I became fully aware of my love for apples when I was pregnant. In 2003 I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and while the area did grow some apples it was clear there was an apple “season.” When apples were out of season they became expensive and it was hard to find any varieties other than Golden and Red Delicious (my least favorite). I cried that day; that was the only thing to move me to tears during my pregnancy…I had to settle for pineapple.
Michigan is another story, they grow SO MANY apples. And, right now is apple season! I’m such a nerd for apples, I have even named some of my Etsy offerings after apple varieties. Apples can be eaten fresh, cooked, pressed, fermented and when the cider is no longer sweet you get vinegar! Truly amazing! According to R. Jacobsen’s book Apples of Uncommon Character: 123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics, & Little-Known Wonders, in the 17 and 1800’s a typical homestead would have a dozen different apple varieties growing. In the 1900’s, as the self sufficient American farm declined America saw the rise of the industrial-scale orchard and the surviving varieties were the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and MacIntosh; gone were the thousands of regional varieties.
Jacobsen says “apple trees are very patient. It’s nothing for them to wait a hundred years, even two hundred. There is a bent old Black Oxford tree in Hallowell, Maine, that is 215 years old and still gives a crop of midnight- purple apples each fall.” He says the last old varieties are dying out and he has set himself to trying to find the identity of these varieties before they are gone forever.
I think the desire to explore more apple varieties is catching because locally I can find up to 6 varieties at my grocery chain. Every fall we drive to the outskirts of Kalamazoo Michigan and visit Gull Meadow Farms – an orchard, pumpkin patch, bakery and family fun center (but I think these games and props are just a distraction from the enjoyment gained picking apples with your family, but I know kids under 13 would disagree.) I visit the orchard weekly during apple season; they even have a text message service that tells you when new varieties are being harvested. Our current favorite is Crimson Crisp and I brought home its cousin Candy Crisp for us all to try. I am not a fan of the largely popular (and expensive) Honey Crisp because it is TOO sweet. I prefer an apple that is nicely balanced between tart and sweet with some complex flavors.
If you can, go out and try some different apple varieties. Avoid apples flown in from New Zeland or other far flung areas (even though they are also amazing) and when in season buy local or regional offerings. I gave myself this pep talk at CostCo and pushed past their apples to make a commitment to drive to the local orchard.
Too many apples? No problem, just cut them into even shapes and add them to a pot with a 1/2 cup of water or apple cider (less if they are juicy, more if they are dry) and cook stirring often until you get applesauce. I remember arriving in Munster Germany as an exchange student in 1991 and Frau Witz offered me some apple sauce made from apples grown on the tree just outside her backdoor. It was so comforting, and was the very first thing I had to eat in Germany. I learned how to make it for myself and ate it many times that winter (with cinnamon, no sugar.) I never did learn the name of those apples.
I told my husband that I was going to write about my love for apples and he told me about Michigan’s Apple Crunch. On October 23rd, 400,000 or more people will eat apples to celebrate this amazing fruit. Here is what I learned from their website:
- Apples are a member of the rose family
- It takes the energy from 50 leaves to produce one apple
- The largest apple ever plucked from a tree weighed three pounds, two ounces, and was picked in Caro, Michigan.
- There are 900 family-operated apple farms throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula
- Michigan is the 3rd largest apple producing state in the country
- Apples are Michigan’s largest and most valuable fruit crop, with a value of about $100 million annually
- On average, Michigan harvests about 20 million bushels (840 million pounds) of apples per year
- Apples are a great source of the fiber pectin. One apple has five grams of fiber
- The science of apple growing is called pomology
Maybe you can get your hands on some Michigan apples and will join me! Register to take part at Michigan’s Apple Crunch.
Today, I have two pecks of apples in the kitchen and I am not going to think about the end of the season.