Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Take me home country roads.....

Yesterday was an amazingly beautiful Fall day along the East Coast. Great day for a little drive. So, Karen and I decided to head down to Virginia and check out some apples.

I'm sure you've already got a few questions. 1) Aren't you from Hanover, so what home were those country roads taking you to and 2) Isn't Adams County, renowned for its apples, almost in your back yard?

So, here's the answer to question 1. If I had to have an adopted home, it would be northern and western Virginia. I spent my college years in Harrisonburg, VA attending James Madison University and cut my cooking teeth as a cook at Patrick O'Connell's Inn at Little Washington, so I've spent some time in VA. I'm not exactly sure why, but I really have an intense connection to Virginia, so I look at it with fond memories and as a second home. The simple beauty of the area is very inspiring.

Question 2. Yes, Adams County is bursting with apple orchards, however, we were in search of a specific variety: Arkansas Black. After a quick internet search, we found an orchard in, you guessed in, Flint Hill, VA that had a ton of fantastic Arkansas Black apples.

So, we jumped in the car and headed south. First stop, the Apple House in Linden, VA for barbeque and apple doughnuts. Simply amazing. The next stop for us was Moore's Orchard, just outside of Flint Hill. Moore's also happens to be the orchard where Laurence Gottlieb, former executive sous chef at The Inn at Little Washington, used to buy his apples for the Inn.

After a short conversation about Laurence and the Inn, we got down to business. I tasted the Arkansas Black(and wasn't disappointed that we drove 2.5 hours for this apple) and a Stayman and decided on a bushel of Blacks.

This pic isn't of a full bushel, I assure there are lots more apples than that!

So, why all the fuss about the Arkansas Black apple? Well, it's not so much about this particular variety,(I have a lot of love for honeycrisp, too) as it is about branching out and finding new varieties of apples. According to an article in Saveur magazine only 11 varieties of apples(out of an estimated 14,000) make up 90 percent of all apples consumed in the USA. So, we've seen a revolution with heirloom tomatoes over the past 10 years and I think apples are next. There are so many different varieties and each has its own distinct flavor profile and distinct usage. If you live anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic region and are buying Washington State apples from the grocery store, you should be ashamed of yourself. I've heard a lot recently about 'convenience' and how 'I just don't have time'....if you're in that group that doesn't make flavorful, sustainable food a priority in your life(eating REAL food isn't about elitism and doesn't have to be expensive, it's about priorities) and want to continue to buy flavorless, unripe food at the grocery store because you think it's easy, I can't help you and frankly, don't want to. If you wanna make it a priority to get good foodstuffs to your house for your family, let's talk.

TAKING CARE: We live in a world where we are constantly hearing news reports about millions of pounds of ground beef being recalled(can you actually fathom how much a million pounds of ground beef is, much less 44 million pounds....how many beef did that take?) or a salmonella outbreak in leafy greens or scallions. All of this leads me to the question: How much care is the factory farm industry taking with your food? You don't have to be a genius to know the answer to this question.

So, Andy, why are you getting on this soap box? Karen took the pic above and while it is an awesome shot, you can't see the huge smile on my face. Really, it's there. Why smile? As we decided on buying a bushel of Arkansas Blacks, I turned around and noticed that the lady who sold us the apples was taking each individual apple and placing it in a box for us. Why is this significant? Well, first, it was A LOT of apples. Second, she could have just dumped the basket into the box and have been done with it. Nope, she took(and I joined her for the second basket) each individual apple and placed it on newspaper, so that it wouldn't get bruised or damaged. She was TAKING CARE of the food. This wasn't something super soft like an ultra-ripe peach. They were apples. Tough apples. I got the feeling that she could have been selling anything, regardless of how soft it was, and she would have taken the same amount of time making sure it was properly placed in our container for transport. It was almost reverential. This experience leads me to the following questions. Do the people you buy your food from 'take care' of it? Do you 'take care' of it once you've gotten it home. Do you 'take care' of it while it's cooking? Do you take the time to savor it once it's on the plate?

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