A Roz Chast cartoon featuring the snake from Genesis (“But Eeeeeve, it’s a Honeycrisp!”) reminded me of the choices I must make every time I’m in a grocery store’s produce department. Apples are everywhere, variety after variety, price after price. If Adam and Eve were to reprise their learning experience today, they’d be surrounded by overflowing bins of forbidden fruit.
“But Eeeeeve, it’s a Honeycrisp!” Roz Chast’s snake would say, but it would be drowned out by other considerations. Fujis always are cheap, not to mention tasty, but every so often a person wants something different. Not different-weird, like an Asian pear or a kiwi. Different like a Pink Lady, which doesn’t even sound like an apple. It sounds like a drink with a parasol in it.
The real issue, of course, is the elitism that has taken over the apple market. At one time, apples were like television networks. You had three choices: Red Delicious, McIntosh and Granny Smith. Take your pick, or eat a banana. Sometimes, in the fall, people went a little nuts and brought home a bushel of Jonagolds, just to stir things up, but for the most part, apples were red unless you were making a pie. End of story.
And speaking of red apples, I’d like to know – and I do mean to sound confrontational – what happened to Red Delicious apples? When a million varieties of apples were developed, did the original Red Delicious have to throw itself into the mouth of the volcano? Was that the deal, a sacrificial tit for tat?
Back in high school, I’d spend the last period of the day working in the guidance office. Working meant collating papers and occasionally running messages to classrooms while spending most of the time sitting around eating the enormous apples donated to the school by a local orchard. Those apples were crisp, sweet and so aromatic you could smell them all the way down the hall. And though I dislike sounding like Carol Burnett’s take on an old lady, I can’t resist shaking my bony finger and saying, “Today’s apples don’t have the same soul!”
When I’m considering apples, I always address the Honeycrisps. What makes you so great, I ask them. But I ask nicely because it’s not their fault they’re popular. I don’t blame the up-and-coming apple varieties, all of which could be the name of craft beers: Arkansas Black, Ashmead’s Kernel, Belle de Boskoop and Northern Spy are a few of those likely brews.
Still, in the manner of neighborhood gentrification, the hot-shot new start-ups are kicking the old standards off the block. Rome apples, for instance. Whatever happened to Rome apples?
I ask this question all the time. “I loved Rome apples,” I say plaintively. They were big and tasty and mealy. I bought them year round until they started appearing only in the fall, the way “The Wizard of Oz” once appeared on television only at Easter time, and now they’re gone altogether. Is there a Rome apple borer laying waste to the trees, or is this Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest theory applied to the apple market? Have the new, hip apples pushed out the stodgy varieties that, if they were people, would be wearing support hose and a house dress?
Another thing: Why is apple shopping such a complicated business? A person can’t just run into the store and pick up a few apples. Sweet, tart, nutty, aromatic, good for cooking, good for eating ... why don’t we see this kind of overwhelming variety in pears? Bartlett, D’Anjou and Bosc pretty much cover the gamut.
A couple years ago, my grandson, nudged by his mother, offered a list of observations about me for my birthday. “Things Grandma Margo Likes” included “apples,” “children,” and “reading books to children.” He mentioned apples, no doubt, because he knew I eat every bit of an apple, including the core, which made me as exotic as a sword swallower. I’ve eaten apple cores for years, largely because I’m too lazy to dispose of any leftover parts. If I just eat the whole thing, cleanup is unnecessary.
I suppose that’s a clue to my current frustration. Apples have become too complicated. Buying them is as overwhelming as choosing wallpaper. I don’t want to make 12 decisions when I’m buying fruit.
Maybe it’s time to eat bananas.
Write to Margo Bartlett at email@example.com.