Early Autumn Apples–Naming Names

IMG_3133It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.Henry David Thoreau

Apples are synonymous with autumn in upstate New York. This is a place where farmers name their kids after apples—I swear I know a Cortland and a Macintosh but, though we joked about it, we never knew a girl named Delicious.

My great-uncle and aunt owned an orchard so I have apples in my genetic structure. They had just one of dozens of commercial orchards in the area that offer many varieties of apples, some you’ve never heard of, as well as hard and soft cider, apple cider donuts, apple pies, apple picking and all other manner of fall fun. (Let’s be clear, my people never made hard cider, though their descendant likes to drink it!)

Did you know that apples can’t be reliably grown from seed? You might eat the perfect apple and think that you can have more by growing a tree from the seed of that apple, but you’d be disappointed. Apples do not grow “true to variety” from seed, so all the great eating apples are created by grafting a branch that produced a great apple onto another tree.

So, apples need humans to perfect and sweeten them, just as humans have loved apples for their sweetness and perfection. One of my favorite chapters of a favorite book is the chapter on apples in Michael Pollan’s book, Botany of Desire. Pollan writes of the connections between humans and apples:

How many other fruits do we call by their Christian names?  . . . There were names that set out to describe, often with the help of a well-picked metaphor: the green-as-a-bottle Bottle Greening, the Sheepnose, the Oxheart, the Yellow Bellflower, the Black Gilliflower, the Twenty-Ounce Pippin. There were names that puffed with hometown pride, like the Westfield-Seek-No-Further, the Hubbardston Nonesuch, the Rhode Island Greening, the Albemarle Pippin . . . There were names that gave credit where credit was due (or so we assume): the Baldwin, the Macintosh, the Jonathan, McAfee’s Red, Norton’s Melon, Moyer’s Prize . . . and Walker’s Beauty. And then there were the names that denoted an apple’s specialty, like Wismer’s Dessert, Jacob’s Sweet Winter, the Early Harvest and Cider Apple, the Clothes-Yard Apple, the Bread and Cheese, Cornell’s Savewell . . . Paradise Winter, Payne’s Late Keeper, and Hay’s Winter Wine.

We stopped yesterday at a favorite orchard, Northern Orchards, in Peru, NY, and looked for apples we hadn’t met yet, whose names we didn’t know. We had recently gotten William Prides and Pristines from them, and loved them both.

This visit, we got some of the well-known, but fab, Honey Crisps and also grabbed some Silkens and Red Wealthies. Never heard of these? That’s not surprising since apples that we’ve heard of tend to be the ones in the supermarket, and the ones in the supermarket are chosen because they keep well, travel well, and fit buyers’ mainstream notions of what apples should look and taste like. No matter how lovely an apple tastes, if it doesn’t keep for a really long time or bruises easily, you won’t find it at your store.


Silkens (the yellow ones) and Red Wealthies

The Silken is a gorgeous apple, medium in size, with a glowing, creamy yellow skin color, “having a translucent appearance like white porcelain with a bright lustre.” It’s a firm, crispy apple, really juicy. It’s considered an “early” apple here and, like many early apples, does not keep well. People who know them and love them have to be prepared to enjoy them in the few weeks they are available.

The Wealthy or Red Wealthy is described as a “somewhat tender–but crisp–medium-coarse white tinged with yellow, bearing juice that is tart but not unbalanced. There is a little banana, lemon-lime citrus, something like tart strawberries, and some fizzy acidity.” I love reading descriptions of apples that treat the taste and texture with the serious given to a fine wine! And I love that the name came, not because the farmer had hopes to become rich off it, but because his wife’s name was Wealthy!

The Wealthies are described as a near-perfect apple but I never seem to see them in stores, only at farm stands, and I’m not sure why. Have you seen Wealthies at your supermarket?

When we go out, we only buy a few apples at a time so we can eat them before the next varieties become available. But we got more than usual yesterday because the orchard had four experimental apples that they were inviting people to take. The woman at the stand couldn’t tell us exactly what they were, although one is a honey crisp/gala mix. I worry that I’ll love one, or all, of them and never see them again!

Experimental apples, as yet unnamed.

Experimental apples, as yet unnamed.

These are gorgeous apples!

IMG_3145This one, in particular, makes me think of the apple the Wicked Stepmother offered Snow White. It would be impossible to resist, at least in terms of looks! The red is a sort of deep pinky cerise that fades into the yellow. It is really crispy and quite sweet (actually a little sweeter than I like) but it isn’t cloying at all. I wish I knew how to find it again!

It’s fall—go get some apples! If you want to experience apples at their finest, try looking beyond the grocery store and your usual favorites. The farmers’ market, farm stand, the co-op, or, ideally, the orchard—all of these will open your eyes to apples whose names and tastes will make you want to get to know them better!

