The Elusive Organic Apple

by Elisabeth Rose

Ever wonder why a “perfect” organic apple is so elusive, so hard to find?

Along with hayrides and pumpkin carving, apple picking is probably the most quintessential New England activity signaling the fall. Apples in all their incarnations are favorites of young and old, and recipes for apple pie, crisp, butter, jelly, and others get passed from mother to daughter and friend to friend.

Heirloom apples grown by orchards that are members of Glynwood Farm's Apple Project.

With over 7,000 known cultivars, from sweet Delicious to sour Macouns, from tiny Crab Apples to giant Cortlands, apples are a special treat, with a rich and interesting past.

Many learn the American story of Johnny Appleseed, who reputedly traveled all over planting apple seeds. While the story has persisted as a legend, there really was such a man, whose real name was John Chapman, born in Massachusetts in 1774. He indeed loved apples, learned about their cultivation, and planted many areas that stretched from the Allegheny River in the East as far west as Ohio. However, as author Michael Pollan points out in his book, The Botany of Desire, most of these apples were small and not sweet enough for eating out of hand, so they were used to make hard cider and cider vinegar.

While the legend of Johnny Appleseed is quite compelling, planting seeds will not yield uniform apples that look and taste exactly like the parent fruit. In fact, the fruit trees must be grafted to replicate the same apples, and it is this process that takes away their natural defenses.

As Pollan explains, “If you plant all genetically identical Delicious apples and they are genetically identical, they’re supremely vulnerable to pests and that is why apples are the crop that receives the most pesticide.”

This of course leaves them with that perfect, almost waxy, appearance. In this case, it is important that they be washed well or, better yet, peeled.

While most organic apples are also often treated, it is with low organic ingredients such as sulfur, a natural fungicide, and treated with Surround (kaolin clay), Rotenone, Entrust (spinosad), and pyrethrum (from the carnation), and horticultural oils such as Neem (from the Neem tree.) The fruit may be mottled, spotted, and without a uniform shape or color, but don’t let this lack of perfection deceive you: organic apples are delicious!

Connecticut boasts many apple varieties both for baking and for eating as is. For baking, some of the oldest are the most highly recommended: Pippin, dating back to 1700, and Rome, first cultivated in 1828. Others that are also suggested are Cortlands, Jonagolds, Mutsus, and Crispins.

For eating out of hand, Macouns, Jersey Macs and Northern Spy are on the tart side; Galas, Honeycrisps, Eastern Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Liberty are sweeter. To see a full list of Connecticut-grown apples, visit this link.

While there are many places in Connecticut that sell apples, only a few sell organic ones, including: Riverbank Farm in Roxbury and Averill Farm in Washington Depot. High Hill Orchard in Meriden, where you can also pick chestnuts, grows eco-friendly apples with organic fertilizers, without herbicides or chemical fertilizers, and with minimal use of pesticides.

Susan Averill, of Averill Farm, points out that you need to call for organic apples in order to get them. Since they only harvest about one bushel of apples as opposed to five bushels of non-organic types because of the time and type of treatment involved, it’s important to check on availability before making the trip.

Yellow Delicious apples at High Hill

There’s nothing like biting into a fresh apple. Between their range of tastes, their history, their antioxidant properties and their many uses, apples merit their place at the top of the fruit category!


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