There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch
October 2, 2007 1:59 PM   Subscribe

King of Fruits, Tempter of Adam, Prize of Paris: It's apple-picking time. The apple's origins reach into prehistory. Thanks to tremendous genetic variance in each new generation, humans have cultivated a dizzying number of named varieties, as many as 17,000, of which 7500 are available as growth stock. In the past, different apples were prized for particular strengths: cider pressing, storage, cooking, drying, or eating out of hand. Despite this bounty, just 15 shelf-stable, shiny, easy-to-pick varieties account for 90% of apple sales today. But heirloom apple growers are working to preserve the old flavors of the Roxbury Russet, the Westfield Seek-No-Further, the Fallawater, the Limbertwig, the King Luscious...
posted by Miko (58 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord! For giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple trees...
posted by LionIndex at 2:04 PM on October 2, 2007

A) Who the heck likes Red Delicious apples? So mealy! Yuck. Sweet perhaps, but F- for texture.

B) The real crime is that it's so damn hard to buy a Canadian apple in Canada. Canada produces plenty of apples (Though apparently crops are dropping!) but all you can find outside of September and October and south american and South African apples. Oh, and New Zealand apples. I mean, really? Is it actually cheaper to get them from New Zealand versus BC? And heck, I'm all for comparative advantage and all but there's something to be said for buying local produce. Apples aren't like citrus fruit or lettuce - they can keep just about forever. No need to keep flying them in.

C) Why do supermarkets not stock Spys? They are the best pie apple, bar none. I can only find them at smaller fruit stands. SPY APPLE CONSIPRACY!
posted by GuyZero at 2:09 PM on October 2, 2007

King of Fruits

SHHHHH! You'll piss off the Durian!!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:10 PM on October 2, 2007

posted by davros42 at 2:24 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

My uncle had a farm when I was a kid. Their front driveway had a row of crabapple trees along it, maybe 8 or 9 in all. Once a year they'd go out and pick crabapples, which are only about four times the size of a cherry, and then make cider in an old wooden cider press.

It was the best cider! But it was so strongly flavored that you couldn't drink a lot of it at one time. It was sipping cider, not drinking cider.

But boy, was it good!
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:24 PM on October 2, 2007

When I was growing up there were only three varieties of apple: Mush (Red Delicious) Water (Yellow Delicious) and Sour (Granny Smith).

The current apple bounty fills my heart with joy.
posted by lekvar at 2:25 PM on October 2, 2007

And I just finished a batch of my homemade chunky applesauce this afternoon, too!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:26 PM on October 2, 2007

I like locally-grown Red Delicious apples. They're vastly different in flavor and texture from those in the supermarket. Of course, I won't be getting any local apples at all this year due to a late spring freeze.

Orange Pippin is another good apple-related site, and the Wittenham Hill Cider Portal is a great introduction to cidermaking. Steven's right on; using crabapples as part of a cider blend makes the resulting drink really kickass. (Shameless self-promotion: I just wrote an article on making hard cider for Mother Earth News.)

Nice post, Miko.
posted by cog_nate at 2:32 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

It was sipping cider, not drinking cider.

ahem, mi mi mi mi mimi

THAAAAAA cutest boy
the cutest boy
I ever saw...
I ever saw
Was sippin' Ci
Was sippin' Ci
Der through a straw...
Der through a straw...
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:33 PM on October 2, 2007

We have Honeycrisps in at our Co-op lately. They kick ass.
posted by everichon at 2:40 PM on October 2, 2007

I remember when we were dirt poor. Someone in our family owned a farm with an apple orchard. One day my father brought home over 8 bushels of apples. We were eating apple pancakes...apples in oatmeal..
apple pies...fried apples..backed apples...and whatever my parents would throw together. We ate apples for weeks until they just got rotten, but at that point...I lost my taste for apples. Would not touch them until 1980. I still can't eat applesauce.
posted by doctorschlock at 2:49 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

How you like THEM apples?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:57 PM on October 2, 2007

Honeycrisp apples are one of the greatest inventions of the past 50 years.
posted by mattbucher at 3:03 PM on October 2, 2007

Cox's Orange Pippin -- the best apple ever.

