Thursday, October 04, 2012

Fall moves in

Remarkably, fall color in the Ozarks is turning into quite a show this month (at least in areas where the trees  haven't already dropped their leaves due to drought). Hickories are blazing yellow, tripartite sassafras leaves morph into that lovely salmon pink and the many-lobed white oak leaves are turning a deep maroon. Among the showiest fall color drives in the Ozarks is in Lost Creek country around Defiance with all those maples in the steeply dissected valleys. If you're in the area, stop into Lost Creek Vineyard, a newer winery on the block, to try their Proprietor's Choice (Norton-Chambourcin blend). Beautiful country there, and perfect for fall color drives.

With fall color comes the onslaught of hand-painted plywood clapboards propped up along county roads advertising Fall Suppers in German Catholic communities, fundraisers and community get-togethers that have occurred annually for many years. And while many farmer's markets in the Ozarks have closed for the season, equally as many seasonal markets and truck farms remain open for business as fall crops come to fruition: acorn squash, kale, garlic, onions, and fresh Missouri apples are all omnipresent in area farmer's markets. North Missouri counties (around Moberly, Macon and north) are particularly noted for growing enormous crops of Jonathan apples, but other, smaller orchards are also producing fantastic apples that one can't find in plastic bags in larger grocery stores.

Winesaps, Honeycrisps, baskets labeled with a question mark indicating unknown varieties, I grabbed handfuls of all of them last Saturday morning. I spoke to one grower selling paper bags of apples: "What variety?" I asked. "No clue. We have five trees on the property and they've been there for over 100 years. We've owned the property for 80. I don't know what kind they are, but they're sort of like a Jonathan, but not really...." I paid $3 for a bag of 10 small and incredibly tasty apples. See here for a nice article about my Willamette Valley botanist friend, Ed, and his orchard of heirloom apples.

As most of you probably already know, those beautiful, perfect, Snow White-worthy grocery store staples, Red Delicious apples, the apples that appear in fruit baskets every Christmas lack the texture and crispness and general flavor that local heirloom variety apples possess. I think I was gypped many years ago when I worked in horticulture for a non-profit: we were all offered a free Butterball turkey or a fruit basket as a Thanksgiving token of appreciation. Because I don't eat birds, I took the fruit basket. The oranges were probably three years old, stored in some refrigerator somewhere until they were totally desiccated and inedible; the big shiny Red Delicious apples were also inedible, probably two years old- not pie-worthy by a long stretch, not smothered-in-peanut-butter-to-make-edible worthy. The bananas were fine, of course, and the mango was hard as a rock. I should have opted for the frozen bird and taken it to a food bank. Not all Red Delicious apples are terrible, of course. It's not an issue with the graft, but the variety tends to be grown widespread for shipping stability and for looks rather than for flavor or texture. This, of course, is my personal experience living in the apple-growing countries of New York and Wisconsin (Go Badgers!).

If you visit a farmer's market in Missouri and see a bunch of small, pocked little apples, grab a handful and cut into them to eat or bake them in a pie. My experience with Missouri apples is incredibly positive, with the only downside being that I seldom recall what variety I've purchased the previous week.



Anonymous said...

Forget the apples, go native persimmons :)

Allison Vaughn said...

I love the change in seasons--I've been able to eat Ziploc bags full of persimmons from a sire grown from the state champion persimmon. I need to make some preserves with them.

Anonymous said...

I am making a batch of persimmon mead in the near future.