Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Off the Grocery Shelves: Apple of My Eye

America has a particular affinity for apples. There is nothing, supposedly, as patriotic as apple pie; An apple a day keeps the doctor away; and who didn't try buttering up a teacher by offering up a shiny red apple? It's not as though I haven't written about apples before, either! But the intersection of apple season and Vegan MoFo merited a revisiting of apple diversity, in particular.

Growing up I was confronted with two apples - green and red; sour and sweet; Granny Smith and Red Delicious. How deprived I was, with these poor excuses for apples. Now there may be ten or so varieties on your grocery shelves; perhaps a Gala or a Fuji, a Golden Delicious or a Macintosh/McIntosh (yes kids, Apple computers was very clever...). But apples are over 8,000 years old and have had plenty of time to diversify to the over 2,000 varieties in existence today.

As with many fruits and vegetables, creative farmers are starting to bring these heirloom varieties back to the mainstream, starting out with their local market audience. I have become endeared to the crisp white flesh inside the deep burgundy skin of the Black Twig. I anticipate the appearance of the gold-flecked skin of the Golden Russet.  When I want the tartness of a Granny Smith with considerably more apple flavor and character, I reach for a Spartan. For a beautiful and sweet red apple, there is the Wealthy.

And some apple varieties are in danger of falling into oblivion. The Gravenstein, classically know for its applesauce because it travels poorly, faces pressure from wine grapes for orchard land. Endangered apples are no joking matter, and also present such interesting and exciting apple experiences. On the other hand, Pink Ladies and Honey Crisps have only recently hit the shelves, as newer products of apple breeding, and tend to pack a punch of sweet juiciness.

So there you go. If you are not content reading about the fruit, or just eating the apple straight up, check out Mark Bittman's matrix of apple-y uses!

Further reference: Morgan, Joan and Alison Richards. The Book of Apples. Random House, London: 1993.

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