An Ode To Apples

Okay, not really. I am no poet and this will not rhyme, but it will express my deep devotion and love for what is — objectively speaking — the best fruit.

Apples to Oranges?

You might question whether it is right to elevate apples above other fruits. The classic comparison is between apples and oranges, with the worn aphorism that one can’t be compared to the other. This is dead wrong.

One is spherical, must be peeled, and spits acid in your eye. T’other is easy on the eye, in fact it’s the apple of your eye. It’s got dimples on top and bottom.

When fermented, apples make cider. Try that with oranges and you get pruno, that’s prison wine and it’s a terrible punishment.

Apples grow across the world, while the temperamental orange, which grows only in particular environments, must be protected from the slightest of chill.

If I got a bushel of apples, there’s no end to what I could make: pies, dried fruit, granola, pies, crisps, cobblers, pies, caramel-covered, Flambé, ants on a log, pies, cider, hard cider, juice, sauce, pies, butter, baked, and — oh — did I mention pies? On the other hand, send me a bushel of oranges and I guess I make some marmalade, eat one for desert, and then stare dejectedly at the remaining 40 oranges. I can’t even compost them because they’ll kill my heap’s microbes!

There’s a reason mercy rules exist: it’s best to spare the feelings of the loser of a lopsided contest, so let’s stop here, before the Citrus Growers Association sends me a letter.

America’s Pioneering Fruit

While riding bike along a rural road in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I spied an abandoned apple orchard, now overgrown by a forest. Orchards such as these stand watch over abandoned homesteads across the country. States used to give away free land for homesteading and part of the deal was planting apple orchards on the land;  the trees took years to bear fruit, so the farmers would stick around. Today we hear politicians complain about “anchor babies,” but I’d happily be bound to my property by some “anchor trees.”

The Great Grafting Fruit

Did you ever try to grow an apple tree from seeds? Only the most persistent types of people will bring their attempt to fruition, and then they’ll be disappointed by the crabapples they grow: small, tart things the birds won’t even touch. But don’t be as crabby as your apples, toss them in the cider mill and wait a few months for a worthwhile fermentation transformation. Visit the University of Minnesota’s Agriculture Experiment Station, the Mecca of apple research; experimenting with apples seems a fitting pastime for the stoic, methodical Minnesotans, who can shrug off a disappointing result after ten years of waiting with a quiet, “that’s different.”

The only way to get consistent fruit is to graft a branch from an existing fruit-bearing tree onto new rootstock. Every Granny Smith apple grew from a limb that grew from a limb that grew from a limb . . . of the original tree. In this way, the original tree’s reach has now traveled around the world.

Unsung Varieties

Let’s take a walk to the grocery store. We see Red Delicious and their cousin, the Golden Delicious; two sorts of apples that only earn half of their name. Then there’s Fuji, a light, crispy, apple from Japan that it got its flavor profile from its Red “Delicious” parentage. The Gala is its cousin, descended from the Golden “Delicious”; if you find flavor to be an over-rated characteristic, this apple’s for you. The sole tongue-tingling apple to be found at a neighborhood grocery stand is the Granny Smith; legend has it that this sourpuss grew out of a compost pile in Australia from some discarded crabapple cores — now that’s a superhero’s origin story if I ever heard one.

If you feel I’m being unfair, that’s fine. You can continue to get by enjoying just the tip of the flavor iceberg; I’ll dive below the surface. Branch out! Try your Jonathans, McIntosh, or Jazz. Explore your local markets, find a pick-your-own farm with unusual apples in the fall. Search them out when traveling abroad. Take advantage of the cider renaissance. Or don’t — more for me.

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