Apple Sampler More choices: An apple a day is getting easier with more types coming on the market as orchards grow new varieties and replant some old favorites.

October 11, 1995|By KAROL V. MENZIE | KAROL V. MENZIE,SUN STAFF

Braeburn, McIntosh, Gala, Empire -- the names are lovely, old-fashioned, even romantic. Nittany. Elstar. Fuji. Paulared. Crispin.

Apples. There's something about the fall that brings apples to mind, the crisp days and chilly nights, the glorious colors of the fall foliage . . . somehow the crunch of a good apple, the tart-sweet flavor, goes right along.

But for people who like to mix a little excitement with their tradition, there are lots of "new" varieties of apples to try. Some are traditional favorites that are coming back into popularity, such as Stayman, Ida Red, York and McIntosh, and some are varieties developed more recently, such as Mountaineer, Jonagold and Gingergold.

Fall always brings a few more fresh apples to market, but consumers are right to think that this year the variety is greater than usual, said John Rice, of Rice Fruit Co. of Gardners, Pa., the largest fresh-apple packing company in the East. The trend to more varieties is fueled partly by consumer demand for better-tasting apples, he said, and partly by competition from smaller retailers who are offering customers fruit "boutiques," with plenty of unusual varieties.

Often, he said, customers are introduced to new varieties at farm stands, where the grower or owner can offer someone a Mutsu or a Criterion and say, "try that, and tell me if it's not the best apple you've ever tasted."

At Baugher's Apple Orchard and Packing House, which also has stand, new varieties are put out for customers to sample, said Marjorie Baugher. The long-time family business in Carroll County is growing and selling such new varieties as Jonagold and Gala, as well as the usual Red and Golden Delicious. Sales of Gala, "not a pretty apple," took off when people got a chance to try it, Ms. Baugher said. "People are remembering it very well now."

At Summit Point Raceway Orchards, in Summit Point, W.Va., all the varieties are less usual -- some brand new, such as the Mountaineer, developed especially for the orchard, and the Gingergold, discovered in Virginia about four years ago -- and some truly old-fashioned, such as the Lady Apple, which has been grown in France for 300 years. "We don't grow any Red Delicious," said Barbara Scott, co-owner, with her husband Bill, of the raceway complex.

October is the peak month for apple buying, and not surprisingly, it's also designated National Apple Month. "Apples always sell better in the fall," said Jerry Purdy, director of produce purchasing for Giant, which has begun carrying some locally produced apples as well as the imports from the western United States and as far away as New Zealand in its Baltimore-Washington area stores. People who couldn't wait for it in the spring are tired of the "soft" fruit like peaches and nectarines, and long for the crispness of an apple, Mr. Purdy said.

Giant is going through 16,000-17,000 40-pound cases of apples a week, compared with the 8,000 cases a week over the summer, and is offering Braeburn, Gala, McIntosh and Rome Beauty, in addition to the popular Delicious varieties.

Picked by hand

While the traditions of apple growing remain strong -- they're still picked by hand, mostly by workers on ladders -- changing technology has also had an impact on the industry, allowing apples to reach store shelves at a more desirable ripeness.

Apples sometimes got a bad rap in recent years, because fruit bred to look beautiful lacked the old-fashioned apple taste people remembered, or because storage and handling left the apples too hard or too mushy. For convenience, production growers generally harvest all the apples on a tree, regardless of ripeness.

At the Summit Point orchard, which sells apples to area supermarkets such as Safeway, Giant and Magruder's, and to specialty retailers such as Fresh Fields and Sutton Place Gourmet, eight kinds of apples are growing on dwarf trees on three-wire trellises, a technique imported from Europe, where land is at a premium. The orchard was planted in 1985 on land near the raceway.

But besides saving space, the small trees and the trellising system allow more sun to get to all the apples on the tree, for better ripening, Ms. Scott said. It also makes the apples easier to pick -- the tallest tree is about 6 feet, so no one has to get up on a ladder, and some apples can be left on the branches until they are riper.

"It looks more like a vineyard than an orchard," Ms. Scott said. The system also allows the orchard to produce twice as many apples per acre (about 1,000 bushels) as a regular orchard with full-height trees, she said.

Stretched out on the trellises are trees bearing Gala, Empire, Jonagold, Nittany, Crispin, Stayman, Mountaineer and Lady Apples. The Lady Apples are tiny, 1 1/2 to 2 inches around, half red and half gold, and mostly used for garnish and decoration. The Crispin is large and green and very sweet, and is considered the gourmet apple of Japan, where its name is Mutsu, Ms. Scott said.

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