28 Sep

Tim’s Picks for the End of September

So, my editor called me up on Wednesday and told me they needed the apple column by Friday this week. I said that’s ridiculous, I don’t get my apples until Saturday. He said fine and hung up.

On Saturday then, I got an email from him saying that they were hiring some woman from Ohio to take my place for the remainder of the fall. I replied with one question: “Does she know what a Cornish Gilliflower tastes like?”

He replied an hour later with this: “No, she doesn’t know what a Cornish Gilliflower tastes like. She said she’s never heard of a Cornish Gilliflower. But, she does know what a Chenango Strawberry tastes like. Do you?”

I wrote back: “Of course I know what a Chenango Strawberry tastes like, you idiot.” (I had nothing to lose since I’d pretty much already been fired.) I contemplated sending him my list of picks for the week and enumerating all of the reasons he should stick with me over the woman from Ohio, not the least of which was the fact that I make references to canonical British Literature, which almost certainly appeals to the British readers of Apple Enthusiast (70% of its readership is British). But I decided to simply hit send and see what it got me.

He replied within a half an hour. “Okay,” he said. “You’ve got the job back. But this week’s column better be good. Take care.”

So, without further ado about nothing:

I’ve heard that Shakespeare references an obscure apple variety or two in several of his plays. Or at least, they’re obscure to us these days. Ever heard of leather coats and gilliflowers? Yeah, well, neither have I. But in As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale, among others, there they are.

I suppose if I were writing a sonnet about the Cornish Gilliflower, which I had the pleasure of tasting this week, I’d rhyme it with sour. Of course, I’d prefer to rhyme it with tart, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Ha.

In all seriousness, though, I think it makes sense to start this week’s picks with the Cornish Gilliflower since it’s my favorite for this last September haul. But as I venture farther and farther toward the sour side of the apple stand, I find I’m running out of adjectives. The Lemon Apple and the Cornish Gilliflower are both a little sour, but in different ways than the Pink Pearl or the Orange Pippin or the Calville Blanc d’Hiver.

Let me try to differentiate a little. The Lemon Apple (a new one this week) is more like the classic sour apple. For me, that’s pleasant. It’s why I like Sour Patch Kids at movies. I don’t like the fact that they stick in your teeth, but I love the sour punch you get right when you put them in your mouth and they start to dissolve.

So I’ll go ahead and say the Lemon Apple is the closest thing I’ve had to a real life equivalent of the Sour Apple candy flavor you find in various permutations. It’s quite citrus-y, too, and its flesh is even slightly yellow. So the name really makes sense.

The Cornish Gilliflower is named because it’s supposed to have a slight scent of cloves, which in French is something like gillifle. I don’t know. I didn’t get a clove scent from it, but I did get a very pleasant tart apple taste when I bit into it. Have you ever had an apple cider that makes you pucker? The Cornish Gilliflower is really the closest I’ve come to having an actual apple that tastes like apple cider. It’s quality.

The two other winners for the week were macintosh derivatives. The Jonamac and the Macoun are both superb apples. The Jonamac is quite sugary; the Macoun is basically what a macintosh should be and can be. It’s the macintosh living up to its potential. But both apples have shapes and textures quite similar to actual macs, which, by the way, are still not quite perfect — a little too stubborn, still (stubborn is a descriptor I just made up and it simply means that the texture is hard and a little resistant, like the apple doesn’t want you to bite into it yet).

If sweet’s your thing, the Chenango Strawberry is toward the end of its harvest, but they’re a nice, sweet, mild apple. Nice fragrance; some say it’s rose-like. They’re also an oddly shaped apple, kind of like a football cut in half — and then while you’re at it, cut off the very tip, too.

The losers for the week were the Blenheim Orange (probably the prettiest apple at the stand, but with a taste a lot like a Golden delicious. I just can’t forgive the Deliciouses yet. They have some nice children, but I simply cannot trust the parents.) and the Cano Red (which I may be spelling wrong. The woman at the apple stand didn’t have her apple signs up yet. That’s how early I get there!).

