It 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.
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!
These are gorgeous apples!
This 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!