Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. ~ George Eliot
For those of us who revel in the sensuality of life, Fall is a wonderfully bountiful time of year. The trees adorned in vibrant autumn hues of deep reds and golden yellows are a feast for the eyes. A refreshing crispness fills the air, stimulating our appetites for heartier, more comforting dishes. Much needed rains replenish aquifers and awaken the slumbering mushroom spores. Soon chanterelles, boletes and matsutake will poke their curious heads through the forest humus adding to our table. Coho salmon get nature’s signal and begin their runs up several rivers in the Olympic Peninsula to spawn. And perhaps the most elusive and forbidden of all harbingers of Fall, the red fleshed Mountain Rose apple, appears for a brief glorious moment.
“I set those scions, and for many a year made pilgrimage to the tree and opened the green fruits to be surprised again and again at the pink flesh ‘stained with red’ as the original The Fruit and Fruit Trees of America has it.” – Charles Downing, The Garden Lover, 1928
Every September, the phone start ringing off the hook. The same question is always asked, when will those beautiful apples be ready? Their stunning red color and tart crispness arouse a lot of intrigue, mystique and desire. Perhaps as much as was created in the biblical temptation story of original sin. The unique flavor, vaguely reminiscent of a strawberry Jolly Rancher, endears Mountain Rose apples to all who taste them. To maximize the red color and develop the perfect balance of sweet and tart they must hang long on the trees leading growers to near madness. Usually an impending rain storm signals the harvest date.
I traveled to Mount Hood Organic Farms to see the apples in person. It’s a spectacular drive, winding through small family run orchards in Oregon’s fruit loop. I pulled onto the gravel road leading to the farm. Spectacular views of Mount Hood dominated the landscape. Brady and John were busy trying to get all their apples picked. The remnants of typhoon Songda was promising to bring destructive winds and surely knock most of the fruit out of the trees.
Recently Portland Monthly wrote an interesting article entitled “The Curious Case of the Hidden Rose”. It detailed the origin of three of the red fleshed apple varieties found in Oregon but did not search any further. All three originated from a single tree found on an 80 acre farm in Airlie, Oregon, just north of Corvallis. Lucky Newell bought the property in 1959. One day he was riding his horse near a well and he spotted an apple tree growing. He reached up and took a bite. He was amazed by the red fleshed fruit and commented they were as red as his wife’s ruby lips. . That was during a moment in history when diversity was not as celebrated as it is now. The single apple tree remained unnoticed till the 1980’s. Louis Kimzey rediscovered them walking through the Newells’ old orchard.
The history goes back further.The smallish, yellow skinned apples were originally called “Surprise” for obvious reasons. They are believed to originally come from Siberia. In the early 1830’s the apples found their way to Europe. By 1840, German immigrants had brought them to the United States and planted them in the Ohio Valley. From there they traveled to Newburg, New York and even appeared in an 1890 book entitled “The Fruit and Fruit Trees of America”. By the 1920’s they were found in California where they were reputed to grow better. The hot days and cool nights common in Northern California seemed favorable. Horticulturist Albert Etter began experimenting and breeding various red fleshed apple trees. By the 1940’s, several of Etter’s hybrids were made available through a nursery. It is reputed the apple tree found on the Newell property is a remnant of that line.
My 85 year old mother is visiting us for the month. As a self avowed apple lover her favorite dessert is a simple apple tart. I could think of no better surprise than to make it with these beautiful apples.
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ teaspoon almond oil (optional)
- 1 sheet Pepperidge Farms puff pastry
- 1 recipe almond cream (recipe follows)
- 4 Mountain Rose apples
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Process almonds and sugar till a fine powder in a food processor.
- Add butter, egg yolk and almond oil and continue processing till well mixed.
- Roll Pepperidge Farms puff pastry sheet out slightly bigger than original size.
- Smear almond cream over, leaving a border of one inch on each side.
- Remove apple cores and slice thinly.
- Decoratively arrange apple slices over almond cream.
- Bake in 375 degree oven till puff pastry is brown and crispy, about 45 minutes.