We're fast approaching the peak of the apple harvest in New York State. And locally grown fruit can be found everywhere from roadside stands and farmers' markets to supermarkets.
So, we wondered, could anything possibly be new with one of the oldest fruits on earth? This year, the answer is yes.
Despite critically low prices paid to growers and increased competition from all over the globe, the New York Apple Association thinks there may actually be some reasons for optimism. One big plus is the introduction of a new variety, Honeycrisp, which is garnering more enthusiasm than has been seen in years. Developed in Minnesota in 1991, the rosy new apple is described as having a complex sweet/tart flavor.
"They actually have a sweet honey aftertaste," says Paul Lehman of the Niagara County Extension Service.
But some descriptions are more dramatic than that. Some experts insist, for instance, this new apple is not only juicy, it's "explosively crisp."
The Apple Association rates the apple "excellent" for eating out of hand and for salad. It rates it "good" for baking and pies. But the Honeycrisp's biggest plus may be a commercial one. The apple stores well, which, incidentally, the state's favorite apple, the McIntosh, does not. That allows a big crop of apples to be released to stores gradually throughout the winter. Honeycrisps are supposed to maintain crispness well into February.
Now comes the disclaimer. This year, at least, Honeycrisps may be hard to find. Although everyone who has bitten into the new apple seems to be enthusiastic, not a lot of
Apples: Health benefits are proven people have even had a taste. New trees are just beginning to be planted.
A few Honeycrisps will be available at roadside stands and farmers' markets this fall, and supermarkets like Wegmans will carry a small supply toward the end of this month. But apple fanatics will have to move quickly.
Another plus for the apple industry has to do with health. Western New York apple sales are expected to increase this fall as a result of worldwide publicity for new research from Cornell University, which indicates that apples may help fight cancer.
The Cornell study was funded by the New York Apple Association and the New York Apple Research Development Program, and results appeared in journals last June. Then, news of the study was picked up by wire services and television. So far, only apples grown in New York State have been tested. Further epidemiological and animal research is on the schedule.
Food scientists discovered that substances called phytochemicals found in both apple skin and flesh provide antioxidant and anticancer benefits. (Antioxidants are chemicals that prevent cell or tissue damage in the body.)
"This is probably the best marketing tool for New York apples to come down the pike in recent memory," says Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, which represents more than 600 growers. "This kind of news we expect to really help turn this industry around.
"It's the kind of jump-start our industry needs, and we'll be concentrating a large part of our marketing strategy on these findings."
Already the Apple Association has developed a new slogan: "An Apple a Day Is the Healthy Way."
And it's hoped that the Cornell findings will provide the same sales boost to apples that blueberries and broccoli received following similar research last year.
Another interesting development in the apple world has fewer commercial implications. There's a growing interest in so-called heirloom apples, old time varieties - some more than 100 years old.
They appeal to nostalgia but don't possess qualities like insect resistance or good storage capability. Nevertheless, a growing number of heirloom varieties have appeared in catalogs in recent years and individual growers have small supplies as well.
Some of them have wonderful names. There's the Yellow Transparent, the Arkansas Black, the Mortgage Lifter (aka Ben Davis). In the last eight years, the October Lockport Apple Festival has featured little set-ups of what is called "apples of antiquity."
"This is very much a niche market," a spokesman for the Apple Association said.
But somehow it's reassuring to note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a germ plasm repository of old varieties in Geneva as well as what one expert describes as a "Noah's Ark of old trees marching two by two."
Hopefully, we'll never lose the old types completely, and logging on to www.nyapplecountry.com may help you find a source for some of them.