Washington’s state fruit is the apple for a reason. The mix of cold winters, hot summers, and low humidity is hospitable to apples — but not to the diseases that might otherwise require pesticides. It makes Washington prime territory for growing classic varieties and experimenting with new breeds.
“We’re looking for things that eat a lot better than Honeycrisp,” says Tom Auvil, a research horticulturist with Washington’s Tree Fruit Research Commission, on the subject of breeding new apples. Right now, people love the Honeycrisp, but genetically it’s a hard apple to grow and even more difficult to store. Auvil and Kate Evans, an apple breeder at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, are most excited about the Cosmic Crisp, a variety with a bit more acidity, which drives flavor throughout the storage season. Evans offers tasting notes: “Consistent, excellent taste, very crisp and very juicy, nice depth to flavor, good level of acidity and sweetness. Very satisfying crunch, plenty of juice. Good apple flavor.”
But the public has to wait to try it: Cosmic Crisp won’t make it to market until 2019. Auvil suggests trying the Pazazz, which is similar to a Honeycrisp, in the meantime. Auvil and Ryan Fitzsimmons, a produce expert for Washington Whole Foods, both also rave about the Opal, a yellow-fleshed fruit that Fitzsimmons says “bursts with flavor” and is available at select locations in the winter. He also recommends looking out for the Orleans Reinette, an heirloom variety that’s orangey with hints of walnut.
But more than anything, he suggests finding a produce associate and having them walk around and let you taste each apple. “There’s no one apple type that everybody likes,” Evans says. Unlike bananas or strawberries, where consumers tend to share the same idea of what makes one the best, apple eaters have varied tastes. All three apple experts agree that apple varieties are getting better and better — adding more flavor and keeping crisp and sweet throughout the year — and offer the same advice to shoppers: try something new.
When it comes to buying honey, the most important piece of advice Kathy Cox offers is to buy it at a farmers market. A beekeeper (both as a career and hobby) for more than a decade and a trustee of the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, Cox emphasizes the importance of tasting honey before buying, something not possible at the grocery store.
Cox’s favorite is blackberry honey, which is a bit darker than the white, light clover (another common local honey), and the distinct flavor pairs well with apples. “All honey is different,” she explains. Even the same wildflower honey will change with each season. Most farmers market honey will also be raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized, meaning “none of the good stuff is strained out of it.” The bits of pollen add flavor, protein, and health benefits to honey.
But for all the claims about the antibiotic, anti-allergen, and antiseptic qualities of honey, the bee population itself isn’t so healthy. Last year, beekeepers reported a 44 percent loss of bees nationwide. Years ago, a 3–5 percent loss was considered bad. To deal with the new reality of fast-disappearing honeybees, scientists at WSU have resorted to bringing in frozen bee sperm from European bees to save the local population. “We don’t have the diversity of genes necessary,” Cox says.
Since bees were already non-native, the scientists brought in new species for both the diversity and specific characteristics, like a black bee from Ireland suited to wetter climates. But the process of breeding the bees is a slow one that just began last year. In the meantime, Cox believes that backyard beekeepers can save the population. Anyone can do his or her part in encouraging a bee-friendly environment: simply plant flowers, especially ones that bloom in early fall, and water them.
- 60 percent of the American apple crop comes from Washington.
- Every Washington apple is picked by hand.
- Just like you, apples can get sunburned.
- It takes 20 years to get a new apple variety to market.
- Apples likely originated in Central Asia, along the Silk Route, with a species called Malus sieversii.
- Apples are heterozygous: every apple seed is genetically unique.
- Early Americans used crab apples for hard cider, the country’s unofficial national beverage until Prohibition.
- Steve Jobs named his company Apple after working in Oregon orchards, when he was on a “fruitarian diet.”
- Bees aren’t native to the Northwest and were once called “white man’s fly.”
- The inside of a bee hive is 93.5˚.
- Crystallized honey was found in the ancient Egyptian pyramids.
- Even though the bee is not a kosher animal, pure honey without additives is a de facto kosher product.
- Honeybees pollinate 80 percent of US seed and vegetable crops — one-third of the human diet.
- In April, Gov. Jay Inslee welcomed 30,000 honeybees to new hives around the governor’s mansion.
- You can survive on what’s found in a beehive: the honey itself is a carb, and the pollen is a protein.
- When sealed, honey never goes bad.
7,000 Flavors and Then Some
Thousands of apple varieties exist beyond the supermarket standard bearers, and local honey is abundant. Peruse your local farmers market for some new finds.
At least 300 years old, the Gravenstein lives on the West Coast and in Eastern Washington. This aromatic apple has a short shelf life and is good for baking.
The cross between a Gala and an Akane apple, the Sansa is a good eating apple, similar to a Gala with slightly more acidic notes.
Found wild near Aberdeen, the Wynoochee is sweet-tart and is similar to a Honeycrisp. Recognize it by its cute doughnut shape.
4. Mountain Wildflower Raw Honey
Light and complex, from the nectar of flowers and herbs in the Mount Baker foothills. Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls
5. Chamisa Raw Honey
Reminiscent of chocolate and cinnamon, from the nectar of native rabbit brush in southern Washington. K Brothers Pollination & Honey
6. Blue Mountains Wildflower Raw Honey
Floral, from the nectar of arnica, snowberry, and yellow star thistle around Richland. K Brothers Pollination & Honey