29 October 2008

How'd you like THEM apples?

The Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia where I live is world-renowned for its apples, and rightly so. This is the height of apple season, with much of the crop already in, and apple-lovers like myself happily toting home litres and bushels and pecks and bags of various apple varieties

How many apple cultivars can you name? Everyone will mention the McIntosh (in my opinion, the most over hyped apple next to Granny Smith), and probably Red Delicious, Cortland, Northern Spy and Gravenstein. But how about Sunrise, Ginger Gold, Macoun, Ribston, Jona Gold, Jonathan, Royal Gala, Fuji, Cox Orange Pippin, Russet, Spartan, Melba, Paula Red, Spigold, Empire, Braeburn, King, Golden Delicious, Mutsu…there’s a world of taste in these and many more.

I buy most of my apples at Noggins Corner Farm Market, in nearby Greenwich. This seventh-generation farm grows a wide variety of produce, but to me it's their apples (and pears) that are the star attraction. I only buy small amounts of apples at a time; usually 4 quarts or a half-bushel. The farmer has controlled atmosphere storage and I'd rather pay HIM a little extra for fewer apples and have them always fresh, than bring home a large amount and have them go soft after a couple of weeks.

Like everyone, I have my favourite apples, and the Russet is one of them. Although they're starting to harvest them now, I won't eat any for a few weeks yet, as they need some time to mellow and ripen a bit. But they're fantastic when they are ripe, and they're one of the varieties that is in the background/heritage of a number of popular cultivars.

Long ago as a fresh graduate from the Ag College, I spent a couple of months one autumn picking apples for a local farmer. Apple picking can be a lot of fun, on sunny lovely autumn days. Not so much on cold wet rainy windy November days when there are idiot hunters out nearby. This is a King apple, and it was the first variety I picked; they can be huge apples, and while they're usually used for cooking, there's nothing like a fresh apple right off the tree--no matter what variety it is. Even a McIntosh tastes good then.

While 'summer apples' don't do it for me other than to give me an early taste of my favourite fruit, I do love Gravensteins. While there are earlier apples, perhaps one of the best-loved in Nova Scotia is the Gravenstein. We feel a warm attachment to this apple because it was introduced to our province by Charles Ramage Prescott, whose home Acacia Grove in Starrs Point, Kings County is a provincial museum. Prescott (1772-1859) brought more than 100 different cultivars of apples to Nova Scotia, but the Gravenstein took hold because it was truly an all-purpose apple, good for fresh eating, cooking, and of course, making cider. There are actually several different types of Gravensteins grown in the Valley—the old-fashioned type grown by Prescott, which is yellow-green in colour, and the red-skinned Crimson Gravenstein shown here, a sport of the original variety but tasting very much the same. Recently, the Nova Scotian Old-fashioned Gravenstein was named to the Slowfood Foundation for Biodiversity Ark of Taste, a catalogue of rare and unique quality foods from around the world.

What we like for apples depends very much on personal taste, although various growers have told me that in the past, customers looked more for large red apples than they did for tasty varieties. That seems to be changing with the introduction of apples such as Jona Gold and Honeycrisp and Royal Gala and other varieties that have a green, gold or orange-yellow ‘ground colour’ with perhaps a red or reddish blush over that.

This is a heritage variety named Kestrel, about which I know very little, but it's fairly early and tasty. That's pretty well good enough for me. I like my apples firm, with a real snap when you bite them, and a sweet-tangy flavour. Those that are mealy or bland...go to the horse.

Despite their name, Honeygold aren't related to Honeycrisp, at least not directly; an older apple, circa 1935s and developed to be grown in colder regions as a substitute for Golden Delicious. They're quite good, but we grow awesome Golden Delicious here too, so I tend to opt for the latter more often.

Ah, yes, Honeycrisp. This is the designer diva apple these days, with people going completely gah-gah over them. Myself, I don't buy them, other than one or two in mid-winter when they taste great. But I find there are other apples just as good, if not better, and a lot sooner in the year. What I DO love about Honeycrisp is that producers get top dollar for them. They grow very, very well here in the Valley, but they're a challenge to grow, harvest and handle. Pickers actually clip the stem of the fruit because otherwise the thin skin will get pierced. Isn't that interesting?

