Sunday, October 23, 2016

Apples to keep

The Esopus Spitzenberg apple
Ben Wenk and I spend nearly five minutes at this morning's Headhouse Square Farmers Market discussing apples and cider, and one variety in particular that he is selling for the first time this year, the Espopus Spitzenberg.

Ben, who brings his family's Three Springs Fruit Farm output in the Adams County, Pennsylvania, fruit belt, to markets here, in Maryland and the District of Columbus, was quick to note the apple was Thomas Jefferson's favorite.

It's one of mine, too, and not only because of its flavor and storage qualities. As I noted in a post five years ago, when I purchased the variety from North Star Orchards, the apple is named after the Esopus Creek in Ulster County, New York. I took many a dip in this icy-cold, rocky waterway in the northern Catskills during family vacations in the 1950s. The Espopus is a favored trout stream and also feeds into the New York City water supply through the nearby Ashokan Reservoir.

The apple offers great balance between sweet and tart, with a honey-colored, crisp and spicy flesh and a orange-dappled skin. The Espopus Spitzenberg's complex flavor is matched by its pleasant aromatic qualities, making it an excellent "dessert" apple, one that's meant to be eaten as is (though it's a good cooking apple, too). It's not an easy apple to grow, however, and prone to just about any disease that strikes other apples.

Like many late season apples, it 's a "keeper" which, like a fine wine, improves with age; the apple you put in the crisper today will be even deeper in favor come late January and February.

Ben had a full bin of another "keeper" today at Headhouse: the Arkansas Black. perhaps the hardest, crispest apple I've ever tasted. It might lose a bit of that crispness after a few months of storage, but it will still be suitably crunchy. As it stores it will even become darker in color, as well as develop a waxy finish. Unlike the Esopus, however, it's a rather one-dimensional apple in flavor: all sweetness, with little apparent tartness. Still, it's a tasty apple with admirable qualities. Although it's parentage is a mystery, the Arkansas Black is probably descended from the Winesap.

If Ben still has them next week I'll buy a big bag of Esopus Spitzenbergs for my crisper. But the "keeper" I'm waiting for is the Newtown Pippin, another variety that improves immeasurably after a few months in storage. North Star Orchards usually has them in November. As a rule, the later in the season an apple matures, the better it is as a storage apple. The Newtown Pippin will soften just a tad in storage and it's skin may wrinkle a bit, but it's fine eating.

1 comment:

Lisa at North Star Orchard said...

Hi Robert-
We had our Spitzenbergs at market the week before, and they were gone in a snap!

But since you mention Newtown Pippin - they'll be at our stand this coming Sunday (10/30)...and they'll be a one-week wonder this year, as we don't have many. Hope you can get some for yourself! They are the oldest commercial variety in North America, and were the most popular apple in the Mid-Atlantic region in the 1800s.

We'll also have our very last Golden Russets of the season at the market this Sunday. That's a 400+ year old variety, with a sweet and complex flavor and unique texture. It's a real favorite for the heirloom apple lover!

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