Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Decio too

Dense, hard Decio impressed me as a likely keeper apple when I tried it for the first time last November. So I held one back to eat near the end of the year.

Superficially, the older Decio is rock hard. It seems to have weathered well the past month in my perfectly ordinary refrigerator.

My sample's sweet aroma is leavened with a yeasty note that is probably related to its crown of russet.

Otherwise it similar to my November sample. I'll add that Decio's stem is thick and its calyx is wide open.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jonathan and Ruby Jon

I took this photo back in October to show that the beautiful color of Jonathan (right) has the same deep tone as Ruby Jon's.

As his name implies, Ruby Jon is a sport of Jonathan—a genetic mutation that entails some difference or improvement valuable enough in this case for farmers to cultivate.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Apples on the web: A radical orchardist speaks

Since 2014, Eliza Greenman has been sharing her perspective and knowledge about growing apples in her blog, Unconventional Stories from an Apple Farmer.

Greenman's observations often have a critical edge that borders on the subversive, from her exhortation to "Eat Ugly Apples" to her questions about "the ethics currently involved in producing the status quo" in the fruit world.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mysteries in yellow and red

Imagine the World's Most Interesting Apple Gentleman, and an unknown apple.
Some unidentified apples.
He (the gent) inclines his head politely. Squints and sniffs at the apple before taking a bite, measuring its blush, parsing its lenticels.

He swirls the bits in his mouth. Pronounces, "Of the Snow family, I think."

Spits, bites again, chews. Swallows. "Yes. McIntosh branch. Not that that helps us much." The next bite is pensive. "But something else. Cidery."

Another bite. "Well balanced. Sprightly."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Decio **

Let us sample what may be the oldest apple cultivar of all, dating from Roman times.

Of my two Decios, the photo shows one that is shaped almost like a prune plum, though with a little flattening on the top and bottom. The other, not shown, is squatter and more oblate.

Both have a streaky dull orange-red blush over a shade that is perhaps lightly more yellow than green Tan lenticels are not prominent. These small-to-medium apples have almost no ribbing and short, thick stems.

In the photo above, part of what appears to be the nurturing twig is still attached and nestled against the top of the fruit. (Click for a closer look.) The peel has a soft sheen.

Decio feels rock hard and bears no aroma.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Russell Orchards

On the north shore of Massachusetts, on the road to Crane Beach, is an apple orchard with an impressive selection of fruit and other good things.

Map of Russell Orchards

Russell Orchards is a big place, with hundreds of trees. It's the sort of family-oriented orchard that has apple picking, farm animals, and hay rides. For older folks, Russell also bottles their own fruit wines, ciders, and perries. Their sweet cider is unpasturized.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bottom of the Bin

The very last apples in wooden crates

The apple crop ends here, at the Copley Square (Boston) Farmers Market the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

The apples have been picked over leaving only these sorry bruised remains. See you next year!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Tremlett's Bitter (Geneva Tremlett's)

Beware any apple called Bitter. It will not be good to eat.

The virtues of Tremlett's Bitter live in cider, not eating. But cider apples are interesting. They may be spitters but their potent flavors show the heights and depths this fruit can reach.

I have three of these small apples, gnarly and fragrant. One is particularly knobby and ribbed, but on all the blush is a streaky red so dark that some vertical smears run nearly black, hinting at tannic riches. The underlying peel is probably yellow.

They are round and oblate with tiny clenched calyxes in the base. The peel ranges from matte to semigloss.

Anyway, here goes, spitkerchief at the ready.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Oceans of apple butter

There were “oceans” of apple-butter and great loaves of snow-white bread that “took the cake” over anything that came within the range of my experience.... A slice cut from one of them and smeared thick with that delicious apple-butter, was a feast fit for gods or men.

The quote is from a 1908 book by a Mr. James Harvey Kidd, but it is located in a small ocean of research about old-fashioned apple butter curated by Steven Edholm on his blog, Skillcult.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pound Sweet (Pumpkin Sweet)

Somewhere between large and enormous, this round, ribbed, pale green apple wears a small translucent orange blush on the sunward side. Most samples are unblushed.