Followed closely by a Mac, fresh from the tree.
posted by jrochest at 3:08 PM on October 2, 2007

My daughter and I have been enjoying Jonathans this year. Her class went to an orchard a couple of weeks ago. She came home and insisted on getting a bag of Jonathans.
posted by Sailormom at 3:09 PM on October 2, 2007

"as delicious as it is discombobulating," hehehe!

Nice article, cog_nate! As part of my Slow Food stuff I've been fortunate enough to meet with Ben Watson, whose book you cite, and hopefully will get to work with him more in the future. I think he's working on an American Apple Atlas or something like that.

As for me, no autumn is complete without a trip here to get some hot spiced cider, just-pressed, and a cider donut or two, and sit in a rocker or a cast-iron chair on the porch and watch leaves fall. When I lived nearby there in Connecticut, they were an ace in the hole on Sundays: the blue laws prevented all alcohol sales that day, but some wrinkle in the local code made it all right for Clyde's to sell their hard stuff on Sunday anyway. A lot of Sunday-evening fall dinners were enlivened in that way. You walk around the back of the press to the stone foundation in the old barn, and they've got their fermenting tanks down there. You pay cash, and they hand you out a plastic half-gallon jug of whichever hard cider you want (they have several kinds). Up in the main store you can get them in nice wine bottles with labels - good for gifts, but there's something wonderfully down-home and just-barely-licit about the plastic jugs.
posted by Miko at 3:10 PM on October 2, 2007

If it hasn't been claimed already, I'd like to call dibs on King Luscious as my nom de pimp.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:13 PM on October 2, 2007

Anybody intested in apples should read
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
posted by allelopath at 3:14 PM on October 2, 2007

Ah yes, apples! Delightful and timely post Miko.

I'd never been much of an apple enjoyer until I lived in apple orchards for 4 years in Manali, India, on the Indo-Tibetan border. It was a tiny house, just like this. What joy! In March there are miles and miles of pink popcorn puffs on apple trees from Rohtang Pass all the way down the Kullu Valley to Mandi. Exquisite vistas along the Beas River.

I watched the miracle over the summer as the blossoms transformed into little green lumps and then into red and yellow apples.

The story of how the Red Delicious apple and other sweet types came to that remote part of the world is quite interesting. Stokes introduced a number of apple varieties into the Kullu Valley in the early part of the last century and it changed the economy there dramatically. But the local hill folk know very little about tending the trees, pruning them, so they are left for the most part to become craggy and naturally beautiful, mixed in charmingly with neighboring rice fields. The orchards are made even more beautiful with cherry, plum, peach and apricot trees, all growing together in various shades of pink and white.

The locals in that part of the world, all the way into Tibet, dry the apples in apple rings on their large, high verandahs all during October, apricots too. I'm a bit like Bubba in Forest Gump, who could do anything with shrimp, except I'm like that with apples. Apple pancakes, apple betty, apple sauce, baked apples, apple jam, apple juice, apple chutney, candied apple, toffee apple, apple & cheese, poached apple, apple name it.

Definitely love the field of flowers bouquet of a fresh Golden Delicious.

Amazing thing I observed there first hand is that if apples are packed in crates with excelsior or wrapped individually in tissue, they can last and be juicy and delicious all the way from September until the following June. Never seen any food that can last like that, no preservatives, no refrigeration and still be yummy almost a year later.

Custard apples
are scrumptious too.
posted by nickyskye at 3:21 PM on October 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

Pink Lady apples are awesome, I pretty much eat the exclusively now and I'm glad to see they're getting popular. Fuji is tasty, but I really want to try the Ginger Golds and HoneyCrisps, can't wait. I love pretty much anything that's apple flavored.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:38 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yay for the post Meeks! The best apples I ever had were at a roadside place somewhere between New Hope and Allentown PA. No ides what kind they were, but they were crisp and sweet and I ate about 3 while we were still there.

Any recommendations where one can order the yummies online? I'd love to try the Orange Pippin and honeycrisp varieties.
posted by yoga at 3:42 PM on October 2, 2007

I remember as a kid my parents would drive up to Booneville, California where we would get Sierra Beauty apples--delicious.

There was this stand where they sold gallon containers of fresh pressed apple cider. Because we would be late when we got there, there was no one at the stand. No matter--you just took what you wanted and left the money in a cigar box--which was filled with cash from previous customers.

