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An Apple Renaissance

Everywhere I go lately there are apples. When I walk down the dirt roads of the university research farm, apple trees with glowing fruit of pink and purple. When I walk through the produce section at the co-op, apples from all over the Pacific Northwest. When I sit down for a meal with friends or family, apple crisp for dessert. When I step out of my car at work, decomposing apples squishing under my feet. Apples. Everywhere.

As someone who is privileged* enough to eat local and seasonal food, there are many food that I await with anxious anticipation: the first tomato, ripe berries, all of the peppers. But I have to admit that I never await the arrival of fall apples in this way.

Spitzenberg, McIntosh, and Airlie Apples

It’s not that I don’t love apples. I do. Maybe my lack of excitement comes from the time in my life when apples were a mainstay in my mother’s fridge, but they were always mediocre and required 2 (well, let’s be honest 3-4) spoonfuls of peanut butter for palatable consumption. After the past few years of living in the PNW I’ve become more accustomed to the seasonal, local, utterly abundant apples that thrive in this region, but ‘ve never found much excitement in them either.

And then I met the Airlie apple.

It happened just this weekend, at the Corvallis Saturday farmers market. While meandering through the booths in a post-run vivacity that characterizes many of my Saturdays, I paused to sample a few pre-cut apples. As I turned to the nest plate to my right, I laid eyes on the most beautiful apple I have ever seen. Smooth russet-yellow skin covering an interior so bright in magenta color that it gave the apples a blushing appearance when whole, and turned them to pure magic once cut.

Jack and I were both taken, and quickly maneuvered into a conversation with the farmer, Ian, who runs Silvernail Farm and Orchard. After a bit of small talk and some introductions, Ian told us the history of this most beautiful fruit. Here’s an excerpt from the farm’s website:

“This variety was discovered as a seedling tree in the 1960s just a few miles down the road from our farm in the community of Airlie. Bite into an Airlie Red apple and you will be surprised to discover not only bright pink flesh, but a delicious and unique taste. Sweet and tart with hints of berries, this apple lends itself well to fresh eating, cooking, and cider making.”

(You can check out the farm for yourself here:

Check out them apples.

Hearing the ultra-local origin story of this apple only cemented my newfound love further and I left the market with several apples in my bag, dreaming up all of the bright red desserts I could bake. Later in the day I realized I was still basking in the joy of having access to a food that is so unique to the region in which I live.

The “local” food movement, like its predecessors “organic” and “natural,” is well on its way to being co-opted by the marketing departments of larger food conglomerates. It’s not surprising that this is the case, given the challenges in actually defining what “local” means. But when something like the Airlie apple shows up there is no doubt that it is a regionally defined food, a specialty product in the style of wine grapes and Iberian ham.

My discovery of the Airlie coincided with breaking news in the world of tree fruit: the upcoming release of the Cosmic Crisp apple. This is the latest varietal release out of Washington State University, and its anticipated to be the “next big apple.” There is a lot to be excited about for the Crimson Crisp (check out this article from WSU: (

I couldn’t help but notice the vast differences between these two apples. The Airlie was discovered and is sold locally, with trees confined to just a few orchards near the Willamette valley. It keeps for just about 6 weeks, and you can buy it at the Corvallis farmers market or the co-op in town.

On the other hand, breeding for the Cosmic Crisp began in 1997 at Washington State University. It is a hybrid of two other very popular apples, and can be stored for up to 12 months. There are 12 million trees of this variety planted already, and a $10.5 million budget for marketing this apple to consumers.

I suspect when I do first encounter the Cosmic Crisp (and you know I’m excited to try an apple that was 22 years in the making) that there will be a little “local” sign attached to it. Washington is less than 100 miles from my home, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to label it that way. It does get me thinking about the spirit of the local food movement, however, and I think the comparison between the two apples can summarize why.

If it isn’t clear yet, I’ll announce that I’m having an apple renaissance this year. Send me all your good pie recipes, and if you need me you’ll find me off in some orchard.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the local food movement. What does it mean to you? Would you pick local over organic? What do you think of “local seed”?

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