This Wednesday I picked up my first of my Out on a Limb apple CSA share of the season, and yesterday I made my first apple crisp of the season, and this morning I had my first breakfast of apple crisp of the season. I am thrilled about apple season.
Even better, it seems to be a great year for apples. Last year was a little rough because of the warm, early spring followed by a series of hard frosts (fruit trees in general do not enjoy that type of bait and switch). But this year things look really good!
The Out on a Limb program is dedicated to distributing (local and) unusual historic and modern apple varieties. Every two weeks we get about 10 pounds of apples along with a newsletter describing the history, flavor, and recommended uses for the apples.
Here’s a note about apples: they vary a huge amount, not just in flavor but in texture and in the way they react to cooking. This means there are dessert apples well suited to eating raw, sauce apples that break down well in a sauce, pie apples that hold their shape and have nice flavor when baked, and cider apples that I don’t actually know a huge amount about but which are presumably well suited for cider pressing. My Joy of Cooking has a chart outlining different apple varieties and which are good for which use, but that seems like a lot to remember, and it’s also not comprehensive because there are just so many varieties of apples and new varieties have become popular since it was published (Gala, for instance, and Honeycrisp). If you’re buying apples or picking for a particular purpose, I’d recommend asking the farmer or fruit seller for advice. Or just playing around! But know that a sauce apple might make for a pretty flat pie. Or pie apples in applesauce might make for a chunkier sauce. I also sometimes cut my losses by mixing a variety of apples together.
The apples in the picture above are Garden Royal, originating in Sudbury, MA around 1790. According to this week’s apple newsletter:
"Garden Royal is one of the more famous dessert apples of the past. AJ Downing, in the 1860 edition of his Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, calls it ‘very tender, juicy, rich, vinous, aromatic, a beautiful and excellent fruit.’ Garden Royal fell out of favor as commercial nurseries and commercial orcharding became popular. The tree itself grows slowly in the nursery and rarely produces large apples."
These apples also have sooty blotch, which is ugly, but apparently harmless and tasteless. So they’re kind of unappealing looking when stacked up next to some of the lovelier apples we got in our share this week. But prettiness actually doesn’t have much to do with tastiness, and there were some seriously ugly apples last year that were surprising and wonderful.