This is Gingergold, another sport of Golden Delicious; they're earlier than GD, and I don't know how well they keep because I don't see them for sale in winter. It may be that there just aren't large enough crops of them to hold for long periods of time. A late farmer who was a friend of mine put me on to these apples about 8 years ago, and while I like them, there are others I prefer. Including....

My favourite old fashioned apple, the Cox Orange Pippin. My dearly departed dad also loved this apple, and they do have a distinctive flavour that is sort of orange-like. They also smell simply divine. The Cox Orange is a sport of the Ribston Pippin and has been around since the mid-nineteenth century. They're just now getting to the point where I'm prepared to buy and eat them; a staffperson at my favourite farm market and I were giggling a couple of weeks ago because the Cox Orange were for sale, but when they're green they just aren't that great. I was looking longingly at them and then saying, "NO! Resist! Not yet!" I took home some Gravs and Galas instead.

Now I'll put this apple up against Honeycrisp any day of the week. It's Jonagold, and probably the apple next to Cox Orange that I eat the most of. They're awesome; crisp, juicy, sweet-tart, cook well, store excellently even in a fridge, and just delicious. A cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious, also apples I like a LOT, and it's always fun when I pounce on a basket of Jonagold in the farm market while others are slobbering over Honeycrisp or Macs or Red Delicious. I get puzzled looks, and I tell people to try these apples if they want something excellent. Heeeee!

Notice there's no Red Delicious or McIntosh in this Ode to Apples? With good reason. Red Delicious are pretty, and they're okay straight off the tree, but too often they're sold in gas stations, convenience stores, and elsewhere where they haven't been stored correctly, and you bite into the apple and find a texture and taste like sawdust. Blerk. To my mind, the only good McIntosh is the computer of the same name *and slightly different spelling, of course. The apples are tough-skinned and sour but tasteless except right off the tree. Yet this is still one of the most commonly grown cultivars because people think they love it, probably due to it being ubiquitous in stores and markets. Now, the Mac IS important in the heritage of some apples I like much better, as you'll see.

This is one of my all-around favourite apples for cooking and eating, the Cortland. And IT'S a Mcintosh hybrid, nearly a century old now, but without the tough skin and with a far superior taste.
Speaking of taste: One of my pet peeves is going into grocery stores and seeing displays of apples in a rainbow of colours—and finding them all a product of somewhere else, be it Washington, Ontario, New Zealand or South Africa. These might LOOK great, but their taste leaves much to be desired, both because they’ve been trucked halfway across the world (in some cases) and are stored and displayed improperly in the stores. After all, the Annapolis Valley is the apple growing capital of the province and the region, so these imported apples are an insult to growers and customers alike. And I'm sure that many of you, living in your own apple-producing regions, come up against the same situations in your grocery stores.

This is where customers need to complain vigourously to produce managers (and head offices, if need be) to demand local fruit. Don’t accept the excuse that local fruit isn’t in season, either, because today’s storage practices ensure that local apples are always in season, at least in terms of quality and taste.

And with that...I must go eat an apple. WHAT!? There's only one left? Time to head to the farm market, obviously. I'll see you all later.


  1. Jodi, have you ever read L.M. Montgomery's Emily books? She has one of the most lovely descriptions of apple season I have ever read - not to mention a rather funny story about eating someone else's apples without getting permission. Your mention of russets particularly reminded me of this. Thanks for this post, I shall keep my eye out for Jonah Golds from now on!

  2. Cox Orange and Russets are two of my favorites, too, and it's nice to see them making such a big comeback. There was a time a few years ago that Cox Orange were almost impossible to find locally. And I do love Golden Delicious, too. Heck, I love them all! Thanks for the great photos and for sharing such a wonderful view of our Valley orchards.

