Friday, January 13, 2017

Empire versus Rubyfrost smackdown

Two years ago I had the idea of comparing Macoun with Rubyfrost.

This was an appealing thought because both are products of the same breeding program in New York, separated by 90 years. But it proved not a fair match.

So this year I am back with what ought to be a more apt comparison: Rubyfrost (r) versus Empire, also from the same breeding program.
Those tiny white streaks are snowflakes.
For where Macoun is a show horse, Empire is a work horse. By January, Macoun is decidedly slowing down, but Empire is just hitting its stride. Like Rubyfrost, Empire seems aimed at the winter market.

This Empire is generally round, though not as squat as Rubyfrost, but many are elongated and tapered. It wears a lovely deep purplish-red blush broken by many very tiny light lenticels, glossy and deep.

Rubyfrost's blush is also saturated and glossy but tinged with orange rather than purple. Its lenticels are still small but more distinct and less numerous than Empire's.

Both blushes cover nearly all, but where shade dappled the ripening fruit we can see yellow-green peeking though. Rubyfrosts's underlying color is slightly greener than Empire's.

These are both shapely, attractive apples. But it's what's inside that counts.

Crisp Empire's off-white flesh is more fine-grained than otherwise. It bears clean well-balanced flavors of berries and wine.

Rubyfrost is also wonderfully crisp with flesh that is yellower and coarser. Flavor highlights include a burst of floral taste followed by savory tang. It is similarly well balanced with sweet nicely poised against tart.

Empire's flavors are finer, less saturated, higher pitched, more delicate. Rubyfrost is fuller and more substantial.

The two have very similar texture, sweetness, and acidity, Both are quite satisfying.


I call this bout for Empire on technical grounds. Empire's flavor set is a generic distillation of the whole sprawling McIntosh family (Empire is half Mac, with Red Delicious).

This may not be especially distinctive, but it makes for a more-complementary whole than Rubyfrost's sweet-tangy, almost salty, elements. These are interesting but almost seem to be talking past each other.

Empire and Rubyfrost are true peers and it is fun and interesting to see what Cornell is up to with Rubyfrost (introduced 2013) versus Empire (1945).

It is also instructive to compare their names. 1945 seems to say: what better name for an apple from the Empire State?

But today in the market-driven 21st century, apples are named, like cars or telephones, with a sleek psychology in mind. Goodby to names like Nodhead, McIntosh, Baldwin; hello Honeycrisp, Piñata, and Rubyfrost.

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