Small lenticels, a slightly darker green, are nearly invisible even on close inspection. The peel is smooth and shiny.

There is a splash of russet around the stem area, suggesting that this apple hung heavily enough on the bough that the stem well likely filled with rainwater at times.

Pound Sweet has a sweet smell that includes a whiff of corn.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

America Golden Pippin

I got two of these heritage apples while at Cider Days. But it's not completely clear what that heritage is, since there are more than one variety bearing the name American Golden Pippin.

One of my apples is well colored, with a streaky blush covering some 80% of the spring green peel.

The blush includes a particularly dark and saturated crimson spot about the size of the quarter. There's a bit of flyspeck and other defects.

My other sample is mostly green, marked with faint pink streaks and a translucent pink patch on the sunward side.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Shinsei (Shin-ste) *

You wouldn't expect French apples to taste of Camembert, or English fruit to hint at tea and crumpets. But this surprising Asian variety—well, you'll see.

Don't you think this pale yellow-green apple is very pretty? Made more so by subtle green-on-green accents from some some darker streaks and lenticels. Mine run medium to large.

They are round and oblate without much ribbing, though one sample has some lobe-y bulges. Another, shown, has a small pale blush.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Canadian Strawberry **

Why could say no to a pretty Canadian Strawberry? Even though it's (a) not a strawberry and (b) not from Canada.

The Strawberry's cheerful striped blush comprises varying shades of orange over yellow. Tiny light lenticels are easy to miss.

The apple has a classical conical shape with slight ribbing, and my two samples are medium sized and on the small side of that. That's no indication of how big this apple can get however. Their calyxes are partially open and they smell like sweet cider.

They don't look especially like strawberries, which raises the question: how do they taste?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Pretty boy

Just had to share this gorgeous Cox's Orange Pippin, one of my last of the year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A juicy scandal

Giants bestride the apple world, gripping the wholesale exchange, ruling the supermarkets, and limiting supplies of select varieties.

They dance far above a shadowed forest of small farms growing old and lesser-known varieties.

Earlier this year a group of New England growers sought to promote the Jonagold apple, borrowing marketing strategies from the big boys, only the be kicked to the curb.

The whole story is told by apple expert Russell Powell, writing last month in the blog of the New England Apple Association.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Winecrisp **

Today's handsome apple blushes a deep rich crimson accented with purple and decorated with many tan lenticels. The color seems solid and saturated at first glance but upon closer inspection resolves into streaky bands.

The color is more attenuated on the reverse side but even there covers 100% of the peel, which appears to be a green yellow.

I have three Winecrisps of varying sizes, round and slightly ribbed. A faint smokey bloom cuts the visual volume a notch, but vigorous rubbing reveals a naturally glossy peel. The stem well has the usual russet star.

The apple is rock hard and dense and has a sweet grassy smell. I can't wait to bite in.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cider Days

Bottles of cider
Bottles of cider from West County gleam in the sun.
I spent yesterday afternoon at my state's premier apple event of the year, Franklin County Cider Days.

My trip to the western part of Massachusetts only scratched the surface of this two-day, three-ring collection of tastings, tours, meals, and workshops.

Note: yes, it's Cider Days, but where cider leads, apples are never far behind.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


The name for this apple seems to promise a boatload o' sugar.

Thankfully, Sweetie's glucose level is moderate.

But you have to wonder why the marketing strategy of hyping the sweet stuff is so often the first resort for a genus of fruit that can be spicy, bracing, and wine-dark.

I have a bag of Sweeties, medium to large and so elongated that it is almost a silly-putty parody of the classical conical apple.

(Read further for an even thinner example.)

Most of these are also lopsided. The apple in the above photo leans so far towards the camera that it masks some of Sweetie's stretched-out length. Many of the samples just topple over.

Monday, October 31, 2016

These Sweetangos are not.

In 2012 I found some illegal local Sweetangos for sale here in Massachusetts. Illegal because the license for this hot new variety is strictly controlled, to the point where no one in New England is allowed to grow them.

Although the bootlegged versions were substantially different from the licit ones in appearance and flavor profile, I was more than half convinced.

