Apples, Mottles & Dapples

  March 2nd, 2008

Starkey Apple

Give me more pocks. Give me the ones with maps on their skins. Give me the ones that wear freckles, nodes, weird sinkholes & dimples. Give me anything but plastic, smooth, resiny, Red Delicious lacquer. Give me fewer apples, give me more mottles and dapples.

They feel better in my palm. That satisfying gruffness of texture. Greeting the hand like a wool mitten. Supermarket Granny Smiths are inert in the palm like a cold steel handle.

The first few times I visited the Inwood farmer’s market, I made my new friends: the Golden Russet, The Stayman Winesap, the mysterious apples with only 3 digit numbers for names. I’d recently read Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, still wild over the part where he visits the apple orchard to end all apple orchards: some vast biteable catalogue of endless variety & shape, with apples little bigger than walnuts, apples that tasted like oranges and pears, apples with strange wild feral flavors and wrinkled skins like prunes (I’m paraphrasing loosely from memory). And now here they were in front of me, cousins of the ones he’d written of, heaped pell-mell in wooden crates, stems still on, cratered, pitted, unkempt and brazen. Their supermarket sisters elsewhere in tidy rows, tired and vacant like well-dressed children on SSRIs.

I walked the market stand, watched them. Every one was a personality. Some sassy ones, some cowed ones, some martyrs, some firebrands, some braggarts. One had what looked like a bad rash. Little peppery indentations tinged red around the stem. I was afraid to bite it. And when I did I saw that the red had suffused the white flesh beneath, as if a wound. My girlfriend told me later that hail could cause this, when the apple was first forming. The taste was unaffected, but watching the subterranean patterns formed by the hailrash transformed how I ate. I marveled at the designs while I chewed, seeing the pink wound-roots of this apple’s history.

Golden Russet Apple

Golden Russet became my favorite. Its flavor was crisp and subtle and always only flirted with sour and sweet, could never commit, just weaved around taste buds leaving trails of honey and almond and walnut behind. It clove in even wedges from the tooth, as if built for biting. I can imagine its taste and touch now, as vividly as when I had one months ago, which I almost can never do with food.

Mottles and dapples, so many of them. Those weird magic blends of flavors, complex and lingering, all bred away to the blunt blow on the tongue of Red Delicious and Granny Smiths. And all that rich wild topography of appleskin sieved and filtered and winnowed down to familiar cheap flashy supermarket wax-sheen.

I had always thought all this was silly. People crowing about varieties of apple, squash, oyster. Wine. Whatever. Seemed indulgent, idle, snobbish. Neo-hippyish and offensively granola. Ponytailed prissiness. But then you taste or experience something that wakes you up. Makes you revel in your senses, reminds you you have a tongue, a nose, sense organs built to know and hold so much more than you had realized was out there.

Like when you first try yoga and you feel some weird part of your back or thigh light up and crackle with pain-pleasure, some backwoods territory of your body you never even knew existed. And you stop, you take a breath, and you think: “shit, I live in this thing, and how much of it am I really aware of?” Even a lowly little apple can make you feel the same way, can cause you to marvel at how broad sensory experience can be and how much within it there is to sample — and how much of it that unpredictable variety people actively seek to curtail.

Nature is so vast, yet we choose to cull and promote such a small swath of it. As if resenting its enormity, its reckless variety. Whether it’s flowers, tomatoes, apples, anything that can grow and be consumed — we try to control and shape and create a demand, and anything wild and untameable & strange — anything that isn’t easily marketable — we shove away until we forget it ever existed. It’s part of what we do as humans, and must do — and at its best, it’s a beautiful act of harmonious tending and shaping (think Bonsai). At its worst, it’s petty and fearful; small-minded and profit-thralled.

We think we know Nature, its growths and types & creatures and patterns, but none of us ever will, even those of us who want to. Most of us only know the safe and manageable images of it we’ve created from it or forced upon it. Like growing up thinking all deers are Bambis, all elephants Dumbos, and only animals in cute hallmark cards are worth trying to save.

Broken Tulip Unbroken Tulip Broken Tulip
(broken) (unbroken) (broken)

Nature will save itself. Nature always innovates — in flower terms, “breaks” — whether tulip or apple or superflu. It wreaks wildness out of the shapes we impose, expect, plan for. And this is why we love it and are troubled by it. Its gorgeous chaos & defiance.
C. Way/ © 2008

[posted by C Way at 9:56 PM]


[file under: Culinary Arts ||| non-fiction & essays ]

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