  3. I love them apples. Also great to mention that there are disease resistant cultivars for homegrowing with less spraying such as Liberty (similar to MacIntosh). I didn't know this when I start apple growing and now I get scabby apples most times.

  4. Ottawa Gardener, we have a certified organic apple orchardist here in the Annapolis Valley, Suprima Farms, who produces some nice eating apples sans spray. He also makes cider and frozen juice bars that are totally awesome.

  5. Jodi,

    This has been a mouth watering post to read! I love apples in the fall. We used to go to the University farm when I lived in Missouri and get fresh pressed cider and all variety of apples...never a Delicious. I agree with you they are a much overrated tasteless apple! Now I am going to head over to the Produce Place and pick out a few new apples to try!


  6. Lovely, Jodi, except you're making me long for varieties I can't get here in Montana. I discovered pippins--a green one with a lovely russet spot--and Northern Spies when we moved from NYC to Toronto, and they were a revelation.

    I agree about Macintosh, which I actually gave another try this fall in honor of my father, who used to swear by them. They don't travel well, that's for sure, so I'll pass till I get a chance to pick one off the tree.

    I do love Honeycrisp, but I'll give Jonagold another try, after your accolade.

  7. Really enjoyed this article on your favourite apples. Just this fall I tried Ginger Gold and fell in love, it is not good for storing tho. Here in Ontario I li ve near 2 very good apple orchards , I have tried may different apples as well and just like you wish the grocery stores carried local produce.

  8. Thanks for this Jodi, I am totally ignorant about apples and will pay much closer attention to what kinds are available and where they came from. We have no applie orchards where we live, maybe too warm? But we can still be choosey at the market and demand better quality from more local growers. All the apple photos are superb.

  9. Great photos and post Jodi. I love apples and would love to track down more of our heirloom varieties. They are just such an amazing fruit.

    Hope you're feeling better these days and my apologies for not getting over here sooner.

  10. What a sensational bounty!

    We're so lucky in Canada to have all this variety and excellence.

  11. Jodi,
    These photos would make a great children's book. I got a book on growing pumpkins for young, Neptune and he was delighted. Just suggesting. I think I have to go to Whole Foods tomorrow and taste all their apples! lol

  12. Thank you for reminding me about Russet apples. I grew up in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and loved those apples. It's been many years since I've seen one.

  13. My personal favorite right now is Royal Gala and I'll buy Johnagold when I can get them. Most of our apples are from Washington or Michigan, but now and then we get some local varieties.

    Of course, we have Red Delicious right here in our back yard and though they're small, they pack a punch when it comes to flavor. Nothing like picking it right off the tree!

  14. Oh YUM! Great pictures of glorious local apples! It's nice to know that you enjoy Jonagolds, as it's one of my favorites. We grow Fujis down here in Maryland, which are delicious: almost too sweet, with a crisp snap as one bites in.
    This weekend it's off to the farmer's market. Time to experiment with the gluten-free crust for pie.

  15. Jodi, fresh apples say fall to me. and I love the smells in an apple orchard. A fewyears ago we discovered Gala and Braeburn and fell for them. They are what we eat the most of now. I would love to try the Cox Orange Poppin and the Russet neither of which Have I seen here. Thanks for a very interesting post and for all the lovely apple photos. Make my mouth water for a good crisp juicey bite.

  16. Jodi,
    wonderful post, excellent article.
    I love Jonagold apples for eating and Northern Spy for baking.
    My favourite cake? Apple cake with Streusel:)
    We pick our apples at Pieter's apple yard in Colborne, Ontario.
    Not far from Toronto is our Apple Route http://www.appleroute.com/

    It is beautiful trip along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

    -Cheers Gisela.

  17. My favourite apple is the Pink Lady, but I love Granny Smiths as well. Both are suitable for the table and for cooking. Any really fresh apple is a good apple, of course! I've heard of some of the old varieties you mention but have never seen them.

  18. Jodi - We're on the same wavelength again. I'm deeply immersed in shooting a video about apples right now, so it's really fun to see your bountiful harvest! There's a great group of people called Red Tomato in New England who are really helping family farms get their produce to market - in particular, they've developed an Eco Apple program to help farmers use less pesticide and sell their apples. Yes, buy local and eat seasonal!

