It is nearly Rosh Hashanah here (otherwise known as the Jewish New Year), and I’ve been learning more about the holiday, as I get to appreciate new traditions with my fiancé’s family. Jewish holidays get an unfair advantage in winning my heart, because so many of them involve really excellent food. I think I have a soft spot for Rosh Hashanah; celebrating the new year with the return of sharp breezes and cooler air, after a too-long summer, feels genuinely rejuvenating. The tradition of eating apples and honey, in hopes of a sweet new year— yes, that’s a holiday I can appreciate wholeheartedly.
Let’s be honest– there are no wrong combinations in the apples-and-honey game. But I feel like there are ways to maximize the delight of this pairing, so we decided to do a little taste test here– which varieties really sing with a side of honey?
While I was doing some harried apple hunting at the U District Farmers Market on Saturday, after being foiled by Husky game traffic, I spotted Seattle Urban Honey; they had samples out, and there was no resisting. SUH does a pretty neat thing– they sell their honey varieties by zip code and date of harvest, because the taste will vary depending on location and time of the season. I finally ended up buying honey harvested on July 22 from UW’s Center for Urban Horticulture. This honey, which their tasting notes said was ‘spicy’ , felt like a good potential partner for some apples.
Apple-wise, I was going for a combination where neither the individual apple or the honey were overwhelmed by the other; I wanted to be able to still taste the finer points of both. If I were to boil it down– a crunchier apple, with a healthy does of tartness, made the ideal date for a spoonful of honey, and these two apples fit the bill nicely.
The first of the russets! Here’s the thing you need to know about russets: they aren’t going to win any beauty contests, as they are naturally tough-skinned, with a scab-like roughness. They mostly look like underripe potatoes. I realize that none of you are sold on this idea yet. But–BUT– they are delicious, sturdy, hardworking apples. I love a russet for fresh eating, but I also love to add them to sauces and pies.
The first taste of an Egremont is surprisingly mild, with an Asian-pear-like crunch; and then a strong tartness shows up with a swift kick. This is not a boring apple. This is an apple for someone who enjoys lots of interesting things going on with texture and flavor. Pairing this apple with honey creates a sweetly wild combination, which feels like a good way to start a year.
Egremont Russet is a Victorian English apple from 1872, purportedly from the Earl of Egremont in Sussex.
Unlike a russet– which are often on the drier side, for apples– Elstar is juicy, with good crunch, and pleasing balance between sweet and tart . Elstar has Golden Delicious for one parent, and Cox’s Orange Pippin as a grandparent, and originated in the Netherlands in the 1950s. I would say the Elstar far surpasses its mild and sometimes mealy parent, and takes after its remarkable grandsire, which I count as one of my all-time favorite apples. I’d eat this apple any time, now, and it has enough of its own character to be able to stand up against a flavorful honey.