It started with a Winesap.
I was at a farmer’s market in late October, years ago— probably the U District one, because I lived in Ravenna at the time— and I bought a pound or so of Winesap apples. I’m fairly certain I bought them based on the name alone.
I remember slicing the first one open at home, and marveling. Snowy-celled flesh that was actually veined in a plummy strain of red. Oddly enough, I don’t remember the exact flavor of the first ones; only that it was full of spice, and a deep, lingering tang that I’d never tasted in any of my store-bought apples before. I was a convert.
I went back the next weekend for more. “Oh, those are all gone for the season. You could try–” but her suggestions, I am sorry to say, fell on deaf ears. Gone? It was the first time I truly appreciated what seasonal eating meant. I had found the perfect apple, and now I would have to wait another eleven-and-half months to taste it again.
I did wait, and while I waited, I started going back to the market regularly. Near Thanksgiving, I bought, on another grower’s excellent advice, some Belle de Boskoop apples, and made my first deviation-from-Granny-Smith pie (with pleasing results, I might add). I found a few Esopus Spitzenberg, and discovered that I was eating an apple that Thomas Jefferson was said to prefer.
For the next few years, I chased Winesaps every October, and dallied with a few other varieties when the fancy struck me during apple season. Last autumn, however, I read a book— dangerous thing, that—Rowan Jacobsen’s Apples of Uncommon Character. Here, at last, was someone talking — in extreme detail, mind you— about some of the apples I’d tried— and about even more that I hadn’t. I wanted these apples.
But here’s the catch— there was no easy way to find any given variety. Of the farmers I know of now, only one has an online harvest schedule and posts the week’s harvest varieties to social media. I had to find my apples the old-fashioned way: on foot.
I found myself going to different markets each week and talking to farmers who were more than happy to tell me about the unusual, extraordinary, challenging varieties they grow. I’d come back every week and tell them which apples I loved. It became a weekly treasure hunt— a Blue Pearmain! An Ashmead’s Kernel! I think I crowed aloud when I found a Calville Blanc d’Hiver.
I started writing margin notes, right into the Jacobsen book— to the horror of my bookseller fiancé—where I found the apples, who the farmers were, the harvest time for that variety, my own tasting notes. I started talking about it to whoever would listen, because that’s what you do when you’re buying 5 lbs of fruit weekly, and most of it is amazing. I took over the lower crisper drawers in our fridge, experimenting in ‘cold storage’ methods for the urban apartment dweller. And I ate, conservatively, my weight in apples over the course of the fall and winter.
Earlier this summer, in the middle of one of Seattle’s 90-degree heat waves— which, for any winter-bred Pacific Northwesterner, is miserably hot— I pulled out my apple notes, idly dreaming of fall, looking up the apples that I could hope to see in late August. And I thought— I bet someone else out there wants a really great apple, and hasn’t had one yet. I bet someone might even want to know where to find that apple. And I really want to tell them about it.
It is surprisingly easy to talk about something you really love, and that’s why I’m here. Be careful with apples: you may find more than you ever expected.