Your Autumn Guide to apples.
Let’s consider the difference between heirloom apples and non-heirloom apples for a moment.
The varieties of apples we get taste like nothing you (or your guests) can find at the grocery store. Why don’t these delicious, incredible apples find their way into the local grocery store? Because growing for flavor is very different than growing for commerce. Grocery stores pick produce based on things like low price, consistent sizing, unblemished appearances, ability to hold up during shipping, and ability to sit on the shelf for a long time without going bad. Commercial growers have responded to this demand by focusing all of their resources on apples that are pretty, hardy, and disease-resistant. Flavor? Not a priority.
Most importantly, to us and to the chefs we serve, is that heirloom apples have incredible flavor. The kind where you think “I didn’t know an apple could taste like that.” Notes of pineapple, tropical fruit, vanilla, cranberry, green grapes, lemons, pears–like tasting wine, apples are as different and special as the tree they were grown from and the terroir in which they were grown. They can vary from year to year. They are local–they’re from Vermont. They’re actually supporting a small farm–it’s a farm of 571 acres run by about six farmers. They’re beyond organic–a word that has come to mean so little to so many great farmers who can’t afford the label–because they use a truly biodynamic approach to growth, harvesting and pest management. They take risks, because unlike commercial varieties, these apples are not disease-resistant, they’re not always perfect-looking, they’re not graded for size, and they’ve got old-fashioned, esoteric names. Flavor? In spades, kid.
Varieties: like every other fruit, certain varieties ripen early, and others, later in the season. Listed below is what we’ve got coming today, but please stay tuned to our updates via twitter and instagram for new varieties arriving over the course of the season.
scott farm orchard’s heirloom apples
(with thanks to Scott Farm Orchards for their excellent apple research and lore.)
Calville Blanc d’Hiver: a 15th century French variety that has hints of vanilla and an excellent texture when cooked. Of all the French varieties, this one is considered the best for cooking because of it’s resiliency.
Rhode Island Greening: Move over, Granny. This heirloom originated grown by Mr. Greening at Inn and Tavern near Newport, RI. Eats well, and bakes even better–pies baked with this apple have won prizes all over the world.
Roxbury Russet: this apple is a huge hit with chefs because it makes an excellent smooth puree. It has nectar-like flesh has tropical fruit notes such as pineapple and guava, and has a naturally high sugar content. Old American variety.
Northern Spy: you know that’s going to sound good on the menu. A versatile apple for both cooking and eating.
Lady Apples: this petite apple has been around since before the Roman empire, and there’s some lore of ladies tucking one into their bosom to freshen their breath. Don’t try this on the line.
Hidden Rose: if you haven’t seen this apple before, it’s pale greenish-yellow on the outside, but when you cut into it, it’s flesh is pink. Tart, crisp, tropical notes, and the flesh deepens in color when cooked.
Cox’s Orange Pippin: an old English variety from the 1800’s, this small round orange-skinned apple tends towards tart, with pear and citrus notes. This is a versatile apple, good for baking or eating out of hand, and in good years, can reach flavor peaks that few other apples can achieve.
Belle de Boskoop: from the Netherlands, and there considered the only authentic apple to use in apple strudel. Considered a dual-purpose apple, it’s a superb baking apple, and a very good eating apple later in the season when more fully mature.
Ananas Reinette (literally, “little pineapple queen”) is a smaller French variety–a very pretty gold-green apple that has distinctive creamy/pineapple notes. With it’s fine grain and crisp texture, it’s considered an excellent eating apple, but also makes a great sauce, juice or cider.
Dolgo Crab: this variety originated in Kazakhstan, several hundred years ago. It’s intense and zesty, with sharp cranberry notes. This tiny apple makes a great bright sauce, refreshing sorbet, savory chutney, or a beautiful rose-colored jelly.
not heirloom, but native, which is still cool
Macoun: deep red, flat-ish, small apple for eating out of hand. It has white “breaking flesh,” which means when you bite it, it breaks off in chunks. This is a super tasty apple–we’ve been taking them home and snacking on them.
Gala: small, very sweet, aromatic apple. The bubblegum of the apple world.
Honeycrisp: Guess what? It’s not an heirloom. It was developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960, and is “self-sterile,” meaning it can’t reproduce on it’s own. Popular for a reason: it sounds sexy but it’s got all of the consistency of a commercial apple, because it essentially is one. We will bring in the native ones for as long as the season allows, and then switch over to the commercial variety of honeycrisp due to the high demand.
photo by Erich Ferdinand