Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Seeing Red

Shelburne Farm, in Stow, Massachusetts, is on a tear with red-fleshed apples, and here are three of them.

Three red-fleshed apples, sliced
Left to right: Scarlet Surprise, Pink Pearl, Firecracker

The photo above buttresses three of my observations about red-fleshed apples generally.

First, the rough, granular quality of the flesh (more obvious perhaps if you zoom in by clicking on the photo).

Second, the great variability in the appearance of these apples: different colors in the blush and peel, different shapes and sizes.

Finally, the apparent failure of red-fleshed apples grown here in New England to color fully. More below.

Scarlet Surprise

Uncut red appleAt left in the above photo, Scarlet Surprise has a streaky scarlet blush and tiny light lenticel dots. Inside it is a marbled pink rather than solid red, but my guess is it has a more intense color when grown elsewhere.

Unlike my earlier sample, the flesh is quite soft, almost custardy, on the edge of mealy, and has an intense and distinct strawberry flavor. Whether the apple was mealy or not depended on where on the apple the bite came from.

That earlier sample, just separated from this one by a week, had better texture and some interesting flavors, but lacked the startling strawberry, the most intense strawberry I have yet found in an apple.

The sample in the trio happens to be smaller than most that I found.

Pink Pearl

The middle of the three, Pink Pearl, is light yellow, almost a tan color, with a small orange-pink blush. The skin is quite thin and if one looks closely it is possible to see pinkish regions where the underlying color of the flesh shows through.

I have tasted Pink Pearl before, in California where it was bred. That apple (left) was a vivid flamingo magenta through and through, whereas this one only has pink streaks within off-yellow flesh.

My theory is that the red-fleshed apples just do not color as well here in New England. Call it terroir if you like, though I think this is a grosser effect.

This Pink Pearl is crisp and crunchy, with notes of cotton candy and grapefruit peel. It is rather more tart than otherwise. The texture is fine-grained and good.


Oval apple, intense saturated red.
Firecracker is a crab apple, small and elongated. Some are conical and have ribbed "chins" at the base.

Firecracker's peel is blushed to a deep glossy red. The lenticels are essentially invisible.

This one is mostly bitter and tart, though there is some cherry and grapefruit before those harsher flavors sweep away all nuances. Not a true spitter, but not an eating apple either.

The texture is crunchy, but you can feel the grain of the flesh.


Of the three today, Pink Pearl takes the prize. Firecracker is really not an eating apple, whatever else it may be good for.

Three apples with peels that are orange-red, yellow with a pink blush, and deep red

Despite a very fine strawberry flavor, Scarlet Surprise's texture, which verges on mealy, makes it an inferior choice.

I think the Pearl edges out last week's (better) Surprise, too, but that is a much closer choice.

Note my review of Pearl is of (1) a California-grown apple, solid pink, that (2) had been off the tree for several weeks. Better color, less vivid flavors, texture still good. It also had no blush.


Many are excited about the promise of red-flesh apples, bred from unpalatable asian crabs, for eating. I think the choices in that department are today quite good.

One pioneer in this realm was Albert Etter, a California apple breeder who created the Pink Pearl (among others). Today some of his work is preserved by Greenmantle Nurseries.

The Pink Pearl and Scarlet Surprise (when not overripe) are good to eat, if not in the top rank, and would be worth eating even without the novelty of colored flesh. Airlie Redflesh is worth seeking (I give it two stars).

I feel a little sorry for Shelburne, laudibly taking the trouble to grow these apples that apparently do not realize their full carmine potential in this part of the world.

But if there is some trick of plant husbandry that will make these colors more brilliant, perhaps Shelburne will tease it out.



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