My wife Jean Marie is hankering for an apple, a local apple. “Not too tart,” she says. My go-to is a Mac, a Macintosh. But the apple harvest is upon us. There are eight varieties for sale here at Dutton’s Farm Stand, many unfamiliar to me. And why not learn something, I figure.
The woman at the register can’t help. She calls to the back. “Josh? Can you answer a question about apples?” Josh is an earnest twenty-, maybe thirty-something young man with thick brown hair and a full beard. He is knowledgeable and friendly enough, but he doesn’t smile. Nothing funny about apples.
He tells Jean Marie about each variety. Which is sweet, which less so. Which ones are best for cooking. I’m impressed. I want to test him out on a more controversial topic.
“Seems to me,” I say, “ that there are fewer varieties of apples than there once were. That there are a few ‘corporate’ apples you see in the store. I see Fuji’s of course. Red and Golden Delicious. Granny Smith. Maybe a Gala. Not much else. Some may have vanished altogether. Is that your experience?”
To my surprise, he isn’t immediately up in arms about the losses of great varieties from the past. “We’ve got 25 different apples here,” he says.
“What about Baldwins?” I say. “My last name is Baldwin, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen or tasted a Baldwin.”
“Oh yeah. We’ve got Baldwin’s,” says Josh. “They’re not in yet. Come back in a couple weeks and we’ll have them.”
I am heartened, though not entirely convinced by his optimism. He’s young, and maybe he doesn’t know (although that seems unlikely, given where he works, what he does), and his “Feel the Bern” T-shirt suggests an awareness of things here in Vermont and beyond. But I worry. When Jean Marie asks him if the Fuji’s are local, he says yes. “All these apples are local.” But “grown here” and “originating here” are different. Macintoshs are grown in the Pacific Northwest, too, but they taste nothing like the ones from back here. Different soil, different climate. Seems to me I’ve read about disappearing apples, too. I’m easily discouraged by endangered species of one sort or another. But I don’t get into that. Not today, anyway.
Jean Marie, meanwhile, has decided that she’ll buy several. We’ll have an apple tasting tomorrow. So she picks out four: Macoun, Sansa, Honey Crisp, Zestar. Sounds like a great plan. The names are what intrigue me, of course. I wonder where they all come from. Another day for that, too.