Bite into a slice of apple and ask yourself: crisp or soft; sweet or tart; juicy or dry; fresh or in pie, sauce, juice, or cider? That’s what small groups of Lopezians have been doing at November evening apple tastings hosted by Elf Fay and Eric Hall at their Crowfoot Farm.
When we arrived, a long, low table in their living room held the night’s samples, a perfect still life of the wondrous variety of apples: reds, yellows, greens and russets, the very large and the compact, the perfectly round and the boxy and lumpy.
We settled in around the table, and for the next several hours Eric led us through pairs of apples, first helping us compare tastes and then adding information about harvest time, use, storage and history. Here’s some of what we learned.
“Gravenstein and Elstar are two of the best early ripening apples. Usually, the later the apple ripens, the higher the quality,” Eric explained, “but these two are exceptions.” Passing around the samples Eric had just sliced, we agreed that they were crisp and juicy with a sweet/tart flavor. Fans of Gravensteins added that they are best the moment they’re ready on the tree; after that they become mushy.
Winter Banana and Liberty are two mid-season apples. Even before we knew the name of the first one in this pair, one taster noticed a slight banana flavor in this tender, juicy apple. Liberty was a real surprise to some of us who have this tree. The sample was strongly aromatic and the flavor was complex, sweet and tart. Eric explained that some apples, like Liberty, don’t develop their full flavor until the tree is mature.
Goldrush and Mutsu (also known as Crispin) are late ripening apples. They were crisp and slightly acidic though the flavor of the Mutsu didn’t last as long on the tongue as the Goldrush flavor did. Eric said that Mutsu is considered “a great kid apple.” Goldrush, on the other hand, has become one of his and Elf’s top five favorites. Both apples are good keepers.
While many of the apples we tasted also make great sauce and pies, Bramley and Erwin Baur are designated cooking apples. Both tasted sour to most of us, but as Eric explained, Erwin Baur ranks in the top for applesauce and Bramley is the most grown cooking apple in England because it holds its shape during cooking.
Ashmead’s Kernel and Brown Russet took us into less familiar flavors. Both tasted very dry, though Eric said that at its best Ashmead has what he considers a pure apple flavor. He also explained that Brown Russet, also known as Leathercoat for its rough, brown skin, makes a great sweet cider and because it doesn’t oxidize, its juice is a beautiful amber color.
Halfway through the twenty apple varieties, our palates were tiring, but we continued on, sampling: Jonathan, “the parent of many apples;” Orleans, Karmijn, Melrose, a favorite of several who grow it on Lopez because it keeps so well; Newtown, “an outstanding keeper” and one of Eric’s favorites for its “really fruity flavor;” Cox’s Orange Pippin, Queen Cox, Belle de Boskoop, Blake and Chehalis.
Asked to name his favorites from the night’s collection, Eric listed Elstar, Newtown, Goldrush and Ashmead. Others voted for a just-picked Gravenstein and a perfectly ripe Melrose.
As we were leaving, Eric said: “I’d like to do more tastings. I want people to be excited about apples so that they’ll plant trees all over Lopez for future generations.” Based on the enthusiastic response from the evening’s tasters, his approach just might work.
First published in the Islands’ Weekly, December 2008