Local apple said to be Sweetango
Local "Sweetango"
True Sweetango apple
True Sweetango
Sweetango seems to be so variable based on growing conditions and handling. I hadn't yet had a good one, either.

Also the apple was pretty tasty in its own right, and so (I reasoned) why fake a Sweetango connection when you could patent, develop, and market the apple yourself?

But today I not only refute the Sweetango claim. I unmask this apple's true identity.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

So long, it's been good to know yuh

Sign saying, See you next year
Last day of Arlington Farmers Market 2016, October 26.
Many area farmers markets end this week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Thirty-five apple varieties

Bins and bins of apples
Just some of what's for sale.
Volante Farms, in Needham, Massachusetts, was selling an astonishing 35 kinds of apples today.

Thirty. Five.

Can you get yourself there? Because if you can and you don't, I do not see how you will ever forgive yourself.

Regent *

This large glossy apple is apparently a bit fragile, showing many small dings and bruises despite being well packed for its trip from Minnesota.

Somewhat lopsided, Regent is round and a little conical. You really have to peer at it to find any ribbing at all.

Tan lenticels, mostly small, speckle the streaky red blush, which covers a glossy peel that runs from green yellow to a light spring green.

The apple has a faint sweet aroma. Regent's appearance makes me think of the Mac family and so I am hoping for a nice snappy crunch.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Malinda *

I was especially interested to taste Malinda, the matriarch of the Minnesota breeding program, after trying her offspring Haralson and other North Star apples.

So, feast your eyes. No one is obliged to agree, but I find this kind of painterly apple beautiful, russet, flyspeck and all.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bonnie Best *

Another Midwest variety! Grown in the Midwest. More on that anon.

This very large globe of an apple has only the suggestion of ribs.

The green-tinted yellow peel peers through a streaky red blush; the view from the top seems to resolve into thousands of fine lines radiated from the stem well:

The view form the top seems to resolve into thousands of fine lines radiating from the stem well.
Bonnie from above.
There’s a satin semi-gloss shine on the peel, and the calyx is open.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Celestia **

In 1951, an author published in the Fruit Varieties and Horticultural Digest made this plaintive request about Celestia, an Ohio apple from 100 years earlier:

Have we lost it forever? Any clue leading to its recovery will be appreciated by a number of apple growers.

On October 8 of this year, I found Celestia at farmers market.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ruby Jon

A sport of Jonathan

Today's photo mostly fails to capture Ruby Jon's intensely deep shade of crimson. In the past I've also been unable to depict the similarly dark hues of Arkansas Black and the mahogany reds of Black Oxford.

This image shows a dark red, but the reality is darker. Does the problem lie with my camera, the online medium, or my own limits as a photographer?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Haralson *

This hefty classic may be the second-most famous product of the apple-breeding program at the University of Minnesota. (The first? Need you ask?)

Thanks to a generous reader, I have two Haralsons straight from the North Star State. My description leans on the better of the two.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The most wonderful time of the year

We had 24 varieties of apples at farmers market today, including 2 kinds of Macs.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Revisiting Cortland


Cortland sits modestly in the shadow of its more glamorous relatives, McIntosh and Macoun. Cortland is the number one favorite of some people I know, yet I generally pass this variety by, given what else is available in the fall.

For this reason I wanted to revisit Cortland, with a farmers-market-fresh apple picked at peak. Would I revise my original review?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What I'm eating this summer

Sometimes it seems as though I'll go a whole season without having a single Gingergold or Zestar, but this summer I've been enjoying both.

Gingergold starts its run in August a little greenish and tart, but still nice. It mellows out as it peaks towards the start of September.

Zestar's flavors, banana and all, work together very well.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


The summer harvest parade is well under way by mid August, with quality local varieties such as Williams Pride, Gingergold, and Gravenstein available fresh at farmers market.

So there was some irony in finding Diva in supermarkets last week, off the boat (and out of storage) from the spring harvest in New Zealand.

Diva apple

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Lodi versus Pristine and the ghost of Yellow Transparent

Lodi (L) vs Pristine

Today we weigh two modern varieties in the shadow, or perhaps the light, of a third apple that isn't here: a hundred-sixty-plus-year-old Russian variety called Yellow Transparent.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Welcoming another season

An early Vista Bella promises the harvest to come.
Earlier this year I found I had nothing to say here. For four months.