Seems unbelievable now that I look back on it.
posted by eye of newt at 4:20 PM on October 2, 2007

My favorite is a Macoun (Macintosh X Jersey Black) right off the tree from one of my hometown orchards. Apparently they are inordinately preferred by New Englanders. When I got married the favors were 5 different varieties of local apple, either plain or dipped in caramel.
posted by nekton at 4:20 PM on October 2, 2007

Northern Spys really are fantastic.

The local health food store used to sell all of the locally grown varieties of apples. You could buy many different varieties. I got to eat a number of great apple varieties.

The Arkansas Black is also amazing. I've only seen it once. You won't eat a crispier apple.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:35 PM on October 2, 2007

What a great post! I'm happily browsing links and drooling a little bit.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 4:53 PM on October 2, 2007

I've got 18lbs of apples left from this past Saturday's apple picking adventure (all Macouns, baby! Yum). I wish I could pick Granny Smiths (my favorite) in New England.

The second best thing about apple picking season is the two weeks of being regular.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:58 PM on October 2, 2007

I forgot about the cider! (I'm making some mulled cider right now!)
And cider donuts!
This is the best time of year!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:03 PM on October 2, 2007

The best apple I have ever tasted is the Golden Russet, which I thought we got last year at the Nashoba Winery and Orchard (though they don't seem to have them this year). The Golden Russet is as hard as a baseball, but as crisp as anything I've ever tried, and incredibly sweet and flavorful. It's killing me that I won't get to go picking this year.

As an aside, it's not entirely clear that the apple was the "Tempter of Adam". Some people think that the forbidden fruit is commonly depicted as an apple because the Latin word for 'apple' (malum) is the same as the word for 'evil', but that the fruit might have been something else entirely. As far as I can tell, though, the Vulgate simply used the word fructû8212;which still suggests by itself the dirty, sinful enjoyment that only apples can provide.

Thanks for the great links!
posted by dilettanti at 5:16 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm with you on the Golden Russet, dilettanti. I just finished working four months for an orchard with 24 kinds of apples and those were definitely in my top 3.

The funniest part was watching people go absolutely apeshit over the Honeycrisps. They're OK. But it got to the point where people wouldn't even consider another apple if we were out of their precious Honeycrisps. Sigh.
posted by veggieboy at 5:27 PM on October 2, 2007

The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord! For giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple trees...

Um, it's apple seed (rhymes with "need"), but I'm right there with you on the sentiment. The horrible thing about many store-bought apples is the same thing that's wrong with most store-bought fruits in recent decades: too friggin' sweet. A proper apple, as opposed to a Delicious, ugh, should be crisp and tart.

Our local grocerymegagoogolplex has a chart above the apple area noting the flavor and texture of each variety (mostly latter day wannabes), and nearly all of them are "soft-sweet," "sweeter" or "comes with handy insulin-filled syringe."
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:31 PM on October 2, 2007

The honeycrisp, the king of all the apples.

Look for them to start showing up at your local grocers in the next few weeks. Crisp, sweet, juicy, tart, everything an apple should be, and nothing it shouldn't be (sour, soft, mushy, mealy).
posted by notyou at 5:42 PM on October 2, 2007

We have three Baldwin trees in our yard. I rarely bother spraying them at all, and when I do it's only botanical oil and sulphur (to prevent cedar rust) so the fruit is entirely organic. They make excellent pies and applesauce, but I can understand why the variety isn't commercially grown anymore - the trees are strongly biennial, so a good crop year is usually followed by an off year.

Even in the off years, though, I will usually throw out a wheelbarrow full of "reject" apples, after sorting out the "A" (for pies and other baked goods) and "B" (for applesauce) apples.

