The High Holidays are upon us, and with them, the new apple crop. Whatever your persuasion, celebrate the sweetness of life with the simplest of Rosh Hashanah rituals: dipping slices of apple in honey.
Why apples? In the era of Twinkies and Coca-Cola, we forget how precious and rare the sensation of sweetness once was. Sugar had to be hunted down or carefully coaxed from the earth. As Michael Pollan points out in The Botany of Desire, planting apple seeds was like buying a lottery ticket. Apples do not grow true from seed, so you never know whether you've got puckery, dry, or magically sweet apples until the first fruits appear. (To reproduce, say, Red Delicious apples, you have to graft shoots from a Red Delicious tree onto the rootstock of another sapling.) For Northern and Eastern Europeans, and later American settlers, a sugary apple was a blessing, a reminder that fickle, belligerent Nature sometimes yielded sweetness as well as strife.
Last Saturday I toured the Berkeley Farmers Market looking for apples to mark Rosh Hashanah. Flatland Flower Farm's Golden Delicious and Gabriel Farm's Gilbert Goldens (a first cousin) are enough to remind you how the apples you pooh-pooh in Albertson's got name-brand famous. Straight from the tree, the yellow beauties have a snap and a floral aroma that leaches away in a supermarket distributor's cold storage.
Pomo Tierra's early-harvest Gravensteins have already disappeared, but you can still taste their spicy, tart bite in the farm's cider; it's been blended with the orchard's Golden Delicious apples for a sweeter, milder drink.
By next week, you'll be able to find a few lesser-known varieties. Gabriel Farm is about to harvest its Arkansas Blacks, while both Flatland Flower and Pomo Tierra will offer some Rome Beauties and Splendors. Karen, from Smit Ranch, promises Pink Ladies (one of my favorites) in mid-October.
She offered me a bite of the best eating apple of the day: a fresh Gala, as crisp as a stalk of celery and richly, aromatically spiced. Smeared with Marshall Farms' Marin Wildflower honey -- the vindaloo of honeys, luxurious and peppery -- the Galas overwhelmed me with a sweetness that was more opulent and nuanced than that of the finest crème brûlée. I can only hope your new year brings you such delights. Shana tova.
If you're interested in tasting the full spectrum of fall fruits -- apples, pears, Asian pears -- available at the Berkeley Farmers Market, come on Saturday, October 11, or Tuesday, October 14, for a fruit tasting. Saturday's event will include a cooking demonstration by Christine Mullen of Le Théâtre.