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robertogreco : rowanjacobsen   1

Bring back the strange apples! - Ideas - The Boston Globe
"A dizzying variety of fruit once grew in and near Boston. Now, our rare breeds might be poised for a comeback"



"The idea of an elaborate monument to an apple—a commonplace fruit in most people’s minds—seems almost comical today, but that just shows how impoverished our concept of the apple has become. Until their fall from grace during the 20th century, apples were some of the leading protagonists in the story of American ingenuity, diversity, and prosperity. They gave the young country much of its regional flavor, and no region displayed more of that flavor than Boston. The region’s orchardists grew hundreds of varieties of apples. Each was propagated for its unique strengths, whether for booze or for baking, and each had an ardent following.

With the temperance movement, Prohibition, and industrialization, all that changed. Many of the trees were cut down, while others were simply abandoned to the returning woods. By the middle of last century, the world of small-scale apple diversity succumbed to the agribusiness model of giant monoculture orchards and national supply chains. Many great apple varieties were lost in the process.

But not all. Apples are very long-lived, patient beings, and New England has held onto more of its small farms than most regions of the country. Today, those old orchards and backyard trees are helping to bring some of our oldest apple exemplars back into vogue. If recent trends hold, Boston could again become the heart of a thriving apple subculture, and that Baldwin monument may not seem so odd after all."



"This diverse garden of Eden began to wither in the 20th century, with the rise of vast industrial orchards in Washington state and the national distribution network needed to get those apples to market. In the sunny, irrigated deserts of eastern Washington, apples grew larger, sweeter, and cheaper than back east. Washington growers settled on Red Delicious, a new variety that produced bumper crops of fruit every year, with skin so thick and red, and flesh so dry, that it could withstand the shocks of storage and trucking and still look great in stores.

First the family-farm orchards, with their many varieties, yielded to the convenience of the one-size-fits-all supermarket apple. Then the Northeastern commercial orchards went under as well. Baldwin’s fall came in the winter of 1934. One of many apple varieties with biennial tendencies—huge crops one year, scant ones the next—it was always ill-suited to the economics of factory farming. When a stretch of minus-40 nights killed most of the Baldwin trees in the Northeast, Red Delicious from out west quickly filled the gap in the supply chain.

That wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t buy those apples, but we did. One generation removed from the farm, we’d lost our apple smarts. We consistently chose the reddest apples we could find, and supermarkets learned their lesson well. Those colorful Boston markets of the 1800s devolved into the A&Ps of the mid-1900s, slotted year-round with mealy Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, with maybe a brief stack of Macintosh each fall to break up the monotony. A few old-timers undoubtedly pined for their Baldwins, or regaled their grandkids with stories of proper pies, but the next generation simply wondered why anyone had ever enjoyed apples at all.

And so we forgot. We forgot that an apple didn’t have to be red and shiny. We forgot that a good apple pie requires firm, tart apples that flaunt the “racy and wild American flavors” Thoreau prized, and that a great pie demands a mix of varieties. We forgot the luxury of sinking our teeth into a dense, rich Tolman Sweet after dinner on a cold November night. We forgot that a glass of crisp, dry hard cider on a summer day is a quintessential New England experience."



"Yet in a way Honeycrisp is just as formulaic as Red Delicious. It’s a better formula, to be sure, but now every apple released by the industry follows the same script. Like a Hollywood blockbuster, it must have lots of pyrotechnics and sugar, with only token tartness. It can’t have any quirks or challenging aspects that ask too much of the consumer.

Honeycrisps are undeniably delicious, but when we expect every apple to crackle like a fruity Cheeto, we’re stymied by the ones that don’t. Handing a Roxbury Russet to a kid raised on Honeycrisps is like asking an aficionado of the Iron Man movies to chew on “Citizen Kane.” If we can expand our vision of Malus domestica to incorporate some of the masterpieces known by earlier New Englanders, we have a chance to rediscover some pre-lapsarian pleasures."
fruit  apples  rowanjacobsen  food  history  2014 
september 2014 by robertogreco

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