I’ve always loved this time of year. As a kid, it seemed to me like, suddenly, apples were everywhere. Tucked in lunch boxes and homemade pies, spilling out of bushel baskets at Demarco’s fruit stand and, at home, heaped in the fruit bowl adorning our Formica countertop. I can’t remember whether my mother polished the apples beforehand, but it’s likely – Mom polished everything.
Like many families, mine ate mostly McIntoshes. Tom Chudleigh, who owns and operates Chudleigh’s pick-yourown apple farm near Milton, Ont., says that while “Mac” are still favoured by the children who visit, adults rave about all the new experiences their tastebuds encounter as they sample their way through many of the 22 varieties he grows. “People don’t realize the staggering amount of varieties that exist these days,” he says. By staggering, think more than 7,500 varieties worldwide.
Apple sex is behind most of the diversity. Like humans, an apple seed is not a clone of its parents. When pollen (male) mates with a blossom (female), the resulting child, if you will, may share some characteristics of its mom and dad, but it inherits a mixture of DNA and, as such, is significantly different. The origins of many varieties such as Granny Smith are unknown – they were merely chance seedlings created by the randomness of Mother Nature. Additionally, a Mac or any other variety can’t reproduce with its same species and must be cross-pollinated, which creates new species. In the early 1800s, then, when a young farmer named John McIntosh came upon a sapling in Ontario, the delicious fruit it bore couldn’t be replicated by simply planting the seeds. So how, more than 200 years later, did Mom get Macs in her fruit bowl? Budding. Breeders take a small branch of a desired tree and graft it to the rootstock of a different variety. Any Mac you eat today comes from farmer John’s original sapling. (Talk about knowing the provenance of your food!)
Many types of apples are the result of human intervention. On farms and in research labs, breeders cover the blossoms of a desirable tree to prevent random pollination and then manually apply pollen from a tree of a different variety with favourable characteristics. The quest for the next best thing has produced some wonderful cultivars such as the juicy, sweet Sunrise, a cross between a McIntosh and a Golden Delicious.
Harry Burton, who owns Apple Luscious Organic Orchards on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, says red-fleshed varieties are the apples of the future. He grows more than 200 different types of apples, 30 of which are pink to red inside.
“When people bite into one for the first time they gasp because it tastes so good. Chefs in Vancouver and Victoria have standing orders for them with me.”
Other favourites? That, Harry says, depends on what you’re after.
“To me, there are two types of apples, city apples and country apples. City apples appeal to city people, which means they look good, they’re big, red and shiny. Country people, on the other hand, don’t care much about looks. They’ll go for one of my Cox Orange Pippins because it tastes great – never mind that it’s ugly.”
Of course, lots of people can’t help but taste with their eyes, so it’s a good thing seeing is only one of the senses relied upon at apple tastings. Connoisseurs also note aroma (earthy, floral, grassy), mouth-feel (coarse, finely textured, chewy) and taste (sweet, tart, herbal, spicy). Many varieties have the complexities of wine, experts claim, which makes apples the perfect star of an autumn tasting party.
And if you’ve always been a Mac guy, a Gala gal, or a friend of Fuji, now is the time to play the field.
What you’ll need:
· 5 varieties of apples, amount of each depends on number of guests but count on one apple generating 8 slices + you’ll need one to display whole so guests can evaluate its appearance
· Apple slicer/corer for uniform pieces (about $9 at kitchen stores)
· 5 mid-sized bowls for apple slices
· Water and plain baguette slices for palate cleansing
Set Up and Ambience
· Hold the party in a room free of strong aromas
· Country music sets the mood
· On a cutting board or other rustic surface, line up 5 uncut apples, one of each variety, and a bowl of its freshly cut slices with toothpicks
· Instruct guests to cleanse palate with water and bread between tastings
· Set a place card with the variety’s name and a few fun facts (Google search!) beside each apple.
· Convo Starter: Fill guests up with your newfound knowledge of apples
· Ask guests to share thoughts on each apple and declare favourite!
Pork Tenderloin Apple Sticks
Makes approximately 16 skewers
16 small wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent burning
¼ cup honey
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1 medium pork tenderloin, cut into bite-size chunks (about 16 cubes)
1 Granny Smith apple, cut into 8 wedges and then halved
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Whisk together honey, cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and thyme. Thread one pork piece and one apple chunk on each skewer. Brush lightly with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on medium heat for approximately 12 minutes basting often with honey mustard mixture until pork has hint of pink or no pink in the middle.
Apple Pie Martini
(Adapted from Ontario Apple Growers recipe)
2 oz. apple cider
1.5 ox vanilla liqueur such as Galliano
1 oz. vodka
1/8 tsp cinnamon (or adjust to taste)
Squeeze of lime
For the rim: Mix 1/2 cup sugar with 1 tbsp of cinnamon and pour onto plate larger than martini glass rim. Wet rim with lime wedge or vanilla liqueur. Moisten rim and ip into cinnamon sugar. Garnish with apple slice.
Pour cider, liqueur, vodka, cinnamon and lime juice into shaker filled 2/3 with ice. Shake well. Strain into rimmed martini glass.
This articles was published in Zoomer - Sept 2014 Click here for PDF version