It’s fall in Northeast Ohio, where my friends and fellow Midwesterners begin to romanticize about apple picking, cider doughnuts, hayrides, and all things pumpkin spice. Summer may be my favorite season for the weather and the warmer temperatures, but I can’t help but enjoy this time of year because, once again, apples are en vogue and in season.
It’s a fun time of year for me because as you might guess I truly enjoy talking with my friends and family about the different apple varieties out there. For those of you who have had the lucky — or unlucky — honor of talking varieties with me, you know I’m not like most apple consumers.
For every shopper who picks up a bushel of ‘Honeycrisp,’ I’m the 1% who would rather eat a ‘Paula Red,’ ‘Melrose,’ ‘Macoun,’ ‘Empire,’ ‘Jonathan,’ ‘McIntosh,’ ‘Northern Spy,’ or a ‘Stayman Winesap.’ I get a kick out of these classic varieties most consumers have never heard of. Perhaps this is because I enjoy cooking with apples as well as eating them, and the above are good multi-purpose varieties. I also love varieties with some tang that comes along with the sweetness.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the crunch of a good ‘EverCrisp’ and have had the pleasure of tasting fantastic ‘Ambrosia,’ ‘Zestar!,’ and ‘SweeTango,’ apples but I also pull for the “little guys” of the variety world.
I look at the U.S. Apple Association’s 2016 Production Statistics with a bit of a heavy heart, as I can see the figures of some of these classic varieties — such as ‘Braeburn,’ ‘Jonathan,’ ‘Rome,’ ‘Stayman Winesap,’ and ‘Empire’ dropping in production over the past five years.
I also understand the difficult choice that you as an apple grower have to make. Profitability of varieties is an important thing, and as supermarket demand wanes for the ‘McIntoshes’ and ‘Stayman Winesaps’, the retail space of these classic varieties is taken up by the ‘Honeycrisp’ and ‘Ambrosia’ apples of the world.
Although, on a recent visit to an orchard, a grower told me his favorite apple is a freshly picked ‘Red Delicious.’ “You can’t beat ‘em,” he told me. “They’re so sweet.”
My hope is there is room in your farm market or stand for these beloved “classic” varieties as well as all these new varieties so the “classics” aren’t lost forever. It’s important for consumers to understand that variety is truly the spice of life — or the spice of cooking and baking.
And for every consumer who discovers the crunch and sweetness of the newest varieties, I hope they’ll dig a little deeper and become interested in the “classics,” too.