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It's apple season in New England. Here's a look at today's apple culture

McIntosh apples hang from a tree at Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Mass., in October 2012. (Steven Senne/AP)
Steven Senne
McIntosh apples hang from a tree at Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Mass., in October 2012.

Apples are perennial American classics — loaded with flavor and meaning from at least biblical times. They’re quintessentially fall (move over pumpkins), peak New England and right in season.

We take listener calls with Amy Traverso, senior food editor at Yankee Magazine, the author of “The Apple Lover’s Cookbook,” and co-host of Weekends with Yankee on PBS. And Ben Clark, fourth generation apple farmer, owner of Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, and the president of the Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association.

Interview Highlights

On why certain apples are called “crisps” and if they differ from other apples:

Ben Clark: “So one of my favorites currently is Crimson Crisp… But like Crimson Crisp, there’s a whole series of crisp apples, and like anything it is about marketing. …obviously a McIntosh can sell itself that’s been around for hundreds of years. Everybody knows McIntosh. It’s a fine all-purpose apple.”

“But…there’s all these new apples coming along. The next best thing. Everybody wants to get in on. And so there’s been a whole push on the name, you know? Ever Crisp is a great name. Honeycrisp, obviously, people know. Crimson Crisp is an earlier apple, but they store well, very crispy, slightly tart and just amazing eating flavor. And that’s what I say is basically people always ask me, what’s my favorite apple? It depends on the season, what we’re picking, what’s fresh, you know, so an apple fresh off the tree, as anybody knows who’s been apple picking, that’s always taste the best.

On Honey Crisp apples:

Amy Traverso:OK, so here’s what I’m going to say about Honey Crisps. Honey Crisps are very expensive relative to other varieties. So, yes, they actually really do well in any kind of long cooking dish, like a pie, or a crisp, or you’re baking those apples for like 45 minutes or an hour. Honey crisps hold up well. They have a great texture. They bring a nice sweetness and acidity to any dish. However, you’re paying more for that pie.”

“I would argue that…the Jonagold, to me — which is much less expensive apple, it’s an older variety — has a lot of the same like assets of the Honeycrisp in that it holds up well. It’s got that sweet, tart balance, but it’s a lot less expensive. It dates back to the 1950s, and it’s just not as fancy as a Honeycrisp. So Honeycrisp in pretty much any dish cooks well. But again, like you’re just paying more for that kind of name brand quality of the Honeycrisp.”

On the modern-day apple picking experience:

Ben Clark: “[Apple picking] is for everyone… It is a great experience. You can go out, you can just pick apples. A lot of places, there are cider donuts. Some people just want to…see animals or do pumpkins or other things. And most places also have wagon rides out. So if you have mobility issues, then they definitely can help you there. So it is a great family activity, especially last year during COVID. We had record numbers all across the state this year, and that has continued with the beautiful weather.”

On how apples made it to North America:

Amy Traverso:When I started working on the [“The Apple Lover’s Cookbook”], I assumed that when the first pilgrims arrived, the shore was probably lined with apple trees. And in fact, only crab apples are native to North America, and the apple really did make its way from Asia through, you know, the Greek and Roman empires and up to Britain, and that’s how it made its way to the U.S.”

“Those apples…grew in these fruit forests. If you imagine the Berkshire Hills, but rather than being covered with birch and maple trees [instead they were] covered with fruit trees. So travelers would pick up the fruit on their way and bring it with them. And apples are very portable. They’re also very resilient and very able to interbreed with local crab apple trees. So basically, they can grow almost everywhere…there’s even a variety of apple called Tropic Sweet that was bred at the University of Florida. So in northern Florida, you can grow apples, not so much in the tropics. But apples are just able to thrive in an incredible number of climates. And so that’s how they made their way here.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.


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