One of the biggest casualties in the industrialization of apple growing in this country is the disappearance of russeted apple varieties from market bins. While russeted potatoes and russeted pears like the Bosc are still found appealing, it is probably because they are typically totally covered with russeting. Apples varieties that exhibit russeting on the other hand tend to do so in random, splotchy patterns, - and some look downright gnarly - which doesn’t appeal to several generations that are used to buying shiny red, yellow, and green apples. On the rare occasions that I have seen a typically russeted apple such as Cox’s Orange Pippin - England’s most popular apple - in a market in this country they were always russet free. This is truly sad because many of these are some of the most flavorful apples in the world.
Many of the russeted varieties seem to arrive late in the growing season here in the Pacific Northwest, and this weekend I found four of them – Cox’s Orange Pippin (top left) Ashmead’s Kernel (top right) both from Booth Canyon Orchard; Karamijn de Sonneville (bottom left ) from Jones Farm; and White Winter Pearmain (bottom right) from Grouse Mountain Farm. They all have dense, crisp yellow-white to yellow flesh and a sweet/tart profile that typically leans slightly in one direction or the other, but not right in the middle. Many russets have an appealing 'dry' texture. The russeting seems to add to the aromatic complexity of the flavor of these apples, and a certain amount of spiciness - the Winter Pearmains from Grouse Mountain Farm had a distinctive note of hazelnut on the finish. Usually good 'keepers,' many of the russeted varieties also tend to develop even more flavor in storage, and they are all just as good for cooking as they are for eating out of hand. The Cox’s Orange Pippin, Ashmead’s Kernel and White Winter Pearmain are all old varieties originally from England while the Karamijn is a relatively new variety developed in the Netherlands. I strongly urge you to seek out some gnarly, misshapen russeted apples in your local farmers’ market.