"Apples of North America: 192 Exceptional Varieties for Gardeners, Growers, and Cooks"
By Tom Burford; Timber Press, 300 pages
I've been thinking about apple pie quite a bit lately. No doubt the forthcoming Thanksgiving dinner has influenced my thoughts. After all, a post-turkey nibble must include a slice of homemade apple pie. I mean no disrespect to the traditional pumpkin pie, but a juicy, tart apple pie is the apple of my eye at this time of year.
Speaking of apples, it has been a pleasure — and a pain, I must admit — to be the caretaker of multiple apple trees at our home in the country. Each spring I delight in spotting the first apple blossoms; in early summer tiny, round "apple-lets" show promise of the fruit to come; then, by late summer or early fall, I begin to panic at the abundance of fruit.
Neighbors, passers-by, and deer help us with the bounty, but it can still be overwhelming. An orchard — even a small one — requires a lot of maintenance. Yet, I wouldn't trade it for the world.
What I would like to know is what kind of apples our trees produce. I believe we have at least three different varieties: yellow, soft-fleshed apples that ripen in early summer; small, crab apple-like fruit that makes good cider; and my favorite — a late autumn beauty that slowly changes from bright green to a lovely blush of pink and red, and whose crisp flesh has the perfect blend of sweet and tart.
It turns out that it may be harder than I realized to identify the residents of the Johnston orchard because there are literally thousands of varieties. Holy Johnny Appleseed!
But it's important to start small, so that's why I was excited to see this recent addition to the library's collection, "Apples of North America." In this delightful portrait of the species Malus domestica, a member of the rose family no less, author Tom Burford focuses on 192 apple varieties. A color photograph as well as a brief but informative description accompanies each apple cultivar. Not every apple is pretty (which I appreciate because the Johnston apples are no beauty queens). The author says this about the range of apple attractiveness: "The apples photographed were deliberately selected not as stereotypical specimens …but rather as apples that would be found on the tree sometimes with less color, splashes of sooty blotch, fly speck, or even an insect bite or scab deformity." In other words, apples of my world.
In addition to reading about Chestnut Crabs, Reverend Morgans, Nodheads and Winter Rambos — all apple varieties — the apple enthusiast will find a brief history of the apple; how to plan, plant and manage an orchard; and a quick overview of apple products.
There's even a section on recommended uses of apple varieties, so when you buy (or grow, perhaps?) Winesap apples, you'll be pleased to know they're a good choice for making applesauce.
I don't know if I'll be able to determine exactly which apples grow in yonder field, but I do know this: it's time for pie.
While I go break out the rolling pin and flour, here's to an apple-licious Thanksgiving at your house!