Maybe you know the feeling. Call it an apple awakening: the moment when you realize there are infinitely more delights to be found in the universe of apples than Red Delicious (meh), McIntosh (booooring and prone to mushiness), or Granny Smith (holding up well for her age, but a one-note standby.)
My first apple awakening came early on, growing up in apple country in upstate New York, when my family switched from McIntosh loyalists to devotees of the Macoun (crisper, more full of flavor) and never looked back.
But my true initiation came in my 20s, when I went apple-picking at an heirloom orchard in the Virginia countryside. Revelation! Apples of every shape and size and color, from rosy peach to deepest purple, with fabulous names: Black Twig. Newtown Pippin. Esopus Spitzenberg (a favorite of Thomas Jefferson). Each with history, and a taste to make you rethink the essence of appleness.
So imagine my delight when the book “Apples of Uncommon Character” landed in my mailbox, a glorious compendium of “123 heirlooms, modern classics, and little-known wonders.” Author and self-described apple geek Rowan Jacobsen does for apples what he did earlier for oysters: he captures in vivid language what makes the flavor of each type unique (with extraordinary photographs by Clare Barboza you want to bite into.)
One apple makes Jacobsen “think of the aurora borealis, of green ribbons of cold fire swaying against the blackness.” Another is “tart and snappy, with an acid tongue and a rustic coarseness. Picture a ruddy barmaid in some nineteenth-century Holland tavern.”
Say no more. It’s clearly time for an All Things Considered apple foray. I’m off, with producer Viet Le, to Scott Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. We’ll meet up with Rowan Jacobsen and the orchard manager, Ezekiel Goodband, and talk heirloom apples. Word from Zeke is that Ananas Reinette, Claygate Pearmain, Chenango Strawberry, and Opalescent are among the dozens of varieties that may be ready for picking (and tasting.) We’ll bring you the story next week on ATC, and will post photos from our visit here along the way.
Dude, Sabina. You lived for part of your life in a town with experimental apple farming. (Okay, largely that was out in Geneva, but still some trees were right there, and the products of that sweet sweet fruit science and breeding and husbandry were right there for your family to take. You might have been too young to understand, but your parents weren’t.)
This does indeed trigger a vague memory. XD I think we may have gone once, or maybe my dad wanted to do it and my mom didn’t, or I wanted to do it and my parents didn’t. Maybe we went for strawberries once and not apples? As fobby Chinese in the 80s the idea of paying extra (we were poor grad student types) to do agricultural work for “fun” was a baffling proposition, I think.
Anyway I didn’t like apples much until I was well into adulthood — partly it was better varieties appearing on the market, partly just that I’m sensitive to acids in fruit and Macintoshes and such are actually too sour for me to enjoy. I had the opportunity to go apple picking with friends this year but had a bad cold that weekend.