Sunday, October 24, 2010

New York Magazine guide to Greenmarket Apples

Looks like I'm not the only one obsessing about apples!  There are so many apples in this guide I'd like to try, it's hard to know where to start.  Similar to heirloom tomatoes, the names, history, and descriptions of heirloom apples are a delight to read and the 28 listed here are no exception.

What makes an apple an heirloom?  Generally speaking, it's a named variety that has been passed down through families, communities, or regions for generations.  Each year as homes are sold and developers purchase small orchards, many of these special (enthusiasts would say magical) apples disappear along with part of America's cultural history.  

Unlike an heirloom tomato, it's not as simple as saving an apple's seed to grow another genetically identical tree.  To do so, a cutting from one tree must be grafted to the rootstock of another tree. Trees grown from a seed will produce hybrid fruit, which is one reason why there are over 14,000 documented apple varieties in North America since the English brought seeds over from Europe.

Sadly, 90% of the apples consumed today in the United States consist of only 11 different varieties.  These varieties are not favored because of taste; they are favored because - you guessed it - they can withstand the rigors of transportation over thousands of miles from Washington State (or, out of season, Chile and New Zealand) to get to market.  Wouldn't you rather eat an apple grown for its complex flavor, juiciness, and/or texture than for its ability to not bruise??

I say resist the urge to buy a Red Delicious (currently the commercial leader, pulling in 40% of all apple purchases in the United States). Walk past the commercial jars of applesauce on the grocery store shelves (most likely made with apples from another country).  Drive by the supermarket, head straight to a farm stand, and pick up a locally grown apple variety that may or may not look a little homely compared to its waxy, bodacious, and bland distant cousin, Red Delicious.  Give it a chance; I bet you find it has personality and taste to spare.

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