September 3,2007

Apples are strange. They don’t really grow very well here, except for the occasional lucky occurrence. A “lucky occurrence” in this case would be the rather mild summer we’ve had. On the way back from our row crop garden, I noticed what seemed to be a ripe apple off of our 3 year old tree. This tree is “Calville Blanc d’Hiver”, an antique apple. We don’t do normal apples……anyway, usually apples either rot from sunburn on the tree, or drop off the tree green. These occurrences are likely because the trees are young, apples struggle with the climate here, and there are doubtless people out there that know how to care for them better than I do. I rarely (to date) ever have apples to use or cook with, much less sell. But I decided to try one of these, and it was another one of those “why it’s all worthwhile” moments. The antique apples I’ve encountered are never simple. This particular type dates to 1598, and is considered to be THE culinary apple of France. It is described thus by the nursery that sold us the tree: “Flesh is tender, sweet, spicy, flavorful, with a banana-like aroma. Fine-textured, yellowish-white flesh is also higher in Vitamin C than an orange!” If that sounded more like a description for a bottle of wine than an apple, it’s because these apples just don’t have a simple flavor. I stood there chewing, trying to decide what I was tasting, and couldn’t come up with a single answer. Complex. Sweet. Tart. Citrus-y. Too Bad there are Only Four Apples on the Tree. Maybe next year….then, we picked our Arkansas Black apple (Arkansas, prior to 1886), which is older and yielding more. The vast majority of the fruits were sunburned, had some rot, had a bird peck, etc. A precious few were put into our CSA boxes last week. So I sat there last night, irritated at all that unsellable fruit, when the idea came…..cut out the bad parts… crisp recipe…..2 hours later I was shovelling the best apple dish I’ve ever made. No credit to me or Fanny Farmer; these apples are just incredible baked. They are firm and just-right crunchy even after being baked. In fact, I’m eating them while I type this. If some of this sounds good, I will remind Northern California readers that Apple Hill is just gearing up right now. Arkansas Black and many other can’t-be-found-in-stores varieties are up there…..some of the best adventures can come right out of your own oven. I struggle all the time to communicate to people just how much they aren’t getting in the stores. The American consumer has been reduced to choosing from relatively few offerings of all the many flavors and colors that the American table once saw.
This week I received a phone call from a lady in Pennsylvania, who just wanted a decent heirloom melon. I shipped her some, Federal Express. Is it right that someone should have to go to such lengths just to taste a sweet melon with old-time flavor? Speak out at the places you shop. Support Farmer’s Markets that do offer quality, old-time produce. Best of all, learn to grow your own produce and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with the successes!
It is already time to get ready for winter. Winter crop seedlings are 4 weeks old in the greenhouse. Row-seeds of lettuce etc. will be direct seeded very soon. THere are 2 weeks left of summer, and a lot of work and planning lies ahead for the cool growing season. The biggest sign of this is that 3 days ago the chestnut harvest began. Each day the nuts must be collected from the ground, removed from the burrs if needed, and refrigerated or frozen. I ate two last night and they are the best so far. Between chestnuts and almonds it’s going to be busy!