It’s a rite of fall, the apple.
I thought I was already experiencing the perfect fall day after a walk around Central Park’s reservoir.
Encircled with soft-rounded ablaze-in-color trees, framed by Manhattan’s elegant vertical mix of contemporary and pre-WW II buildings, the reservoir shimmered in perfect reflection of a mirror. True to the November timing, the park lamps were already lit. Yet the sun was still demanding that her light not be eclipsed just yet, showering all in great warmth and color. Lines of ducks as still as the water rested in formation. The fountain in the middle of it all, reminiscent of Geneva’s Jet D’Eau, was jutting upward with just the right amount of spray forming a perfect arc. The thick layers of muted colorful autumn woods just beyond the reservoir were alive with laughter as well as the clip clopping noise of a horse.
A perfect scene, right?
Approaching my building, that’s what I thought to myself, just as my eyes fell on the apple market. Huge slabs of wood revealing the tree’s rings, upheld by an easel reminiscent of saw-horse style legs, these makeshift tables were crammed with tens and and tens of apple crates. Rising above the apples were vintage brass scales of an uneven lip and matte, copperlike finish.
Signs protruded from the crates: Northern Spy, Fuji, Golden Supreme, Macoun, Ginger Gold, Eve’s Delight, Winesap, Honey Crisp, Pippins and many more. Some names were new to me, quite poetic too, and some even hearkened back to gems. There were heated opinions being expressed about the different apples. Applesauce, apple pie or a mouthful of raw sweet and tart flesh of apple pulp — which apple was best for which? The Hudson Valley of New York had unloaded her treasures in the city.
That’s when I heard a low but confident voice above the rest.
As shoppers wondered what apple to choose, he offered his opinion. “The opalescent? It’s middle of the road, flavorwise. When you cut it open it’s claim to fame is its blinding whiteness. Its flesh is as white as snow.”
He continued: “Oh, those aren’t apples, they are quinces. They are very tart-for sauces, jellies and jams. If you place them in a bowl they are the most natural air freshener you can find.”
Or: “Oh, that one, it’s an heirloom apple. People need to take an interest in keeping these heirloom apples from becoming extinct, to revive its popularity because they are becoming more rare. It’s like garden plants.
“Here is a golden russet, the skin is so thick it almost acts as a fungus, a natural repellent.”
Who is this apple savant, I wonder?
In his sixties, Joe, with his thick mane of grey hair and round wire rimmed glasses, goes from apple to apple as he slices them for sampling while also managing to keep weighing and selling them for cash, as a steady flow of apple characteristics keeps flowing from his mouth.
“Here, taste this, it’s my favorite apple, The Cameo.”
What makes it his favorite? “It’s just everything and a bag of chips . . . this apple’s got it all . . . sweet, tart, juicy, crunchy. It’s just perfect. It’s got it all and then some.”
As I snap into one of the cameo’s rosy cheeks, an explosion of apple-y flavor follows. Indeed, it does taste like I am eating the perfect apple.
Perhaps it’s not for naught that the apple became the symbol of desire in the Garden of Eden.
But then Joe says, “here, taste this one, this one is my brother’s favorite.” Wait, so each sibling has a favorite apple? Like one might have a favorite ice cream flavor?
Isn’t an apple just an apple?
“It’s a Black Twig. When I think of this apple I think of puuure,” he continues. “Black Twig hasn’t been tampered with in hundreds of years. it’s an original apple, very grassy — that’s what I think about when I think of its taste. Like I said, it hasn’t been messed with or monkeyed with since the 1700s.”
This apple is hard to bite into. You’ve got to work for that first bite, then that tart zing comes through. ‘This one might be my favorite!’ I think to myself as I hear it snap with delight. This is one dense and sturdy apple.
I thought I knew apples. Raised on the good old fashioned McIntoshes, Granny Smith’s, Galas and delicate shattering Honey crisps, I thought I had some understanding of the fruit.
Forget about it.
Before me was standing the apple whisperer himself.
Rattling off more and more details, Joe draws you into those apples like never before.
“All of the apples are at peak ripeness, they were just picked a day or two ago.”
He points to another, “now this is a good November apple.”
We’re all tasting different apples, analyzing them as if we have any clue what we are saying, digging into our pockets for cash, filling brown sacks of different historical antique apple varieties.
Deep rich golden yellows mix with blushing reds and burgundy’s and greens, bags overflowing.
We walk away weighted down by the goods.
I can already feel the warmth of the melted sweet applesauce cooking on the stovetop (Joe pipes up, “never put too much water in the pot, that’s where people go wrong”), or I can practically see their firm roundness collapsed into jaminess, within a perfect round pie.
I stand a little straighter.
Suddenly apple market shopping in New York City’s golden Fall makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something very important.
Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News