My go-to source of comfort at this time of year is apples, particularly apples born and bred in New York state.
One of the sweetest compensations for the end of summer and the turn toward winter is the homey apple. It’s sad to say goodbye to cherries and peaches and plums, but apples take center stage in October and they hang on well into winter. Under the right conditions, apples can be stored for five to six months. Try that with a peach.
Plums, peaches and cherries don’t have the same cultural and mythological powers as apples. Eve didn’t pick a plum in the Garden of Eden. The Evil Stepmother didn’t offer Snow White a peach.
Apples have cachet. It is said that Alexander the Great enjoyed dwarf apples in Macedonia in 300 B.C. Today there are some 7,500 different cultivars, with qualities ranging from tooth-aching sweetness to mouth-puckering tartness. The most expensive apple you can buy is the Sekai Ichi, grown in Japan. They go for around $21 each. Do not use for baking.
Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has developed dozens of apple varieties, including the popular Cortland, Macoun, Empire and Jonagold. It leads the search for fruit that is delicious, offers crunch, has eye appeal, is disease-resistant and is blessed with a long shelf life. In recent years, horticulture professor Susan Brown led the breeding program for SnapDragon and RubyFrost at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in upstate Geneva. Her past varieties include Fortune and Autumn Crisp.
SnapDragon is an offspring of Honeycrisp and an unnamed apple in Cornell’s breeding program that is described as similar to Jonagold. I haven’t found one yet in stores, but they are said to be sublime in their appleness.
Forgive me if I indulge the memory of apple picking every autumn through the 1980s, when my kids were growing up. If I breathe deeply enough, I can still smell the baskets of apples in the back seat on the way home, and the scent of sugary fried doughnuts, always part of the outing. It was one of those activities actually as good as you expected it to be. The picnic lunch, the freedom of running through the orchards, the climbing and collecting, and then the eating and baking and cooking apple sauce comprised a perfect day. Even the bee stings and poison ivy were worth it. Many self-picking orchards are still open for business and observing Covid-19 precautions.
My personal apple favorites are Pink Lady, Macoun and Honeycrisp. If I’m looking for an import, then Envy is it, from New Zealand. New York McIntosh are perfect if you’re in a slightly tart mood, and Rome and Cortlands head my list for baking.
Apparently there was a juicy apple scandal that rocked the horticulture world some years back. When the succulent Honeycrisp made its debut following a romantic propagation at the University of Minnesota, it was said to be a blend of the Macoun and the Honeygold. But someone who apparently had way too much time on his hands questioned the new apple’s paternity, conducted genetic fingerprinting and discovered that the Keepsake, not the Honeygold, was the father. Great embarrassment ensued in the world of apple cross-cultivation. I don’t know if anyone ever conclusively proved who grafted to whom and how.
Apples are the main event in crisps, cakes, pancakes, cobblers and stove-top compotes. They are the crowning glory of muffins and cupcakes and cookies. We associate apples with holidays, the Jewish New Year (apples and honey) and Halloween. If you have young teeth, think apple jelly. In my home, from October to May, there is always a bowl of apple compote in the refrigerator that we enjoy with cereals, yogurt and especially ice cream.
Recently I tried a Smitten apple, whose rich parentage includes Gala, Braeburn, Falstaff and Fiesta breeding lines. It’s a keeper.
Apples have always been associated with knowledge, immortality, temptation, sex and yes, sin. Of course, today we have to think about the other Apple. Why did Steve Jobs decide to call his company Apple? According to the Walter Isaacson bio, Jobs said he thought of the name while he was on an all-fruit diet. He thought it sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.” I guess he was on to something.
And now I understand why my Mac is called a Mac.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.