Monday, May 07, 2012

feral apples

bit by bit i am wading through the mountain of stuff i was gonna tell you about but then got distracted doing other stuff i wanted to tell you about.

about a year ago while i was out on the road i listened to the audio version of michael pollan's book the botany of desire which made me start to pay attention to feral apples when i saw them.

not wild apples, because mostly what you find along the country roads and old farm lanes in the northeast US are apples that used to be somebody's trees on purpose.

i started to pay attention when i read or heard something about old apple varieties and i learned that these aren't heirloom apples, either, because apparently the term "heirloom" refers to varieties that are known and catalogued and somewhere (or maybe a few somewheres) there is a project to find and record the huge number of what they call "lost varieties" of apples.

apples are perhaps the most wildly heterozygous species on the planet. that's why apples have to be grafted to be cultivated. you have no idea what wild apples will come up like, no clue if the offspring of a perfectly good domesticated apple will have fruit anything at all like its parent.

if you're looking at the land along the old rows where there used to be farmsteads, you can guess what the apple will be like. if it's a single tree growing next to a cellarhole chances are very good that it is a sweet and delicate eating apple. if it's one of several growing where the dooryard used to be, those are probably apples for sauce or pie, not as sweet, but with some strength so they'll keep. large thickets of apples off away to the fields are cider apples, or spitters, or cattle feed.

and i started to think about small batch jams.

even spitters make decent jam, some of them.

so i thought i'm go out in my neighborhood and gather up the drops and sort them out into varieties and maybe even identify them and then make some jam and some applesauce from them.

i found a lot of different kinds of apples, many of which could be classed as maybe belonging to one variety or at least related varieties. i was going to make a batch or two of single variety jam, but then each variety was so different i kept them all separate.

for weeks i had little piles of apples all over my livingroom, waiting to be sorted, washed, peeled, and made into something.

i spent hours trying to identify them, but even with old apple guides i was having no definitive identifications.

down on the corner there's a tall slender tree (maybe a relative of an orange pippin?) that drops a beautiful yellow apple with red stripes that is the sweetest, lightest apple you ever tasted, but the time between when it falls from the tree and the time it starts to go bad is about twenty minutes.

and it bruises easy.

which brings us to why storeboughten apples are such crap, anyway: they're not raised for taste anymore. they're raised to look pretty, be blemish free, and to have a long shelf life.

crap, all of them.

but out on the country roads there's a tiny olive green apple with dark red striping and a tough skin with a complex fruity taste, like peaches and pears and apples all together.

and there's a light green apple with moss colored spotting that tastes fresh and grassy. and a yellow apple with bright pink spots that's so sugary your hands get sticky, just picking them up.

and you can make applesauce and jam from all of them.

for jam, it's just equal parts by weight of sugar and fruit, macerated for about a day and then finished in a pan until the natural apple pectin and the sugar thicken to make a gel that will set. you get a feel for it.

for sauce, you just cook down the apples with a little sugar until it's sauce.

and for apple butter, you start out like you're making applesauce and then you keep adding apples and cider until after about 18 hours it slow simmers down into a dark brown paste.

and since your house is full of apples, you can make apple bread, and apple turnovers, and apple syrup and you can even use the peels and cores to boil out and make jellies. i used mine to make apple ginger jelly.

you want an awesome lunch? toast an english muffin and lay on some apple jam and top it with slices of brie. it is GOOD.

those apple trees were somebody's livelihood once, somebody's bright autumn dessert, and it makes me happy to use them and not leave them forgotten on the backroads.

1 comment:

Mad Jack said...

you want an awesome lunch? toast an english muffin and lay on some apple jam and top it with slices of brie. it is GOOD.

Now that sounds like something I'd enjoy. I'm going to try it.


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