My appreciation for the full flavor spectrum and variety of apples hadn’t fully blossomed until I discovered the heritage apples from Devoto Gardens and Orchards at the Napa Farmers Market. Similar to its distant cousin, the tomato, the apple has a multitude of heirloom versions that bear little resemblance to the mealy grocery store offerings I was raised on.
These heirloom varieties provide a wide array of flavors – sweet, tart, nutty, acidic, spice, bitter, tannic – and even some peach, apricot, pear and citrus essences. They also come in a rainbow of colors, from the striking Arkansas Black to the russet-colored Hudson Golden Gem, the striped Kid’s Orange Red, and the pretty Pink Pearl. It is easy to take pleasure in just their names, when you encounter the Esopus Spitzenburg, or Brushy Mountain Limbertwig, or Hubbartson Nonesuch, to name a few.
Apples actually have a long history of providing pleasure. The Romans served them as dessert on the “second tables,” where diners were invited to finish a meal in the orchard gardens while reclining on deep cushions. Lavish bowls of fruit including apples were provided to guests to balance the meat-heavy meal.
The early Persians associated apples with the art of love and considered them powerful aphrodisiacs. According to the Greek geographer Strabo, a Persian girl on her wedding night would be allowed to eat nothing but apples and camel’s marrow.