My Childhood Autumns in a Nutshell. . . or an Apple

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My Childhood Autumns in a Nutshell. . . or an Apple

As a native Vermonter, I have spent every autumn driving out of Burlington and into the rust and golden mountains of Stowe to admire the foliage and to take advantage of nearby orchards. I have visited probably every orchard, mill, factory and farm over my lifetime. Through these excursions, freshly made apple cider, warm cider doughnuts, cool, crunchy apples picked right off the branch, and the smell of these apples have all become imbedded into my memories of my childhood here in Vermont.

Despite all of my experience with Vermont apples and their by-products, I have never taken the time to really get to know the fruit. There are so many varieties of apples, and although I’ve most likely eaten them all, I could only surely identify one: the Granny Smith. I feel that, as a Vermonter, telling one apple from another is something that I should be able to do. As this passing autumn will be my last consecutive one in Vermont before college, I made it my duty to learn about one of my home state’s largest exports, and set of in search of the best Vermont apple.

I figured that before I began tasting apples, I should first have a list of ideal apple qualities to measure my candidates against. My criteria for being considered a good apple: not too sweet but also not too tart, juicy, but not so juicy that it’s embarrassing to bite into it in front of others, not yellow on the inside, no brown spots or bitter bit, not so soft that your bite extends down into the seeds and core, but also not so hard that it hurts your gums to bite into it. A good apple is not mushy or bruised, it has a stem, it’s nicely shaped, and it’s not small- it’s a nice big apple, but not so big it makes you sick to eat the whole thing. A good apple must be flavorful, have a nice aroma, and, very importantly, be crunchy enough that it makes a crisp sound when you bite into it. Also, a perfect apple must be very round, not tall and oval shaped with four big humps on the bottom. I don’t like this kind.

I figured that the best place to buy the freshest apples would be at a co-op, so I went to the City Market in Burlington and bought a bag of Vermont apples grown at a local orchard.

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Once home, I settled into my role as Apple Critic for the day, observing the outward physical appearance, considering the flavor and constructing my overall opinions of the nine varieties of apples I had acquired: the Ambrosia, Rome, Cortland, Empire, Macintosh, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Cameo and Red Delicious.

After careful examination, I came to the decision that Red Delicious and Cortland apples are disgusting and are at the very bottom of my list. The Red Delicious, first of all, should not be called “delicious.” While the apple I ate had a beautiful, consistent dark red color, its looks were deceiving. Not only was the skin waxy and tough, but it had zero flavor. My Red Delicious apple tasted the way that I imagine cardboard drenched in water would taste. The Cortland apple is gross as well, but in a different way. The Cortland apple I ate was mealy looking and ugly. I was almost exactly half green and half red, but slightly brown, dotted with puck marks. It tasted like the smell of dirt. I spit it out.

Next in line are the tart apples, of which I am not a fan. The Cameo tasted very watery, the Pink Lady had a subtle taste of perfume, and both of these, along with the Granny Smith, were very stiff, difficult to eat, and way too sour for me. All three had great pigments, though. The Granny Smith; bright yellow-green and shiny, the Cameo; uniquely brown and rust, like certain pears, and the Pink Lady was an unnatural looking shade of pink, and looked velvety and soft.

The Macintosh, Rome and Ambrosia apples were all tied for second place. These soft, crunchy apples were great, but were too sweet for my preference. It tastes to me that these are the types of apples that cider is made from. In considering their physical appearance, these three apples were not completely red, rather, they were shades of brown, yellow, pink and green, and the inside was yellow-white, like penguin belly fur, instead of the pure white color that I love so much.

Somewhere in the middle of my tasting, I knew that I had found my perfect apple to place at the top of my list. Shiny and a rich burgundy-plum-red, with a frosted dust around the stem and with the absence of any green, the Empire apple looked like the one straight out of Snow White. The inside was that beautiful hydrated looking bright virgin white, and the popping crunch it made when I bit into it rung of a ideal Autumn day in Vermont. Firm, sweet and with just enough tartness, I ate the whole thing.

Food has the power to evoke memories. Reminiscent of those tree climbing days when my world smelled of apples, wood smoke, and of Halloween just around the bend, the Empire apple was just what I was looking for. I can remember running inside to warm my rosy cold hands on mugs of warm cider and applesauce with cinnamon, and now that I have labeled my favorite apple, I have the power to conjure these memories at my own will and recreate a childhood fall in Vermont. . . all by biting into the perfect apple.


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