I’ll give both of the losers another chance, but the Blenheim is just not the apple for me, I suspect, and the Cano Red is just not an eating apple. It might be good for baking, but that’s a different column.

Hell, let’s be honest. That’s a different columnist.

Until next week . . .

23 Sep

Tim’s Picks Week Two

Well, I almost got fired for not meeting my deadline, but for the time being, I still have my job at Apple Enthusiast Magazine. (I think they’re a little desperate for columnists.) So, without further ado. . .

Like any reviewer, I’m biased. I tend toward apples that have a little more complexity of flavor than your typical grocery store varieties. Not that grocery store apples are all bad. Come February, I’ll be craving apples so much that I’ll settle for anything that isn’t mealy. But grocery store varieties tend to be fairly uniform. A grocer wants big, hearty apples with a crisp texture. They need to be able to survive shipping, which means they shouldn’t bruise easily, and they need to have a long shelf life, which means that consumers won’t be all that attuned to the subtleties of the ripening process.

Of course, all of the above is true of most produce. So why pine for apples? Simple. Because they’re there. Recent movements in food consumption have been toward local, slow food. And though the growing food shortages are providing us all with good reason to eat what’s grown nearby, I do it for a more selfish reason: taste. When you can eat food that doesn’t have the shelf life of enormous Braeburns or the toughness of Granny Smiths, you’re bound to find some great stuff.

That said, let’s delve right into the Pink Pearls. These gems are great. They’re not pucker-your-face sour, but they are very pleasantly tart, with a slight grapefruit aftertaste. And they have a distinctively pink flesh, which is also fun.

Last week, I made a big fuss over Cox’s Orange Pippin, whose vitamin C content is helping me through a small cold. This week, having purchased five pounds of them, I’m noticing that refrigeration detracts a little from the nuances of flavor. Still, the Pippins are great, and I’ve discovered another apple that has a similar mixture of sweet and sour: Jonagrimes. Jonathan apples make good parents, and the Jonagrimes variety is one of the many children of the Jonathan.

From here, we can go in one of two directions: toward the more mainstream apples or toward the “acquired taste” apples. Let’s start mainstream. Cortlands are a nice neutral-tasting apple. They’re a little softer in texture than the rest of this week’s picks, but they act as nice palate-cleaners. Cortlands are this week’s cereal apples.

Wealthy’s have been around for a while now, but I didn’t get around to tasting them until this week. They’re not bad. Again, a little softer in texture. And they taste a little like white grape juice.

The real crowd-pleaser, though, is the Twenty Ounce Pippin, which you might imagine would simply be a Cox’s Orange Pippin on steroids. But no. The Twenty Ounce Pippin is indeed larger than the Cox’s, but it doesn’t have the same array of flavor. It is, however, a fine apple in its own right — very crisp and a touch more seasoned than your grocery store varieties. Apparently great for cooking, they’re also very good eaten cold.

The “acquired taste” apples are the Calville Blanc d’Hiver and the Cort Pendu Plat. The Calvilles are green and kind of bumpy. They look like rocks that decided to become apples. I bought them because a fellow apple nerd at the farmer’s market stand claimed they were his favorites. I tasted a sample, which exposed a fruit with a tart almost wine-like sophistication to it, like something French cooks would like. And what do you know? French cooks like it. Apparently, so did Thomas Jefferson. But the ones I brought home just tasted like severely unripe Granny Smiths. So the jury’s still out on the Calville’s.

The Cort Pendu Plat’s have an equally cumbersome name (Why, France, why? It’s like naming a baby Francois-Alexandre!). And their taste? Well, not quite equally cumbersome. They leave your mouth quite dry, which seems to be requisite of gourmet things, and they have a pretty wild-apple feel to them. They’re not as tart as the Pink Pearls, but there is nothing sweet about them either. I guess that’s called acidic.

