Shamrocks.

Also the grower confidently explained (I am such a sucker for that) that they were a Granny Smith - McIntosh cross, something I am quite sure I have never tasted. So I thought they might be something new.*

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nearly ready

On the tree at Nagog Hill Farm earlier today.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mollie's Delicious *

There was such variation in the bin of Mollie's Delicious that I could not find a typical sample.

Most ran large to extra-large and were both ribbed and conical--more so than in my example, and a few with such exaggerated ribbing as to look strangely emaciated.

All had a streaky red blush that nonetheless manages to be quite rich in places, a very handsome color. This is over a green-tinged yellow skin.

Mollie has a very deep stem well and tan lenticels that range from tiny to large. It feels quite firm unbroken and has a very faint sweet aroma.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Apples of August (2010)

So, August is just a prelude to September, when the real Apple action ramps up. Right?

Any week that offers a choice between between rich and mellow Williams' Pride, spicy Gravenstein, and Tydeman's Early Red (a wonderful old variety) is a great week for apples. I heartily recommend any of these.

That was just the second week in August, when I also found unusual Empress.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Pronounced "ah-kah-nay." This large apple is a very pretty bright red over yellow, slightly conical and slightly ribbed. It is decorated with irregular small light lenticels.

Note that my sample was waxed, as I bought it in a supermarket while visiting Seattle. Perhaps for that reason, the fruit had no aroma at all.

Akane's dense white flesh was moderately yielding and had a good balance of sweet and tart and generally light and generic flavors but also a suggestion of a vinous quality and hints of kiwi and, towards the finish, white wine.

This is a chewy apple with a chewy peel, filling and not super juicy.

Akane's delicate flavor and substantial texture are appealing, but I feel there is a little something missing. Its main flavors are not assertive, on the other hand it has a subtle kick that is interesting and unusual.