Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rediscovering Apples

Even though I grew up in a state known for its apples, I’d never really loved an apple until I moved 2,000 miles away—to a place known more for its cheese, beer, and brats, than its delectable fruit. And yet, even though images of apples were plastered all over any mention of Washington state, the apples of my childhood were tasteless, boring, almost cottony in my mouth. 

Oh my god, look at that interior!
Red Delicious, the virtual symbol of the state, was never delicious. It was the apple you got in the school lunch line while desperately wishing you had brought something from home. Or sometimes, even the apple your own mother put in your lunchbox, clearly a sign of aggression. So I never ate them unless forced to by mother who was too busy to notice that they were really terrible. These Washington apples weren’t the fruit of kings as apples once were, but rather the fruit of mediocrity.

The apples I discovered in Wisconsin, however, were altogether different. They weren’t uniformly dark red or bright green or buttery yellow but were mixes of all of those shades and more. They snapped when you bit into them, releasing a shower of juice that the skin could barely contain, rather than sagging and finally giving way under the pressure of your teeth like those so-called Delicious.

My first transcendent apple experience occurred in the fall of 2002. I remember it like other people remember their first kiss. It was called Pink Pearl, though there was nothing pink or pearly about its skin which was a homely yellow-brown. Its flesh was like nothing I had ever experienced before, marbled pink and white like those Pilsbury birthday cake mixes I’d always begged for as a kid. And the taste? The taste literally brought tears to my eyes it was so incredible and unknown to me.

It was also slightly embarrassing, as I was standing in front of the farmers’ booth, surrounded by other shoppers at the farmers market. I had no idea apples could taste like this—that really any
fruit could be that perfumed, sweet-tart, and delicious. And that that fruit could grow in Wisconsin rather than the Apple State.

I've since learned that thousands of apple varieties exist around the world. Someday I hope to try them all.


  1. I echo your sentiments on the red delicious a year later. Whatever keeps this apple the top seller, surely isn't flavor or texture. Once I discovered the options, I set out to try as many as I could get at. I hope to pick up a bag of pink pearl apples tomorrow at an apple farm, if only because I haven't tasted them, but also because of that amazing pink flesh and the description of the flavor. My son wants pink lady, but they aren't ripe yet. My daughter would only eat ambrosia for a while. I like those as well as cameo and empire, but the best I've had so far is pinata. A friend of mine once said we were "spoiled" because we eat all these different apples. I say Emerson was right. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And the fancy ones are still cheaper than junk food.

  2. It's funny. As a kid who grew up working in an apple orchard in Wisconsin (and later selling apples at the Madison Farmers Market), I always thought of WI as a big apple growing state! I hope you've had the opportunity to try a Macoun out of hand, as well as baked a Wolf River for dessert some night, sampled Macs throughout their growing season (as they'll change significantly) and found your favorite pie apple. If you get a chance to try Ela's Orchard Moon Glow Pears (very short season, very limited supply), I highly recommend those, too. Oooo, to be back in WI for apple season...

  3. RBDeb--I'm sure you are right about Wisconsin and its apples, especially if you grew up working on an orchard! In Washington, all you hear about is Washington apples and maybe sometimes some from New York. Now that I live in Wisconsin, I would definitely agree that it is a big apple growing state!

    Number9--I totally agree. I recommend a trip to Seed Savers in Iowa if you want to try a bunch of different apples. They have an orchard with more than 700 varieties. It's just fantastic!