I’ve been buying produce for a long time, but this is by far the most excited I’ve ever been about apples! We’ve been working really hard for the past ten years to source a wide selection of local apples to celebrate the fall season. This year it’s all really coming together…with the addition of OZ Farm as a new farm direct relationships, the apple selection is complete. At least for now!
OZ Farm is a beautiful orchard located near the coast of Mendocino County in Point Arena. The farm became certified organic in 1990 and has around 17 acres of heirloom apples. I’ve heard about them for years but had never figured out a way to get a steady supply of their apples to Bi-Rite. Luckily Rachel Hooper, daughter of the farm owners, lives in San Francisco and recently expressed interest in bringing down apples every Tuesday! OZ has over 15 varieties of heirlooms and they’re just starting to ripen up, so they’ll be available through the beginning of November. We just got in three new varieties to add to our “House of Vintage Apples”:
- The Belle De Boskopp is one of the most popular russet varieties on the market, both a great eating apple and, due to its crispy dense flesh, a wonderful cooking apple. It originated in England in the 19th century and has yellow skin with a red blush, tart to mild sweet flavor, and is highly aromatic.
- Then there’s the Russet (no relation to a Russet potato but the skins do look similar). Russet indicates a fruit with slightly rough greenish-brown skin that usually tastes a bit nutty and sweet. The amount of russeting can be caused by a number of factors like weather, disease and pest issues.
- The Cox Orange Pippin is one of the finest dessert apples, with a very unique orange-red colored skin. It originated in England in the 19th century and the flavor is a complex mixture of pear, melon, orange and mango, making any other apple you taste alongside it seem one-dimensional.
- Finally, the Hudson’s Golden Gem first surfaced in Oregon around 1930, and is an excellent eating apple due to its extra-crisp sweet flavor.
Another new farm direct relationship that has stocked us with awesome heirloom apples is Epi Center Orchard in Aptos. Mainly an avocado seedling operation, they’ve found time to tend to their 1- acre orchard of apple trees. We have a handful of their varieties on our shelves right now:
- The Suntan is a cross between Cox Orange Pippin and Court Plendu Plat. Its creamy yellow flesh is very firm and fairly juicy. These give me flashbacks to my youth and the sweet flavor of a pack of “Now and Later” candies–they’re that sweet!
- The King David is a chance seedling that sprouted up in Arkansas in the 1890’s. The parents are thought to be the Jonathan apple and either the Black Arkansas or the Winesap apple. These are versatile for eating, cooking and juicing.
- The Wickson Crab is a cross between two other crab apples, but that’s where the comparison to crab apples stops. Unlike most crab apples, the Wickson is unusually sweet and still has a little acidity. The Wickson was developed in the early 20th century in Humboldt County by Albert Etter, an apple enthusiast.
Hidden Star Orchard and Devoto Gardens, our tried and true favorite apple growers, are also having amazing seasons. Johan at Hidden Star is the master of growing all of the varieties that larger commercial growers don’t do justice. His Fuji, Granny Smith and Pink Ladies Apples are so firm and crispy while containing delicious juice. This year, Hidden Star will also be treating us to their new crop of Honey Crisps, which have been the most popular variety the past few years. Stan at Devoto Gardens in Sebastopol is one of the premier apple growers in the North Bay. He’s been witness to numerous orchards being torn down and replaced with wine vines (more lucrative!), but Stan keeps it real by growing a bunch of heirloom apples like the ones he’s sending us:
- The Jonathan,a classic American apple with a perfect balance of sweet/tart flavor.
- The Spitzenburg, which has been around since the early 1800’s and was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. It has a rich, sharp flavor which gets better after sitting in storage for a little while.
- The Mutsu may not be an heirloom, but this hybrid from Japan is one of the tastiest green apples on the scene.
Apples may be the highlight of the month but there’s a lot of other fruit that deserves a little hype:
Figs have been out of this world! There’s nothing like a tree-ripe fig; they’re one of those crops that always taste better when they come from a small farmer who gives them the attention they need. At the Bi-Rite Farm in Placerville, Sam’s mom does an amazing job tending to her three figs trees and it shows with each sweet, rich fig you pop in your mouth.
We have Warren Pears and Bosc Pears from Frog Hollow Orchard and are waiting on the buttery Taylor’s Gold to arrive later this month. Farmers Al’s pears are hands down the best in the Bay Area. Asian Pears from Gabriel Farm have been eating great. Oh yeah, I can’t forget about the sweet lil seckel pears from Oregon, a perfect dessert fruit.
The pomegranates from Balakian Farm in Reedley have finally arrived and will be on our shelves to help us celebrate all of the upcoming Holidays. Also, Balakian’s jumbo fuyu persimmons (aka. the apple of persimmons) will be harvested any day now (Rosie and Kiko are particularly excited about this)!
Yes, we still have plenty of local berries from our favorite farms; they’ll be around until the first cold rains fall.
Stay tuned for next month’s produce outlook when I talk about the other half, veggies!