Lost Apples

Photo from Shacksbury Cider Company, http://www.shacksbury.com

The apple is slipping away. We see apples everywhere, but they are shadows of their former selves. Hundreds of varieties of eating apples* have been usurped by a few mild, sturdy, unassuming additions to the fruit bowl. The complex flavors of cider have regressed to a bland apple juice equivalent, made of selected varieties and thoroughly pasteurized. We have hard ciders that taste like soda pop. And we have the Appeltini, which is just wrong. The more we try to manufacture an apple experience, the more clearly we know that the true nature of an apple is difficult to capture.

Here’s some recommended reading about tracking the elusive apple spirit:

  • Nicola Twilley considered the problem in her Edible Geography interview with Jessica Roth, an artist who took on the challenge of making visual representations of apples come alive.
  • Erica Wides uses the apple to explain the different degrees of “foodiness”, which is her word for the over-manufacturing of food into something that’s food-like, in the same way that truthiness is something that’s truth-like. See her explain foodiness here.
  • The Lost Apple Project is a new endeavor in Vermont. The founders are exploring forgotten orchards and abandoned apple trees to find unique cider apples and bring them back into cultivation. Their goal is to save fruit with characteristics suited to old fashioned hard ciders, while also bringing back those old fashioned hard ciders. The missing element as they describe it “we currently lack the varieties necessary to make great cider. Similar to how wine grapes yield fine wines that couldn’t be coaxed out of table grapes, cider apples have tannins that make for complex ciders that are not possible with standard apples.” You can read more from the Seven Days newspaper, and I wrote about the project in the context of celebrating Vermont’s apple harvest in this DigInVT.com blog post. 

*Before anyone corrects me, I know there are thousands of varieties of apples. . . but how many of those were primarily for eating? I don’t know. I do know, according to the University of Illinois, that about 100 varieties of apples overall are in commercial cultivation in the U.S.

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