  19. I like them apples just fine. ;-) My favourites are braeburn and pink lady. Very tasty.

  20. How marvelous to have so many apples to choose from! We have many orchards here in Virginia, but most of them raise the same handful of varieties you can get in any grocery store. There are a few exceptions though - Ginger Gold is a Virginia apple, a chance seedling from an orchard in central Virginia, and one of the earliest to ripen. A local orchard was selling them early in September, but they're gone now. My personal favorite, Black Twig, is one of the last to ripen and we're just now starting to see those on the market. I'm planning to attend a heritage apple festival on Saturday and sample varieties I've never heard of.

  21. Lovely shots. As you know, I love my apples. Thanks for introducing me to some new varieties!

    Must make apple sauce this weekend.

  22. Beautiful, beautiful apples, Jodi! A trigger for lovely memories. We don't have enough cold hours so growing apples isn't suited to Austin, but occasionally some show up at farmers markets.

    In Illinois we could get Golden Delicious, Cortland and Rome Beauties at a You-Pick orchard an hour from our house... the scent of a bushel of golden delicious was intoxicating! Apple dumplings were a big favorite.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  23. Jodi ~ Amazing post! Huge apple fan, here. This was so informative, with many of my favorites mentioned. And your photos have me wishing I'd stopped at the farm stand, yesterday.

    I loved this! ~ Deb

  24. Oh dear Jodi, a most delicious post and your photos ... stunning. Michigan is blessed with luscious orchards where 'the apple' rules this time of year. Honeycrisp is the new 'diva' here also, although I wouldn't think of creating a pie without my favorite oldie, Northern Spy. Bless you for this wonderful post. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," so do hope your munching works!

  25. I was reading some NC Indian folklore recently. It appears that we have lost over 3/4ths the varieties that once grew in our mountains. I know that I haven't tasted a good apple in a long time.

    I enjoyed reading your post and wish I had a mess of them to cook up right now. I had some store bought applesauce for supper. I hadn't purchased it in a long time. It was much thinner than that of which we bought when I was a child.

    I remember serving the applesauce on the same plate as your food and not having it run together. Well tonight's sauce was like soup. What has happened to our applesauce!

  26. What a wonderful post Jodi! Your depth of apple knowledge is impressive. Apples have always been my favorite fruit. How lucky you are to have such a wonderful variety grown locally.

    My dog sits by patiently waiting for me to get to the core, which he always happily devours.

  27. Hi,Jodi, this is quite an excellent treatise on apples! You know a LOT!
    The photos are lovely. Thanks for this.

  28. What a deliscious post! Loved the colors and textures in the photos. We are very lucky to get a nice selection of locally grown apples here in Washington. --Curmudgeon

  29. Craving apples and it's your fault! Thanks though and what great photos to accompany your text.

  30. Jodi, you've mentioned varieties I've never heard of before! I've read about the Honeycrisp so much, but haven't tried them yet. Now I'm glad to know I haven't missed that much. I still like the old-fashioned golden delicious for a good all-purpose apple.
    I won't be buying any apples for awhile, though--I had a bumper crop from my apple trees (not sure if they're Jonathans, but similar) this year. I've put a lot in the freezer, made applesauce, etc. and still have fresh ones in the fridge! I guess you can't get much more local than that:)

  31. Jodi what a wonderful post, my all time favourite! I adore apples, apple trees, apple pie....etc. Very nice and the photos are gorgeous / Tyra xoxo

  32. Jodi, that was so interesting. I LOVE apples, and in Oklahoma, they are difficult to grow. I have four trees. Right now, I couldn't tell you what kinds they are. I have it written down somewhere. The deer always get the apples, but we're thinking of an electric fence next year. I've always wanted to taste a Cox Orange Pippin. Maybe someday. I like mine crisp and tart/sweet. Thanks again.~~Dee

  33. I don't know anything at all about apples, so this was all very useful and entertaining information to me. Thanks!


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