The local hippie grocery store has a bin where they throw all the dinged, dented, and bruised apples that I guess the average person wouldn’t eat. But armed with a little cultivar knowledge, I usually manage to pick up some pretty solid organic produce for less money. This kind of seasonal flexibility and general willingness to take what looks good at $1.19/lb is a pretty good way to eat better for cheap. Last year I managed to find some organic Honeycrisp apples which are normally $3.49/lb.
But today I did even better.
Before we get to the reveal, a little bit about apple agriculture why the majority of apples have sucked for so long, and what’s on the horizon. Apples are some of the first crops that have undergone the dreaded GENETIC MODIFICATION [dun dun daaaah], this is the case as limbs from one apple tree can be grafted onto another tree to produce fruit with the properties of both. Also different branches can undergo slight mutations, often resulting in minor variations in flower and fruit from branch to branch.
So why do the majority of apples suck? The majority of the US apple crop is harvested from mid- to late-August through October and placed into massive refrigerated, high humidity, low oxygen warehouses and are parceled out to be sold throughout the year. Over time, the emphasis shifted from quality, taste, and variety to longevity and visual appearance – a gradual shift to monoculture of the Red Delicious cultivar that resulted in that mealy mediocre apple that most people now consider normal. (A more in-depth article from the Washington Post for those who want to know more)
So after consumer demand for a mediocre product dropped, and many Washington State apple farms went through bankruptcy proceedings, apples such as Fuji (still haven’t tried a Grapple), Gala, and Pink Lady have gradually crept back onto the market with cultivars now backed by plant patents with quality standards and inspectors to prevent damage to the brand. I’ve also managed to try Jonagold, Braeburn, and the aforementioned Honeycrisp. The heart of American apple hybridization is The University of Minnesota’s – Minnesota Agriculture Experiment Station, who have a pretty good record for banging out the next big apple cultivar. I’d really like to try their Frostbite apples, and also take a look at the Zestar! (banana notes?!) and SweeTango cultivars, but it seems these cultivars are kept locked up to the North, but we will remain vigilant.
So anyway back to some of the early apples of the 2012 season!
BLAMMO! The Pink Pearl cultivar (which I’ve never had before today) is actually pretty good – it’s unusually fragrant and are more tart than the average apple. I just ate the apple straight, mediocre apples have a tendency to get delegated to “peanut butter delivery vehicle.”
So if you see an apple or (any piece of produce, for that matter) with a name that you’re less than familiar with, give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised.