Each time you bite into an apple, you’re enjoying the results of thousands of years of selection and cultivation – painstaking processes that have produced some 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide. The fruit has quite a history, from its supposed beginnings in the mountains of Kazakhstan, to early distribution by Alexander the Great, the invention of grafting by the Chinese in the second millennium B.C., and further propagation by the Greeks and Romans. Eventually apples spread throughout America by John Chapman, who you know as Johnny Appleseed.
Thanks to these minds, we now have quite the selection of apples at farmer’s markets and groceries. There’s Granny Smith and Fuji and Gala, but have you heard of varieties like Mac Sport, Tydeman, Akane, and Breaky? You’ll find these (and some 15 to 20 other varieties) in shiny piles at neighborhood markets from now until November. In fact, this is a great year for apples across the state: the industry is estimating the 2013-14 apple crop may be Washington’s second largest harvest in the state’s history. Last year was the biggest, with 10 million apples harvested.
Our picks for five apples to try now include:
• The Jonamac; a medium-sized apple created by crossing McIntosh and Jonathan apples. Jonamacs are firm and crisp with a sweet, McIntosh-like taste.
• Pink Pearl; these apples are an antique variety that date to the early 1900s. Small and conical, they have a bright pink flesh that’s tart and very juicy.
• Zestars; tasty, crisp early season apples that were originally cultivated in Minnesota; you won’t see them lingering at the markets for too much longer.
• Sunrise; another popular early-season apple with a nice balance of sweetness and acidity.
• Golden Supreme; If acid’s not your thing, these large, juicy apples with cream-colored flesh register hardly any tartness.
If you want to get out and pick your own apples, try these area orchards and farms:
• In Skagit County, Jones Creek Farm is a great place for a day of picking and apples are their specialty. The delightful family farm practices organic and sustainable growing practices in Sedro Woolley and has apples and pears through the end of November. They also host a Harvest Festival from October 18 to 20, with farm tours, samples of what’s growing, music, pumpkin patch, hot cider, and hay rides.
• Apple Creek Orchard in Ferndale also hosts u-pickers to its Jonagold apple orchard; you can buy pears and pumpkins here, too.
• Venture east of the mountains to Yakima, where at Bill’s Berry Farm you can pick apples and pumpkins, make cider, and get lost in a corn maze.
• At Scenic Acres Orchard, also in Yakima, u-pick apples and pears are in season, and fresh apple and pear juice is for sale.
Looking for wine picks to go with your apple (and squash and mushroom) dishes this fall? Check out this week’s The Bar Code here.