We are never short of delicious apples and pears here at Manhattan Fruitier, but October is when you find us in our prime with crates of new-crop heirloom varieties straight from our favorite growers like Red Jacket, Frog Hollow and Poverty Lane Orchards.
Many heirloom apple and pear varieties have been in danger of extinction due to commercial growers seeking more durable types that can sustain long periods in cold storage. This has led to breeding apples that conform to the model of perfectly round, red and shiny, while casting away the knobby, oddly shaped russet types that are packed with brilliant flavor. Over time this has trained many people to eat with their eyes and not their mouths.
Another reason heirlooms are not seen often is that thousands of orchards have been lost to land development over the years, and many growers replaced their apple and pear trees with much more profitable crops, such as grapes.
We are fortunate that there are farmers like Stephen Wood and Louisa Spencer of Poverty Lane Orchards who care deeply about these “forgotten fruits” and nurture them to market.
Here are this week’s standouts from our favorite farms.
CALVILLE BLANC D’HIVER
The Calville Blanc d’Hiver or “White Winter Apple” is dense-grained acidic flesh with a cool green skin and occasional pink blush. It has a sharp, spicy bite and perfect for apple lovers who enjoy theirs on the sour side. Known as one of the world’s best cooking apple, it is a French cultivar known to be the gold standard for an exquisite tarte tartin.
The Warren Pear, Frog Hollow Farm’s beloved variety, has a classic European texture, soft and juicy with a silky sweetness and none of that grittiness found in other pears. Evoking a perfect combination of a Comice and Seckel pear. Often known as the “Post Office Pear”, it was discovered by horticulturalist Thomas Oscar Warren growing outside a post office in Hattiesburg, MS.
HUDSON’S GOLDEN GEM APPLE
The Hudson’s Golden Gem Apple is heavily russeted and lovingly lopsided. If you close your eyes you may think you are eating a pear due to its sweet, juicy grainy flesh. First discovered in Oregon and introduced to nurseries in 1931.
RIBSTON PIPPIN APPLE
The Ribston Pippin was cultivated in England in 1708. The first seed, given as a gift from Normandy grew a tree that survived until 1928. It’s juicy, firm lemon-colored flesh has a pleasant bite of sweetness with a touch of tart for balance.
The skin of this distinctive apple is orange red with russet streaks. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described a character in The Return of Sherlock Holmes as “a little Ribston Pippin of a man, with ruddy cheeks and fluffy side-whiskers”.
POMME GRISE APPLE
This nutty and sweetly flavored apple has a heavily russeted exterior that looks like brown suede. It’s small and squat but a prized apple know for its crisp and juicy taste. The Pomme Grise came to the United States via Canada’s St. Lawrence Valley 200 years ago and before that, France.
The Wickson apple is tart and aromatic with herbal, spicy flavors. It is a crab apple but don’t let that trouble you. The Wickson has an enjoyable bite with plenty of juicy sweetness to balance the tartness. This heirloom apple was developed for cider making but has long been a favorite of many to eat out of hand. Named for distinguished pomologist E. J. Wickson, its small size caused its popularity to dwindle due to few commercial growers choosing to produce it for a mass market
TOMPKINS KING APPLE
The Tompkins King apple is a large pleasant apple whose seedling first sprouted in Warren County, NJ. It’s an aromatic sweet-tart apple with a buttery flesh and a fragrant aroma.
Nutritious, portable, as well as beautiful, the apple has remained constant in our daily choice of diet for centuries. Aren’t we the lucky ones to see the resurgence of heirloom varieties? Surely they wake up our senses and our palates.
We’ve waited patiently all year for these peak of the season beauties to arrive and while we are gobbling up as many as we can ourselves, we still have plenty to share with you.
Be sure to request them in your gifts before the new-crop heirloom apple season draws to a close.