My Favorite Heirloom Apples, How to Ripen Pears & the Incandescent Quince

My Favorite Heirloom Apples, How to Ripen Pears & the Incandescent Quince

The Fall fruit has been slow to ripen this year, due most likely to the mixed blessing of an unusually cool and foggy Summer. But now it is ON, and we are harvesting the pomme fruit bounty.

I just put up new autumnal fresh fruit for sale on our web store:
an heirloom apple sampler, a gourmet pear box, individual apple varieties, quince, and the very first few figs, all for pickup at the farm.

If you are interested in shipped pomme fruit boxes elsewhere in the country, please get in touch.

A Completely Biased and Subjective List of My Favorite Apples and a Few Other Wonderful Autumnal Fruits

There are over 7500 varieties of apples worldwide according to some, 30K if you listen to others, and a few thousand of them are grown in the United States. With that many options, no one will ever be able to objectively name The Best Apples. Growing conditions, time of harvest, and length of time in storage merely complicate matters of taste.

But if you have only ever had supermarket apples, and think Honeycrisp is as good as it gets, then try some lesser known heirloom varieties this year for a wonderful taste explosion of alternatives. 

I have planted over 50 varieties at our farm, and from this small sampling a few clear winners are emerging, in terms of taste, health and abundance of the harvest. So in no particular order, here are some apples I have grown to love. For those of you looking for an apple to plant at your home, keep in mind that our farm is in zone 9b, close to the coast, and in a particularly cool little valley. YMMV.

Cox Orange Pippin
The classic and most famous of English dessert apples, Cox’s Orange Pippin is the most delicious apple on the planet according to its many many fans. It has citrus, melon and pears notes that make most other apples taste one dimensional.

The Wickson is technically a crab apple, but unlike most crabs, it is not obnoxiously bitter and tannic. The Wickson is a perfect blend of sweet and tart in a tiny bite sized package. The small size leads to my pet name for them, Fairy Apples, and they are particularly well liked by kids for their manageable size.  The trees are extremely generous and easy to grow as well.

Hudson’s Golden Gem
A gem of an apple indeed, with a striking conical shape, even golden russeting, and crisp white flesh reminescent of pears. This is a small and handsome tree, that fits well into a suburban backyard.

Ashmead’s Kernel
Maybe the ugliest apple I grow. Also slow to bear fruit and not a reliable cropper. But the flavor is OMG amazing and unlike any other apple, with notes of hazelnuts, citrus, pear and caramel.

Cinnamon Spice
Yes! This apple really tastes like cinnamon and spice, with a satisfyingly crisp white flesh as well.

Roxbury Russet
An exceptionally tangy sweet flavor hiding underneath their rough and less than perfect exteriors, this variety will keep in the fridge all winter.

Orleans Reinette
The flavor is similar to sweet oranges, tangerines, or other citrus, and has a nutty finish. It also looks straight out of a Renaissance painting.

Strawberry Parfait
Just look at that crazy red and white marbled flesh, it's amazing, and it does taste like strawberries as well. This is a very early season apple, and a nice treat in August before most pomme fruits are ripe.


How to Pick, Cure and Ripen the Perfect Pear

Pears, for the most part, do NOT ripen properly on the tree. The reason is that pears mature from the inside out, so when the outside looks ripe, the inside is usually mushy and rotting.

Pears must be picked at the mature stage. You can recognize this stage when the first few fruits naturally fall from the tree, and the remaining fruits can easily be detached from the tree by lifting them gently at a 90 degree angle from the branch.

Pears are then put into cold storage for 2-4 weeks. Your refrigerator is fine for cold storage. This is called curing.  When the curing phase is done, take pears out of the fridge, and let them sit on the counter for 5 days or so until they give a little when pressed at the top where the stem was attached. You can also leave pears in your fridge for months with little decline in quality, and take them out a few days before you’d like to eat them.

And what are the best pears? Warrens, without a doubt. Warrens are the most famous of gourmet dessert pears, and hands down my favorites. When perfectly cured and ripened, they have melting flesh with no graininess, and complex flavors of honey, caramel, melon and almond.

Quince, that Weirdo Brilliant Cousin of the Pomme Fruit Family

Quince are the weirdos of the pommes compared to more commonly known apples and pears. They must be cooked to be eaten, and they are so well worth it, with a unique flavor of pineapple, lemons and spices. Quince can be turned into jam, quince butter, membrillo quince paste, pies and more, but my favorite way to eat them is roasted with sweet potatoes, red onion, rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Traditionally, almost every rural family had a fruiting quince tree they relied on for medicine, pectin, and fragrant, long-lasting fruits that keep for 3-4 months in cold storage or a refrigerator, and are delightfully fragrant when left on the counter to soften.

The Aromatanaya variety is among the best of thousands of varieties from the Black Sea region of Russia and Turkey.


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