Eris, the goddess of discord*, threw a golden apple on the table and said it belonged to the fairest one, next thing you know…the Trojan War. The apple wasn’t any more calming for Adam and Eve, yet the fruit carries much less baggage in the rest of the bible – it’s invoked to signify favor in the phrase, apple of my eye or to soothe when one is called upon to comfort me with apples. Historically, apples have played a key part in keeping the doctor away, Isaac Newton becoming a Sir and Sleeping Beauty’s Sleep. In modernity, Robert Frost coupled apples with pinecones before reminding us “Good fences make good neighbors”. Before the curmudgeon Frost, there was the American folk hero Johnny Appleseed – AKA John Chapman helped spread apples westward and just as importantly serve as a metaphor for generosity and enterprise.
Somewhere along the way apples lost their ability to inspire. There are over 7,000 named apple varieties in the world, but only a handful are cultivated commercially. Things were especially bad in the 70s, well, apples suffered the most in the malaise of the
70’s. US producers had pretty much whittled the apple crop down to Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious. By 1980, ¾ of the apple crop in Washington State was the Red Delicious.
Would you launch 1,000 ships for Granny Smith? Is it possible to be tempted or inspired by the ultimate in meh flavor, the Red Delicious? In many ways the diversity of available varieties mirrors what happened to Farmers Markets. Orchardists, unwilling to compete in a flawed system of too many farmers growing the same fruit for too few buyers or driven by the belief that if they grew a better tasting apple, people would buy it, grafted new varieties onto old stock. Today the Red Delicious accounts for less than 1/3 of the acreage in Washington.
Filling the void are new modern varieties such as Gala, Braeburn, Fuji, Honeycrips, and one of my favorites, the Pink Lady (very good apple; fun to say) but Portland Farmers Market offers shoppers varieties they will never find in a grocery store. One of our growers Susan Christopherson of Old World Apples, sells her fruit at the PSU Market in autumn, tends an orchard on 5 acres of land in Ridgefield, Washington. That’s about 500 trees dedicated to heritage varieties. Susan tells me that only 300 of those trees are viable – Age and grafting are part of the cycle of an orchard but some varieties like the Ripston Pippin are stubborn producers – this year’s bounty of about 10 apples spread over 8 trees.
But the 300 trees that do fruit, grow apples that are rarely seen anymore including Old World Apple’s most popular variety, the Pink Pearl – a golden hued pearl exterior hides a raspberry interior (Susan is bringing the remaining crop of the Pink Pearl’s to PSU this weekend). Old World is one of the few nearby growers who offer the Caville Blanc – cultivated since the 16th Century, it was the apple loving France’s most beloved pomme until recently – the fruit smells faintly like a banana and has more Vitamin C than an orange. Susan also has Cox’s Orange Pippin a cidery, tart apple – good in hand or perhaps better in a press.
More variety and flavor have reignited a passion for apples. Asking Marketeers what their favorite apple was produced some passionate responses. Sylvester, a twitterer, informed me that if I am writing about anything other than Honeycrisps, I am doing a terrible job. Other people kept it far less personal, although equally enthusiastic when naming the Rubinette, Gravenstein, the Ginger Gold from Kiyokawa Family Orchards or the Empire from Sungold Farm as the apple of their mouths?
Maybe you aren’t shopping for a new favorite, just an apple for a weekend pie. Whether you are at Old World Apples, or Drapper Girls, Gala Springs or one of the dozen growers selling apples at our Market, you still follow Susan advice and mix varieties for more flavor in your pie.
* Despite the gender bias, this sounds like a pretty good job yet it isn’t listed on Monster.com