27 thoughts on “Early Autumn Apples–Naming Names

  1. I just took my first bite of a gala apple as I sat down and started to read your post. Gorgeous apples and great photos…wish we had some experimental apples at our local orchard!

    • You could ask them–this one orchard we go to doesn’t seem to make a big deal but then stuff just appears. On the other hand, it seems to be the only one, of many around here, that has the unusual apples. BTW, did you get your candy?

  2. I always associate apples with my Mom, because it’s her favourite fruit! I love them too. If we’re very lucky, we might get some old variety at the farmer’s market 🙂 They taste amazing!

  3. I grew up on a strawberry farm, and well do I know that the best varieties don’t make it to grocery stores! Waiting for the real thing makes strawberry season all that more special.

  4. A honey crisp a day….well actually more than one to be honest and apple pie and apple sauce and apple/potato mash etcetc;0) I love apples and your photos are beautiful and mouth watering! Thanks for sharing your interesting story, hugs from Johanna.

  5. I am so ENVIOUS! I loved, loved, loved the apples of New York State and I want to be back there, right now, sampling all those delightful varieties. We do get a reasonable variety here, and often times that is in the supermarket, but nothing beats an orchard apple or farm apple. http://www.enzafoods.co.nz/growing-facts/apple-varieties That’s a selection of what’s available. But recently I have tried Lemonade Apples and Mahana and Smitten. Jazz is my go to apple. Oh, Botany of Desire is a great book!

  6. Here in northeast Ohio we have some local orchards and so we’ve been enjoying fresh apples this fall. I’ve made a batch of applesauce and have frozen it for bleak midwinter. Unfortunately, those odd apple varieties seem to be dwindling. My personal favorite, the Northern Spy, is no longer grown at the orchard I frequent. When I inquired I was told the old trees had to be cut down, and it wasn’t worth it to plant new ones of that variety as the apples didn’t keep well. Sigh.

    • I LOVE the Northern Spy! Our favorite orchard here does still grow them and we look forward to them every year. There aren’t as many old varieties as there once were but I feel like there’s been a little renaissance lately, at least at some orchards. I’m seeing different names here and, when we were in Boston last fall, I saw others that weren’t here in upstate New York. I like some of the supermarket types but I won’t buy them–I want to encourage the people who grow the Spys and the WInesaps!

  7. Every autumn, my wife and I drive 120 miles north to Hood River, Oregon where the orchards are so abundant the area has been officially designated “The Fruit Loop”.

    Some years ago, at our favorite orchard, we came a cross a new variety that has since become my favorite–the winter banana. An unlikely name for a very distinctive apple. A perfect balance of sweet/tart, with a perfect mouth-feel.

    We also found, at a different orchard, a concorde pear. It is a perfect eating or cooking fruit, with hints of vanilla. And once you try it, you realize that God made vanilla and pear to go together like a lock and key.


    • I remember seeing winter banana apples in Pennsylvania when I was in grad school! I haven’t thought of those in years–what a great name! And a friend of mine used to make a pear and vanilla jelly that was so heavenly!

  8. I love my adopted home state of Virginia but at this time of year, I really miss Massachusetts because of the tremendous apple orchards there with so many wonderful varieties. We have to head into the mountains here to get into real apple country.

    • Last year at this time we were in Boston and went to a farmers market in Copley Square–I was so surprised to see many different apple varieties than we see here in upstate New York! Each area has their winners!

  9. I love apples and everything about apple aka autumn/fall. Apples should be a season and everything about this season should have apple something added to it. I go to the old stand by honey crisp for that great afternoon snack, but I feel an apple pie coming on and I need to try a new variety just for the fun of it. The good thing about Minnesota, apples grow here!!!

    I love this post and the images, beautiful apples!

    • I like your idea of making apples its own season! Do you mix apples when you make a pie? The old timers always said that was the key to a good pie–to use several different kinds of apples, for a more complex taste. I like Honey Crisp, too, but I rarely buy them–it’s almost as if they’re TOO popular and I want to make sure all the lesser-known apples get some love, too!

  10. We used to live in Rockland County, NY, where the apple orchards were full of traditional apples. Then we moved to the West Coast, near Sebastopol, where the apple orchards feature Gravensteins, the go-to apple for applesauce, and one of the best off-the-tree eating apples. Like so many tasty fruits, it does not travel well far from the tree. Then we discovered Jonogold – a Jonathan/Golden Delicious cross which was our favorite for several years. Currently, though, we are favoring Mutzu, another sweet/tart yellow apple with a pink flush which has the crispness of a Golden Delicious with the tart/sweet flavor of a Gravenstein.

    But over-all – nothing beats an apple – any apple – fresh picked from the tree!

    • We can get Jonagolds here but I’ve never had a Gravenstein. I love how everyone who has commented has had their own favorite–it makes me happy that so many varieties are so beloved!

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