But the hope of another harvest, and encounters with four new varieties in June and July, have got me going again.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Divine (Delfloki) *

Some unusual flavors commend the apple called Divine (though its variety name is the incomprehensible Delfloki).

They are on the small end of large, tapered and conical. Ribbing is subtle and the calyx is recessed so that the apple teeters on a ring around the base.

"Teeters" because many of these are oddly lopsided. The calyx is wide open, stamens akimbo.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cripps Red (Sundowner, Joya) *

He's a sweet guy, with some interesting flavors.

Cripps Red apple

Red's pretty crimson blush, slightly streaky over yellow green, is accented by striking large light lenticels, widely spaced. The peel is very glossy and almost certainly waxed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Guest market: Marché Saint-Antoine

French markets are like ours. Only different.

At the Marché Saint-Antoine, on the Presque Isle bank of the Saône River in Lyon, the farmers and food artisans set up their stalls six mornings a week.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Ariane apple

Large but not huge, this apple's cheerful orange red blush mostly covers green yellow.

Ariane, another apple from France's National Institute for Agricultural Research, has only slight ribbing and a glossy peel that may be waxed.

Despite having  been in storage for most of a year, Ariane feels very firm in hand. She has small but distinct tan lenticels, some dark with russet.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The pomacious fruit notches another win

Hummus is healthier than you probably think. And don't ask about the granola bars.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Chantecler (Belchard)

The Chantecler, sometimes marketed under the Belchard trademark, is French. This large apple's mellow yellow color signals Golden Delicious ancestry.

Belchard apple

My samples are oblate with moderate moderate ribs. They sport dark gray brown lenticels and a few small saturated red spots like colored ink drops.

These Chanteclers have a little give, but they have been off the tree since October. They have a promising sweet aroma.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Pazazz *

Crisp and light Pazazz might be a better-balanced Honeycrisp, enjoying similar crunch but without the extreme sugar hit that some find cloying.

New varieties of apples are slow to make it to New England and when they do first appear their availability is limited and they are expensive. In a few years Pazazz will probably come down in price and be sold in supermarkets.

But I do not mind paying more to try a new apple, especially at the end of February.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Apples save the planet

If only we could store electricity, we wouldn't waste so much of it or want to burn so much coal and oil and gas for times when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow

Now come five scientists who propose developing "cheap and powerful carbon-based active materials for Na-ion batteries." From apples.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Lady in winter

a Lady Alice apple in the snowThey're available now. But are they any good?

Lady Alice made her New England debut in the spring of 2010, leaving a very favorable impression. I awarded her two stars ("worth seeking") for great texture and rich and unusual flavors.

That this variety needed to sit until March or April to reach her peak was a feature, not a bug; having something this good to bite at that time of year was a welcome treat amid the tired supermarket standards.

Starting in 2011, reports began to trickle in here of this variety for sale in February. Or, I should perhaps say, complaints: blandness, bitterness, a "chemical taste," and general dissatisfaction.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Apples in a starring role

Since I started rating apples in 2012, I’ve set aside the start of February to assess varieties tasted during the previous year. This just works better for me than rating the apples as I go.

D'Arcy Spice apple
D'Arcy Spice is worth seeking.
Seventeen of the twenty-two apples I reviewed in 2015 are getting stars this year.

In my qualitative rating scheme, one star (*) simply denotes an apple that is “worth choosing.” For 2015 welcome Cornish Aromatic, Epicure, Eureka Canyon, Kanzi, Katherine, Koru, Peace Garden, Pink Parfait, Red Astrakhan, Rockit, Spymac, Suntan, Vanilla Pippin, Waltana, and Williams.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Gleaming darkly

A trio of Arkansas Blacks gleam darkly in the January sun earlier today.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Opal vs. Junami smackdown

Today's head-to-head compares two modern varieties available in North America only briefly around the turning of the year.

Both Opal (L) and Junami were developed in Europe, and both embody balance and flavor in a way that the previous generation of commercial apples (lookin' at you Gala, Braeburn, Fuji) do not.

Other than that, these are utterly different.