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.