Thanks to Jeanne Ciaogina for coordinating this amazing, informative tasting, and thanks Joan Kureczka for the following comprehensive report:
The apple has a mixed reputation in world culture, standing for both the wrongdoer and the virtuous. Legend has it a piece of the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden stuck in Adams throat, which is how the lump at the front of the neck became known as the Adams Apple. At the same time, An apple a day keeps the doctor away and a well-polished apple was once the standard gift of young students to their teachers, leading to another well-worn cliché the apple polisher.
But no one can deny that apples are one tasty and versatile fruit, offering a range of flavors, acidities and textures that permit its use in everything from sauces to desserts and ciders alcoholic and otherwise.
At the picnic, Hounds got to try the naked fruit in a tasting of four varieties purchased from Berkeley Bowl, both newer commercial fruits and rare heirloom apples. These were served in chilled wedges (cut with an apple corer that also is great for potato wedges according to one Hound), along with Gorgonzola, a 2-year-aged Wisconsin yellow cheddar, and a sweet, lemony quark -- a fresh Jersey milk cheese from Springhill Dairy. While all these cheeses were good and the Springhill quark especially good with the Winter Banana apple the classic pairing of cheddar and apples still took the day. Rounding out the tasting were some dried, unsulphured apples and a green apple licorice in which real apple juice was far down on the list of ingredients. A trip to the beverage table also revealed fresh apple juice, the perfect fall drink.
The heirloom apple varieties consisted of Winter Banana and Connell Red. The Winter Banana is a variety developed in Indiana in around 1876 for both cooking and eating. A very fragrant apple, it has a firm, juicy flesh with a sweet, delicate, very perfumy flavor that quickly became a favorite of many in the crowd. Winter Banana is quite a lovely apple to look at too with yellow skin and a slight red blush. This apple reportedly keeps quite well.
The Connell Red, another heirloom apple, was perhaps even more fragrant. This one was a solid red blush over yellow, with a firm texture and pleasant sweetness. Reportedly it works well in salads.
The commercial apples were Jonagold and Cameo a new variety just beginning to enter commercial production. In recent years, the golden-red Jonagold has become quite popular commercially and is certainly the easiest apple of the four tasted to find in stores. Jonagold was developed from a cross of Golden Delicious and Jonathan. It has the tart-sweetness of the Jonathan and the juicy, crispness of the Golden Delicious and is a frequent taste-test winner.
The Cameo apples were red-stripped over a creamy background and very crisp, with a sweet-tart flavor that is good both cooked and fresh. This apple is just beginning to enter commercial production.
A few more apple factoids:
· Apples ripen quickly at room temperature; ten times as fast as an apple kept at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
· About 4% of an apple is made up of vitamins and minerals. Nearly all the rest, more than 80%, is water.
· The best-selling and most widely grown apples in the United States are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Fuji.
· A pound raw apples equals one-half pound cooked; two pounds of apples makes one 9-inch pie.
Hounds looking to try more of the heirloom and unusual varieties of apples should visit the Ferry Plaza market, where from August to early spring a wide assortment of locally grown apples are in abundance.