The apple is perhaps the most democratic of all fruits. Reliable and solid, a perfect blend of sweet and sour, equally delicious, whether eaten raw, baked to a cake or pressed into cider.
Of course, nothing could be more American than apple pie, but a rugged Virginia apple, the Albemarle Pippin, once fainted a young Queen Victoria.
If there is a piece of fruit that seems to have conquered the liking of statesmen, farmers, cooks, and, yes, since colonial times, it is the Albemarle Pippin, a green apple with russet-brown shoulders, making its journey in – where else has started? – the big apple.
"It's a true American apple," says gardener Grace Elton, CEO of Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, Massachusetts, where 119 varieties of 20th-century heirloom apples are grown.
Originally grown in the area of Elmhurst in Queens, the Newtown Pippin was already a favorite in the American colonies. A green apple of citrus, which improved in flavor during the long winter.
However, when Thomas Walker's guardian, Thomas Walker, brought cuttings to downtown Virginia in the 1750s, the southern climate really seemed to accord with the northern apple. A new and improved version of Newtown-Pippin was born, named after his residence in Albemarle County, Virginia.
"It took on a different look and taste," says Diane Burns, a gardener at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, just outside Charlottesville. "Our soil is different from New York, as is the climate and altitude. Newtown was already a good apple, but cultivation in the Piedmont region made it even better. "
Make no mistake, the Albemarle and the Newton Pippin are essentially regional versions of the same apple (also known as yellow Pippin or yellow Newtown), but it was the enjoyable Virginia statesman Andrew Stevenson who inspired his home state's economy through his presentation a young Queen Victoria with a gift of the Albemarle variety from the orchards of his family. According to "Old Southern Apples" by Creighton Lee Calhoun, Victoria was so stained with the fruit that she went so far as to raise the high inches on the Albemarle-Pippin so that her subjects could eat her to their hearts content – if they could afford. The Virginia apple finally became so popular that it earned three times the price of other apples for sale in England and became the most sought-after apple in the world. The tariff was not reinstated for nearly a century.
Stevenson's wife later wrote to friends in Virginia: "They were eaten and praised by royal lips and swallowed by many aristocratic throats."
And if you have never heard of or eaten from the Albemarle Pippin, this can be primarily due to one particular factor: according to modern standards of unity and perfection, it is not beautiful. Often pockmarked and misshapen in many decades, many heirlooms have fallen out of favor, while more attractive and disease-resistant apples have conquered the market. A relatively recent addition is the popular and prettier Ginger Gold, a commercial strain developed in Virginia in the 1960s that happens to be the mildly harsh offspring of Albemarle Pippin and Golden Delicious Apples.
"Today's apples are bred to perfection, but they're just sweet apples," says Burns. "These older varieties are not that cute or look so good, but they have a great aroma, slightly sour and full-bodied. You have to look over the pock seams on the skin. "
When Burns started growing fresh produce for the kitchens at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards in 2016, she knew she wanted to grow the Albemarle Pippin and set up a "boutique orchard" with only a handful of trees. She got to know the diversity when she worked at Jefferson's Monticello home a few years earlier, where the apple has been grown since 1769. For Pippin Hill chef Ian Rynecki, who joined in 2017, he offered the opportunity to truly explore the flavor profile of an apple that had attracted attention in the past.
"I may have seen it three times at farmers' markets in New York," says Rynecki. "From a culinary point of view, it is above all a dessert apple. It has solid meat, lots of complexity, not just a sweet or harsh apple. "
Rynecki had enough time to play with the Albemarle in his first year at Pippin Hill. He combined it with aged sheep's cheese and goat's cheese, introduced him in a classic Tarte Tatin and let his sweet and tart qualities play the fresh pepper notes of mustard greens. He has discovered that it is even good to be dried and powdered by adding its floral notes to the spicy recipes.
"It's funny to call an apple a retirement, as if you were describing a wine," Rynecki says, "but some of these heirlooms really reward you with their complexity."
Awarded Bestman Rowan Jacobsen describes the Albemarle and Newtown Pippin as "a bit sugary and very sour" with a hint of lemon flavor and a touch of green tea. , , , Like a good wine, it has to breathe for a while before its aromas open. "
The key makes the apple heal. "If you harvest the Albemarle Pippin for the first time in the fall, this is not a wonderful taste," says Peggy Cornett, curator of plants at Monticello, "but if you store it in a storage cellar or your fridge, it will have a wonderful aroma late Winter and spring. "
Elton of Tower Hill Botanic Garden agrees that a hallmark of many heirloom apples is their shelf life.
"We tend to think of fresh fruit as something we want to eat right away," she says. "Actually, the longer you wait, the better the Pippin will be, as the sugar becomes even more concentrated."
In fact, the Albemarle and Newtown Pippins, along with other heirloom apples, regularly appear on homesteading websites, and these varieties pass the test of time. Some claim that Pippins in particular can avoid spoilage for up to 14 months if wrapped individually in paper and stored in a cool, dark place with plenty of air circulation, preferably in single layers on racks or in shallow containers. Inserting the Pippins in a perforated bag in the back drawer of the refrigerator also works well.
But an apple is only. , an Apple. Law?
"Everybody had tortillas," says Rynecki, "but one from scratch, and that's how you find out how a tortilla should taste." He suggests taking your favorite apple – such as a classic McIntosh – and then trying out an heirloom apple like the Albemarle Pippin or one of many other varieties that can be found at the farmers markets in the fall.
"There are so many unexpected tastes – herbaceous, spicy, citrus," he says. "We think of apples as a one-touch grade, but heirloom apples like the Albemarle show us they deserve more recognition."
Queen Victoria would certainly agree.
Albemarle Pippins are most commonly found at farmers markets in Albemarle County, Virginia, or throughout southwestern Virginia. In Washington, Reid's Orchard will be available on the Bloomingdale Farmers Market from Sunday through November 18, subject to availability. They can also be ordered online from Turkey Knob Growers at www.turkeyknobgrowers.com.