So there you have it. My picks for the week: Pink Pearls, Jonagrimes, and Twenty-Once Pippins. Will the Calville Blanc d’Hivers and the Cort Pendu Plat’s end up being the coffee of the apple world? I’ll give them another try next week to see how they’re progressing. But patience is a must when it comes to local foods, all of which deserve second chances.

15 Sep

The Bureaucracy of Dreams

This morning, just after hitting the snooze button, I proceeded to have a dream in which I was staring at a piece of paper that read, “Thank you for returning to sleep, please check all that apply.” What followed was a checklist of several statements, including “I have pressed the snooze button on my alarm clock” and “I had an interesting dream I wanted to get back to.” There were several others that I checked, but I can’t remember them all.

14 Sep


I just got employed as a columnist for Apple Enthusiast Magazine, penning a small sidebar called “Tim’s Picks.” (Welcome to my website Apple Enthusiast readers!) Didn’t know I was qualified, did you? Well, last year I frequented the local farmer’s market and a nearby apple orchard to become versed in some of the finer points in Wisconsin apples. Apples — and the subtle array of flavors apparent in the many different varieties — might be the closest thing Wisconsin has to wine.

Actually, beer should earn that mantle. But whatever.

Here’s the column.

Well, late summer apples are dwindling in numbers and the early fall ones are starting to show up in the orchards of South Central Wisconsin. That means Macintoshes are making their first appearance. Personally, I stay clear of the early macs. They’re hard and bitter and leave your mouth slightly dry. I’m all for sour, but that’s not what I mean when I say bitter. I mean bitter.

Paula Reds are still going strong and they’re a very safe apple to use for eating or baking. In fact, Paulas are nice if you’re bored and you eat things when you’re bored — instead of chips or a candy bar, pick up a Paula Red. If, however, you’re looking for a metaphorical wild night on the town when it comes to apple tasting, Paulas are kind of prudish. They’re like Mary in Pride and Prejudice.

Tempting though it is to stick with the Bennett sisters comparisons for the rest of my list, I think I’ll refrain for fear of scaring off most of my readership. Actually, it’s just too difficult to say which early September apple has the beauty, intelligence, and spunk of Elizabeth. My favorite is the Zestar, which is an almost perfect combination of sweet and tart. It’s got some complexity of flavor that keeps your taste buds guessing long after that first bite. If you’re craving a more gingery spice, like what you find in Delicious apples, try an Akane. Personally, I’m not a fan of Delicious, but I’m not as opposed to Akane. I’ve been eating them with my Grape-Nuts every morning.

Miltons are just about gone, but they have a nice sourness also, with a touch of acidity and a dry feel. (I’m holding myself back from making more references to British Literature right now. Paradise Lost, the garden of Eden, John Milton — it’s just too easy.)

If it’s sweet you’re craving, I’m really not the man to tell you what to do since I tend to avoid sweet apples. But Red Frees are nice, and I just had a more obscure variety called a Summer Treat, which I claim is like eating the peelings from late fall Macintoshes, the kind that are leftover when mom makes an apple pie for Thanksgiving. Perhaps not the best texture, but the smell is divine.

Since I avoid sweet apples, I make the unpopular claim that Honeycrisp are too much. Gravenstein, however, have the texture of Honeycrisp without the same saccharine simplicity. They are still sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.

But if it’s the perfect blend of flavors you’re looking for (and who isn’t?) the apple you need to taste is Cox’s Orange Pippin. We’re talking about subtlety of flavor of wine-tasting proportions. And according to the grower who sold it to me, “more vitamin C than an orange.” There is actually a hint of oranges to the flavor as well, but it’s strength is that no one sensation overpowers the others. According to orangepippin.com, it’s the “best-flavored dessert apple ever.” I’m inclined to agree.

02 Sep


Vector Art Tember, originally uploaded by wiscostorm.

I’ve been using the final days of summer to delve into “vector art,” which is Adobe Illustrator’s unique way of drawing — a lot easier and more computer-oriented than hand drawing in Photoshop.