An Apple Epiphany

by Matt on October 5, 2006

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For almost twenty years in the food and grocery business I’ve peddled my share of apples. As one of the best-selling fruits (next to bananas), I’ve piled them, displayed them, photographed them, wrote about them, encouraged people to buy more, to make more, to cook more, all in the name of apples.

And I hate apples.

Let me backtrack just a second. I should say I hated apples, as I was a bit too familiar with their history. Many apples we buy are held in a process called Controlled Atmosphere Storage. Apples go into a man-made hibernation where the temperature and gases are controlled, allowing them to “rest” –and not rot-– so that they can be enjoyed all year long. This is no secret and it’s not some nefarious process, per se, but I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that an apple I’m eating is 5 months old. Cheeses, yes. Apples? I’ll pass.

Orchard

That’s not to say I wouldn’t throw an apple into my lunchbag now and then. Because of my relationship with growers and my produce guys I knew what was recently picked and that’s where I’d shop. And it’s another reason why shopping at Farmers’ Markets is ideal.

Last year a feature in the LA Times on California apples from Oak Glen piqued my interest in local apples. Oak Glen is a small town about an hour north of Los Angeles, located in the mountains. Its mile-high climate is ideal for growing apples, and Oak Glen has become someone of a cutesy, tourist town. While I was intrigued, the idea of picking apples, making applesauce and buying old-fashioned Americana gifts isn’t really my cup of tea. All that gingham and cinnamon makes me ill. It’s all so, well, sanitized. And crafted. And fake-homey. But hey, this is Southern California after all, so I decided to just go with it and plan a day trip to Oak Glen.

Say what you will about Los Angeles, lord knows I’d probably agree with you. But to live in a metropolis that is so easily escapable is a thing of beauty. A short drive east and up into the clouds and we were in Oak Glen. The sun, air and light was already different. And it was suddenly Fall. Orchard after orchard, tree after tree, I felt transformed and slowly started shedding off my urban funk. Would I be returning home with jars of apple butter, cider, and stuffed granny dolls that sat on shelves and smelled like spice?

Well, two out of three, for sure.

As we ran around eating apple fritters and strolling through shops while navigating our way around crazy mothers with splatter paint sweatshirts and kamikaze strollers, I was eventually persuaded to put my disdain for apples aside.

“Samples! Samples! Have you tried this apple?” asked the cute granny-lady behind the counter. “Just picked and fresh!”

Hey – she said fresh. F-R-E-S-H. Have I even tasted a really fresh apple, I thought? I sauntered over, knocked over some tourist, and picked up a slice of a Vasquez apple.

Oh. My. God.

Crisp, tart, crunchy, a glorious balance of tang and sweet, without the mealy texture that I have accepted from many unfortunate apples.

I grabbed another sample. This time a Williams Pride. And then an Ozark Gold. I couldn’t stop. What the hell had I been eating up until now? Why did these actually taste good, even if they were blemished and not the most beautiful apples?

Was I having an apple epiphany?  Yes, I most certainly was. It was a Fresh Apple Epiphany.

After being told to settle down (if you only had any idea how many times in my life I’ve heard that), I regained composure and began to slowly inspect all the varieties of apples that were available. I felt as if I wanted to make up for all those years of self-imposed apple censure, I wanted to bake/stuff/chop/juice/puree/dehydrate/rehydrate every single apple I could get my hands on. Luckily Adam was with me and kept me rational. I ended up leaving with only 4 gallons of fresh cider from a single apple variety (something I’ve never had), a bag of dried apple chips, 3 jars of apple butter,  three fritters and 2 bags of Vasquez apples. Thank god I didn’t go overboard!

Apple_trio

The day trip to Oak Glen was fun, amusing, and it opened my eyes to what a good, fresh apple can taste like, and not one that’s lived in a giant fridge for a season. One of these days I’ll make it to Washington state and experience Fresh Apple Nirvana Part 2, but in the meantime I’m going to do my best to be nice to those other apples, seek out the good ones, try to eat the new crop apples and enjoy them in things other than apple martinis and calvados.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Sue October 5, 2006 at 9:32 am

I’m eating a fresh-from-across-the-border-in-Washington-picked-four-days-ago apple right as I was reading this. It’s also as big as my freaking head, swear to GOD.

s'kat October 5, 2006 at 10:38 am

Is it bad that I still enjoy ‘old’ apples? Great picture of you two!

s'kat October 5, 2006 at 10:38 am

Is it bad that I still enjoy ‘old’ apples? Great picture of you two!