Just thought I'd throw that out - thanks for all the additional information!
posted by yhbc at 5:46 PM on October 2, 2007

Apples were my nemesis. My parents had two crab apple trees in the backyard whose lumpy bumpy produce made mowing a nightmare. My kidneys have never recovered.
posted by pips at 6:05 PM on October 2, 2007

The reason you all think Red Delicious apples are mushy is because they store them for up to a year before delivering them to your grocery store. Ripe Red Delicious apples in season are very crispy -- but these days you almost can't get them that way. ("In season" you get the last of the previous year's harvest, not the first of the new harvest, alas.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:09 PM on October 2, 2007

I'm a Fuji man, myself.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:11 PM on October 2, 2007

oo ooo oo! A late night grocery run revealed the HoneyCrisp Apples! Hello breakfast!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:15 PM on October 2, 2007

Grab an Ambrosia apple if you ever get the chance.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:35 PM on October 2, 2007

How to make your own cider. Yes, I stole this from my old post.

And this post is excellent. Thank you, Miko.
posted by Upton O'Good at 6:43 PM on October 2, 2007

Honeycrisps are fantastic, and I buy them whenever I can find them.
posted by Tehanu at 7:12 PM on October 2, 2007

If you live in an apple growing region and shop at farmers markets / stands / whatevs, look for someone selling Ashmead's Kernels. Once you've had a good one, everything else pales just a bit.
posted by mumkin at 7:29 PM on October 2, 2007

+1 Pink Lady. woot.
posted by rachelpapers at 7:37 PM on October 2, 2007

Fuji is the tastiest apple I ate. Red delicious is, very rarely, almost as tasty. Gala is close 3rd. But the thing is, none of them are at all consistent. Even if one apple is great, the next may be quite bad, even though it looks the same. The only apples that are consistently good, as in, you can be sure that 9 out of 10 will be yummy, are small McIntoshes. They're never nearly as good as the best Fuji but what's the point if odds of getting a good one are so small? Now golden delicious are a bit more consistent but I'm just not a big fan of those. I never liked granny smith. And I have to admit these are all the types I tried :/. I also had rotten luck with organic apples, usually organic fruits are notably tastier, but organic apples, gala and golden delicious, were always boring as hell.
posted by rainy at 8:01 PM on October 2, 2007

Great links and reminiscences. Thanks!

Had I found this on my own I'd have used it as the link for "eating out of hand" -- the term of art for good eating apples is "Dessert apple."
posted by Miko at 8:49 PM on October 2, 2007

Ah, being an English boy, I miss the Cox's. Here in BC we seem to get the same Top 15 listed in the OP in the supermarkets.

But... the other weekend, on a trip to Victoria, my GF spotted a fully laden apple tree in the grounds of the hotel while we were wandering around. It's been a while, but they certainly looked and tasted like Cox's.

Best. Apples. Ever.
posted by pascal at 12:11 AM on October 3, 2007

I'm living in the land of apples, Aomori, and the apples here are enormous, incredibly delicious, and soaked in so many pesticides that I feel like I'm risking my health every time I bite into one. Yet, I keep eating them. I guess I'm as smart as Snow White when it comes to apples.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:51 AM on October 3, 2007

tempter of adam

Strictly speaking, the bible never actually says 'apple', just 'fruit of the tree'. Geographically, it was more likely to be apricots, pomegranates, or figs.
posted by Sparx at 1:55 AM on October 3, 2007

I'm intrigued, by what people mean when they write cider in this thread, the pdf linked above says that "apple juice" and "apple cider" are often used interchangeably, and that "If air cannot enter the container, cider will
ferment and produce low levels of alcohol."

To me cider means a strong alcoholic drink, and apple juice is something I drink for breakfast.
posted by couch at 2:35 AM on October 3, 2007

To me cider means a strong alcoholic drink

I think it's a UK-NA thing.

IN Canada at least, cider is used for both the alcoholic beverage as well as unfiltered apple juice - the cloudy kind.

Apple juice is quite clear (like urine, come on, admit it) because it's been filtered after pressing.
posted by GuyZero at 5:52 AM on October 3, 2007

The McIntosh was my mom's favorite apple. My wife never understood why I liked them until this year, when we went to an orchard and picked a half bushel ourselves. There is nothing quite like an early season McIntosh; before they go all soft they are fantastic. Snappy, crisp, tangy and just sweet enough that you want another. It took us less than a week to kill off that bag of apples.

Went out this weekend looking for Honeycrisp. Damned markup on the apples means they cost twice what the other varieties do, and this is in Minnesota where the apple was developed. For some reason they seemed to be mushy at the orchard we tried, so we came home with a bag of Haralson instead. In my mind, a Haralson delivers the taste that a Red Delicious promises.

