An entire year will often go by without my eating an apple. I am forever spoiled by the apples of my youth. They were irregular in shape and strong in flavor. The orchards were local and the apples were not bred with shipping hundreds of miles in mind. In Connecticut my friend and co-worker Rich had inherited the care of an heirloom orchard from his father. The wealthy heiress who owned the land where the orchard was located willed the land and outbuildings to the Four H organization. Owning one of the last farms adjacent to the growing suburbs Rich was active with the Four H and took care of the orchard. I remember the autumn day we discovered a hive of wild bees in one of the old wooden outbuildings. It must have been packed for the winter with apple blossom honey. Lucky bees!
Oh My Oh My! I could just cry, I cannot find a Northern Spy. Each place I go I truly try, but I cannot find a Northern Spy. I hope someday before I die again I’ll taste a Northern Spy.
Here is the apple of my dreams, the long lost Northern Spy. Look at the irregularity in color and shape. It’s not a commercial apple at all. It’s not the pomologist’s equivalent of a modern development house, sided in grey or tan, one just like the other. It’s big, strong, independent and as juicy as a watermelon. It makes the most wonderful deep dish apple pies you can imagine, the slices holding their shape as long as not overcooked and the pie oozing the most glorious juice when sliced open, piping hot. Whether you are a fan of cheddar cheese or ice cream with your pie you can’t go wrong. To me it needs no garnishment.
There are many other interesting apples you may never encounter. This is unfortunate, because they all have unique properties and flavors.
Aero is a Swedish apple dating from the 15th century. It is the oldest cultivar in Northern Europe, grown mostly in Sweden and Estonia. It is egg-shaped, medium to large in size, sweet and aromatic. As you would imagine since it’s an apple of the north it is at its best in November, and it keeps well till February. So it’s useful for holiday baking. Apples are the signature ingredients in appelkaka (apple cake), a sponge cake baked with fresh apple pieces in it. Swedes also bake a crustless version of apple pie, more like a crumble than the standard pie.
In the west one doesn’t often connect apples with Russia but the Antonovka is a very old Russian variety, originating in Kursk in 17th century. It was often planted at dachas, the Russian country estates. The apples are large and yellow-green and are best used for cooking and cider as they are extremely tart straight from the tree but keep their shape when cooked. This variety is unusual in producing a single, deep taproot, which apples don’t normally do. This makes Antonovka desirable for providing rootstock. Antonovka rootstock is cold-hardy (to −45 °C), and forms a well-anchored, standard-sized tree.
In reality you could have a blog just about apples (and many orchards do) since 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States and 7,500 varieties are grown throughout the world. Of those many American varieties only 100 are grown commercially, but still with such a selection, why is it you see only the same half dozen everywhere?
The apple tree originated in an area between the Caspian and the Black Sea and the final apple I have to share is the original. Trees of the Malus sieversii are found wild all over Kazakhstan and fortunately there is growing interest in protecting these trees as the species is now considered vulnerable to extinction. The USDA is cultivating some in hopes of obtaining valuable genetic information.
I do hope you will take advantage of apple season, whether to get outdoors for some fun and exercise at a pick your own orchard or to buy some fresh apples for eating and baking while they are at their peak. They are healthy and delicious, so enjoy.