June October 5, 2006 at 11:56 am

I’ve been turned off by mealy apples, too, and I only seem to eat them when they’re cooked. Maybe I should make a bigger effort to find fresh ones – there’s an orchard just a few miles down the road from my town…

melissa mcgee October 5, 2006 at 5:11 pm

i know exactly what you’re talking about! when i moved into this house i had no idea there was an APPLE TREE in the back yard! when they finally got big enough for me to consider them “ripe”, i picked several and took them to work with me without having eaten one yet. my first taste was like this explosion in my mouth – and i was confused because it *wasn’t* mealy, and it *was* delightfully tangy and it *was* actually crisp and the skin didn’t dent in the least when you poked it. when i said “oh my gosh, i don’t think this is ripe yet”, one of my friends who grew up on a farm near an apple orchard, who was also enjoying one of my apples at that moment said “no, honey – they’re ripe. they taste different because they’re *fresh*.” she was right!

Anna Maria October 5, 2006 at 9:48 pm

I think I’ve had an apple like that a couple of times, and it was probably in Seattle…
Wonderfully written.

Jacque October 6, 2006 at 6:48 am

Matt-

The other day in culinary school, the produce supplier for the school came and gave a presentation about fruit. I was honestly shocked when he told us that most of the apples we were eating were anywhere from 7 to 12 months old!! South Florida isn’t exactly what I would call apple country, but I had no idea that they kept them in storage for so long. Gnarly.

Charmaine October 6, 2006 at 6:51 am

I’m not the biggest apple fan either, but mainly because they make my tummy hurt. However, this weekend is Apple Fest in Bayfield, so I will, most likely, buy my fair share of fresh, just picked apples…have you ever tried a Honey Crisp?

Tana October 6, 2006 at 6:54 pm

I had an applepiphany when Bill Denevan, a grower I know (he’s hosting an Outstanding in the Field dinner this weekend!) told me that Washington growers figured out that holding their crop back ten months, then releasing it before the Santa Cruz apples came ripe, ensured that they would beat the rush and make the money. I’m sure it’s a model that farmers all over have taken up as “worthy.”

The result is that supermarket apples are ten months old, have lost all but maybe 5-6 of the 30+ components that comprise their flavor, and are mealy and vapid and closer to cardboard than true apples.

Fresh apples can’t be beat. What perfume.

(Bill is also telling local farmers who plant apples that planting a Honey Crisp is like planting a money tree.)

That is a great shot of you both.

See you soon!

Pille October 8, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Glad to hear that you’ve discovered proper apples again. I’ve always been lucky to have lots of apple trees in my grandparents’ and parents’ garden, and I really like them. The shop-bought long-lasting ones are only good for baking though.

Cyndi October 8, 2006 at 3:35 pm

I’m kicking myself for buying apples at the grocery store when I live only 10 miles from Oak Glen! I guess I’ll have to go up there soon!

erin October 8, 2006 at 8:40 pm

Only an hour from LA? I’m there. I’ve been craving fall. Made my own apple butter today from the farmers’ market apples–whoa, what a process, but worth it.

Carrie October 9, 2006 at 12:34 pm

I’ve just recently had an apple epiphany as well. I grew up in Upstate NY, which has hosts of wonderful apples, apple cider, etc. I moved to NC 3 years ago and hadn’t found the quality cider and apples that I was used to, so I pretty much gave up apple products entirely. I’m still searching for cider, but had some honey crisp apples from the NC mountains a few weeks ago (after being fed about 5 different apple varieties by the old apple-selling guy), and proceeded to buy a half bushel. Very dangerous indeed.

Terence Patrick October 9, 2006 at 11:16 pm

I like cooking with apples. I made pork chops last night with a cinnamon apple brandy sauce that was absolutely delicious.

Karina October 10, 2006 at 12:12 pm

You lucky dog. I gave up on raw apples awhile ago. Apple martinis? Sweet.

hd connelly October 21, 2006 at 8:28 pm

I grew up/live in apple orchard country in the Berkshires of MA. As a kid I’d walk through acres of woods to emerge in the largest apple orchard I’ve ever seen…and even better, with permission to pluck one right off the tree for a snack. (kids don’t know to wash their apples…hehe!) Then there was the cider and apple crisp…oh my. I love apples. They remind me of everything that is wonderful about my hometown.

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