by Maryjane Mojer
Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm
Most fruits and vegetables are available year round in any grocery store. Sure, there are displays that are seasonal: corn in the summer, asparagus in the spring, apples in the fall. Yet all of these can be found when they are not usually in-season. Ask anyone who has tasted a cantaloupe on an August morning, just harvested and still warm from the sun, to compare that to one that was shipped hundreds of miles, picked green and hard as a rock. Fresh and local is best, and picking and eating fresh produce in-season will show you how things should truly taste and smell.
When the first head lettuce comes in from the field, you can smell it before you see it. It’s hard to describe what green smells like, but once you’ve taken a deep breath, and inhaled that mixture of sweet grass and chlorophyll, any cellophane-wrapped head of iceberg will forever fall short. Fresh Iceberg from the field, chilled for a bit in the cooler. has so much crunch and so much watery goodness that each bite is a surprise. The aroma of just cut herbs are full of promise and purpose. When we cook and when we eat, we use all of our senses: the feel of the knife in our hands, the surprising heft of a small, but dense tomato, the sound of the sizzle as we slip the chopped onions into the pan, and the aroma of each unique ingredient as they begin to come together for the final dish.
As each season fades and a new one begins, I find myself craving what comes next.
I’ve had my fair share (and then some) of corn and peaches this year, and I am now counting down the days until apples and winter squash arrive. Finding the seasonal stars of the show is always an adventure. I start pouring through recipes and cookbooks in anticipation of what to do with that first Delicata of the year, and dreaming about Butternut Bisque or an Amber Cup Smoothie.
Last year, I began what I’m sure will be a lifelong love affair with heirloom apples. Somewhat naively, I ordered four or five varieties for the farm based primarily on their names. Hubbarston Nonesuch, Black Gilliflower, Ashmeads Kernel, Duchess of Odenberg—I thought they would be a fun addition, add a bit of interest to the fruit display. I had no idea.
Heirloom apples, or heritage apples, bring history to the table. These are the kinds of apples you want to sit with, enjoying each bite, considering the flavors. Holding one of these little beauties in your hand fills you with an intrinsic need to know more about them and why they are so treasured. From the first glance and touch of the skin, some tender, some leathery and russeted, to the sharp but subtle crack when you plunge your knife in and slice one open, each step reveals a nuance or treasure.
Heirloom apples, like any heirloom fruit or vegetable range in size, shape, color, texture and taste.
Lamb Abbey Pearmain is a dear little delight of an apple. These are small enough to hide in your hand and have a lovely bright blend of sweet and acidic with a hit of pineapple. The skin is not unlike a Macintosh with a green background and a reddish blush. Perfect for eating out of hand.
Maiden’s Blush is a deep red with a crisp white flesh. Think about a Granny Smith. Imagine taking a bite…there’s a crunch, for sure…bright, sharp tang that gets you right in your cheeks. Crunch, yes; crisp, no. Now think about a Honey Crisp. A fresh one, picked within the last few days. Now that’s crisp. It has a snap that’s discernible from a crunch. Maiden’s Blush has a lovely, crisp snap. It’s a bit dryer than other apples and is perfect for dehydrating. Squat and round, it’s an American apple dating back to the 1700s.
Any experienced pie maker will tell you “Spies for Pies.” Northern Spy apples, dating back to the mid 1800s are true pie apples. These are on the larger sid, and are good for eating out of hand as well as for baking. While it does keep well, and has that wonderful rush of apple goodness when you bite into it, I prefer it with a buttery crust and a slab of cheddar instead.
Roxbury Russet is the oldest known American apple. With a very high sugar content, this is a true cider apple, producing a thick, shiny, sweet nectar when crushed. The skin is leathery and russeted. Think of a Russet or baking potato—that’s what it looks a bit like. Kind of scaly, not terribly attractive, but it sure does the job of protecting and preserving the sweet, sugary flesh.
20 Ounce Apples are just what they sound like: big two-handers. Dating back to the 1850s, 20 ouncers are a great baking apple, fine out of hand and great for sharing.
I have three favorites from last year—well, maybe four—but Honey Crisp makes the list every year. Don’t think that you know what a real, fresh Honey Crisp tastes like until you’ve either picked your own or had one that’s been picked within the last week or so. This is a perfect example of seasonal star power. The Honey Crisp that you can get year-round now in any store seems to be on an entirely different plane than the fresh Honey Crisp from local orchards in the fall. No comparison whatsoever.
Aside from my old standby, I’m smitten with Zabergau Reinette, Blue Pearmain, and Rhode Island Greening. Zabergau Reinette is a German apple. Small, sugary sweet with a distinctive walnut finish which becomes more prevalent as it ripens, these apples are great for sauce, baking, and cooking.
In his essay Wild Apples, Henry David Thoreau wrote about Blue Pearmain: “For I do not refuse the Blue Pearmain, I fill my pockets on each side; and as I retrace my steps in the frosty eve, being perhaps four or five miles from home, I eat one first from this side, and then from that, to keep my balance.” Blue Pearmain are tart, filled with flavor, reminiscent of a wild apple.
I think that Rhode Island Greenings are a favorite not so much because of their flavor, though they are tasty, but because of the lore associated with them. They are supposed to be the original fruit from the Garden of Eden.
Apples and pears are the perfect addition to any and all autumn meals. Like all fresh produce, enjoy them at their peak. Be brave and try them all!