When I do find a good orchard, I make an effort to sample the heirloom varieties they carry. It's kind of depressing that our current apple selection is determined more by shelf life than by flavor. The rare and hard-to-find varieties are really quite fun. Read a great Smithsonian article years ago about heirloom apples, and it made me really interested in tasting something besides the bland things you can usually find in the stores. I'd still like to find a Black Limbertwig...
posted by caution live frogs at 6:03 AM on October 3, 2007

As GuyZero said, in North America cider refers to both the fermented and unfermented pressed apple pulp. At least here in New England, we distinguish (when we need to) by calling the fresh-pressed stuff "sweet cider," and the fermented stuff "hard cider."

Though even if you don't use cog_nate's very food-safe methods, sweet cider will start to ferment if kept a long time and allowed to get a little warm. When I was teaching first and second grade, my co-teacher and I inadvertently got a class of seven-year olds a bit buzzed by serving cider from our orchard trip that had had a little time to think. (All indications are that they grew up into fine young people with no noticeable neurological damage).

Despite our modern horror at the thought of children ingesting alcohol, in the U.S., cider was the universal year-round beverage for all ages and a very important part of the food supply, particularly in winter, when it delivered some important nutrients. And it was always alcoholic except in the brief pressing season when still fresh, although the content varied with the sugar content of the apple juice used. People didn't drink water very often as a table beverage until at least the late nineteenth century, because so often it contained bacteria that would bring on gastrointestinal illness, so alcoholic drinks like ciders and small beers were given even to young children.

Even harder stuff, basically apple whiskey, has been made by Laird for a few hundred years. Laird's Apple Jack (a blended whiskey) and Apple Brandy (straight apple spirits)are produced in a town near where I grew up and seemed like a local curiosity; today, I'm impressed by the fact that they are the possessors of the first U.S. commercial distillery license, issued in 1780.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on October 3, 2007

Thanks for this post. I love a good apple, and all of the ways they can be prepared and preserved. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 7:29 AM on October 3, 2007

Oh, also, how to build a cider press.
posted by OmieWise at 7:39 AM on October 3, 2007

I've been pounding the sweet cider recently, what with it being apple season and all, so delicious.

I'm a little surprised that with all the first hand apple tree experience here no one has mentioned the other great use for crabapples, fallen and/or rotten apples, which is to say: Hucking.

Oh man have I hucked some apples, I think I even knocked a kid out a little bit on one occasion when I got him with a nice fastball right between the eyes. Raised an awesome knot too.

Throw an apple at someone you love today!
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:31 AM on October 3, 2007


Before my dad finally cut down the crabapple tree that only served to make a mess of our front year, we would celebrate fall with a few games of "apple tag". A bag of crabapples makes for a pretty long game.
posted by GuyZero at 8:33 AM on October 3, 2007

Even harder stuff, basically apple whiskey, has been made by Laird for a few hundred years.

Mmm mmmmmm, try a mug of sweet cider heated to the steaming point, then laced with Laird's Apple Jack. After coming in from a cool autumn night, that'll cure what ails ya.

I've tried it with mulling spices, too, but it tasted too gussied up. The tart-sweet complexities of the cider and apple jack don't need spice. As an autumn dessert, it's hard to beat hot (sweet) cider, with or without the apple jack, alongside a slice of warm gingerbread topped with a sliver of butter.
posted by Elsa at 10:14 AM on October 3, 2007

cog_nate's very food-safe methods

I've also -- through neglect and/or simple curiosity -- let soft cider go its own way a few times. The results are always interesting. A couple times outstanding, a couple times very not so.

In addition to cider, folks in colonial days also made ciderkin for children. Water was poured onto the leftover apple pomace from cidermaking, then the pomace was pressed to yield a weakly cider-flavored beverage.

Anyone really interested in old-school (read: colonial) fermentation techniques should check out Sanborn Brown's Wines and Beers of Old New England. Great book with a lot of neat recipes and nicknames for alcoholic drinks. My favorite nickname from that book is for applejack: Slug of Blue Fish Hooks.

Oh, and since everyone else is doing it, my favorite apple is Ashmead's Kernel.
posted by cog_nate at 4:09 PM on October 3, 2007

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