06 Oct

Tim’s Picks for October 4th

Okay, so you know how I ended my last column with the admission that I know nothing about which apples are good for baking and that such advice would have to come from a different columnist? Well Igor — that’s the editor’s name — loved that suggestion. In fact, he wrote me back and said exactly that: “Nice suggestion. I’ll get in touch with Norma.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion,” I wrote. “But I’m glad you liked the column. Who’s Norma?”

He wrote back: “I didn’t like the column. It was much too flip. But I’m hiring Norma as a columnist for baking apples.”

I replied, “Who’s Norma?”

For two days, I didn’t hear from him. Then he emailed again saying that he wanted to have a conference call with me and Norma. I said fine. They called Saturday.

Norma’s the woman who almost got my job last week. She lives in Ohio; Igor lives in Maine. And Igor has a huge crush on her, which was painfully obvious during the conversation.

Here’s approximately how it went:

Igor: So we’ll probably put the two columns side by side. I’m thinking Norma’s will go on the left since, you know, pretty ladies first.

Norma: Whatever you want to do is fine with me, Igor.

(pregnant pause full of disturbing fantasies on Igor’s part, no doubt)

Me: I could care less.

Norma: By the way, Tim, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. I really enjoy your column. Say, I just tried a new apple the other day called a Jonagold. Ever tried one?

Me (choking on my Ashmead’s Kernel): Uh, yeah. Cross between a Jonathan and a Golden Delicious? Yeah, I’ve tried that one.

Norma: Kind of a honeyed, aromatic flavor, really crisp and juicy.

Me: Mm-hmm. So they say.

Igor: Honey? I just love honey. Now pay attention to me, Norma. You’re column’s going to be great. I can’t wait to fawn over it some more. And maybe someday we can meet at a hotel in New York and make out.

Well, that’s an approximation, but it’s more or less accurate. I had to sit through 30 minutes of that crap.

But whatever. I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, I still have my job with Apple Enthusiast magazine. Here’s the column.

We’re just about at the peak of apple season right now, meaning there are more varieties available currently than there were or will be for the rest of the fall. So as I take stock of the vast array of fruit at hand, it might be worthwhile to pause and remind myself of my goal. It’s simple: I’m after the perfect apple. Or at least a top ten list. Call them desert isle apples.

Fortunately, I’ve got two more to add to my desert isle collection this week.

But let’s begin with the big loser: the Egremont Russet. As the name might give away, this apple is russeted, meaning it is light brown in color. Its flesh is quite hard, as are many of this week’s new picks, but its taste is quite unique: it’s a mix of lime zest and bitter walnuts. Not the best flavor, but probably a delicacy in France since it’s full of tannins. Yes, that’s right, I said tannins.

You thought tannins were just for wine snobs, didn’t you? Well, they’re not. Tannins are simply that chemical in things like banana peels and grape skins that leave your mouth dry. The Egremont Russet is saturated in the stuff.

So are the Calville Blancs, which I tried again this week to see if my tastes might line up any better with Thomas Jefferson’s. No luck.

I did, however, enjoy another of Jefferson’s favorites, the Spitzenberg. It tastes like a Milton with a little more acid and a much harder flesh. What’s strange, though, is that it smells like Aloe or maybe like grass (not freshly mown grass, just grass).

Actually, one of the odder aspects of apple tasting is the occasional disparity between smell and taste. The Winter Banana is one such apple. It does, in fact, smell like banana (faintly), but its taste is pretty mild and not at all banana-like. It’s a crisp, juicy apple, with a texture like a Granny Smith, but not overly tart nor too sweet. The Winter Banana doesn’t make my desert isle list, but it’s a solid apple, better than most grocery store varieties and one I’ll definitely buy again.

The Snow apple doesn’t make my desert isle list either, but it was a pleasure to meet a parent of the McIntosh. Snows are named for their bright white flesh; they don’t have quite the personality of the McIntosh, but they’re a great palate-cleansing apple.

And it’s worth cleansing your palate before eating a King David apple, which has a superb taste you don’t want to miss. These apples definitely make my desert isle list since they taste like cherries. Cherries! Tart Door County cherries to be precise. Think about what that means!

Or, if that’s blowing your mind too much, you could try my other desert isle apple for this week, the Ashmead’s Kernel. This one has a rough-skinned russeted exterior with a crisp texture, and it tastes like a Bosc Pear. It basically is a Bosc Pear that decided to become an apple.

So where does that put us? I’ve reviewed 27 apples so far this fall and I’d call six of them definite desert isle apples: Cox’s Orange Pippins, Zestars, Pink Pearls, Cornish Gilliflowers, King Davids, and Ashmead’s Kernels. Now, that list is subject to change, but I’d be hard pressed to remove the King Davids and Ashmeads.

In short, it was a good week.

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