I wandered the farmer’s market at Shaker Square all summer, staying mostly on the side of the train tracks nearest Dewey’s Coffeehouse, weaving through crowds and visiting my usual vendors for lunchtime staples and the occasional seasonal fruit. Strawberries phased into blueberries, and those gave way to a pitiful peach harvest, and soon enough, early apples began taking up space under tents and on top of tables.
I can’t recall exactly when my interest in apples developed, but I know it was piqued when, in 2007, I went on an impromptu field trip to the United States seed bank in Geneva, New York. Scientists at the agricultural experiment station oversee an orchard housing hundreds of varieties of apples, from ancestral trees originating in Kazakhstan to modern cross-breeds with colorful names to new ideas, just fruiting from someone’s brainstorm and, besides a number, not yet bearing a name. My visit was only an afternoon long, but I tasted and recorded over 70 varieties, and since then have been, quite frankly, bored with any mainstream apple taste.
Farmer’s markets are the place to find unfamiliar names, to treat oneself to new tastes. If you’ve never had a nectarine, ditch the grocery and peruse the spread of a market during late- midsummer. I am still amazed at the number of people I see marveling at yellow carrots, at okra, at mushrooms that look more like milk-froth than our familiar ideas of fungus.. I began to frequent my own local market in earnest, searching for apples I’d never heard of, for tastes new and better than anything a store could sell.
Last summer, I had some luck introducing myself to late-summer types that I didn’t even know existed, having only had the fall-festival, u-pick sort of childhood exposure to apples. I’d fill up my bag with a few kinds from one vendor, a few from another, and head home to try them over the next few days, hoping for more the next week. I still hadn’t come upon anyone with a really impressive spread, though, until discovering what then was a diamond in the rough on the opposite side of the market- the side I usually avoided for its lack of vegetables (and abundance of tye-dye and yarn).
Aha! A vendor selling apples with names I’d never heard of, and more of them than anyone else. I went back to him again and again, and as August pressed on, asked for a job- and after some snafu regarding market schedules and school, had a position and a partner behind the table instead of as a customer in front. That fall, Matt and I sold up to 20 different varieties of apple, from crowd-pleasing Galas and Golden Delicious to smart-mouthed Jonathans, quirky Baldwins, elegant Winesaps and show-stealing Honeycrisps.
We won over regulars and as word traveled about our unusual crop, we developed a line. Newcomers and veterans showed up at the stand every week to try out another type of fruit, last time for a pie, this Saturday for applesauce, next week just for eating. Into November we sent people off with tastebuds set for another surprise. Sometimes I’d share in the tasting if Matt pulled the truck up with an apple neither I nor customer knew the flavor of. Sometimes Matt would send me home with a piece or two of a variety he didn’t have enough of to sell, but wanted me to try. I’m lucky- my library of flavor really grew.
This year, I started the market season much earlier than last, and I’ve gotten to try different sorts of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches- but I’ve been waiting for apple season and all the flavors one fruit has to offer. Our early offerings are starting to give way to the gems of the autumn months, Pristines allowing Golden Supremes to take their place on our display. Honeycrisp made their debut last week, and from here on out, our stand (and my senses) will only be more and more crowded.