Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Apple by Any Other Name

The Amazing Apple BookI happened to grow up in Michigan apple country, where there were orchards of old apple strains. Today, if I ask people to name every kind of apple they know, they may name four or five. Of those, many of the apples are “designer” apples with special names. Cameo and Pink Lady are new to the apple ranks.

But today the mainstays that most people know are Jonathon, Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith.

In the US, by 1900 there were 700 named varieties of apples. Many did not make the cut to become a commercial apple because they could not be bred to have marketable characteristics, like long shelf life, non-shrinkage and general public appeal. When red delicious became the number one eating apple in the US, apple growers tore out thousands of less popular apple trees to make way for a cash crop. As Americans stopped cooking with apples, the cooking apples were also torn out of orchards, unless they were huge commercial orchards selling to pie companies or applesauce producing companies.

I have never tasted a Winter Rose, Lilly of Kent, Park Spice or Lady Sweet. They all disappeared long before I was born.

From Seed to AppleI am the exception when it comes to knowing apples. I grew up with Baldwins, Macintosh, Winesap, Pippin, Gravenstein, Wealthy, Wolf River, Early Blush and Sweet Bough apples to name a few. And then there is the best apple in the world, the now elusive Northern Spy. It first appeared in pomological (apple) reports in 1844. There are no clues to how it was named, despite rumors of a Civil War connection. Northern Spy apples are great pie apples, sometimes growing to ¾ of a pound or more and have a tender, sweet taste, making them good for eating.

But even the Farmers’ Market growers have limited kinds of apples. Fresh and delicious, but only the usual suspects. A couple of years ago at the Farmer’s Market, a seller had Northern Spies. But, just a few. His orchard was near Abiquiu. He promised to save some for me in the next few weeks, but he never returned. I think he must have sold them to other apple aficionados. Today I am tempted to walk among the stalls at the Farmers Market holding a sign appealing for Northern Spy apples. Don’t laugh, you have probably never had the pleasure of eating a Northern Spy.

by PCH @ Main

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