Have y'all ever heard of and/or had a Honeycrisp apple?
Now, comin' from the Golden Corner of South Carolina, where apple orchards abounded, I thought I'd probably seen the best fresh, handpicked apples of my lifetime back in college when each year we'd pick an October Saturday and drive across the state line just into North Carolina and the beautiful Smokey Mountains, and wind along the climbing highway, gazing out at valleys full of fiery red, orange and yellow foliage then stop on the roadside to purchase some freshly pressed cider and a little basket of firm, tart apples to savor in the cooling Autumn air.
But I'm here to tell you I was wrong.
When our first October on the prairie dawned extra brisk and even snowy last year, I listened hard and learned, as the corn talk died down and apple talk took its place. My sweet neighbor Katie (who remains stalwart in her cheerfulness and patience with my Southern cluelessness about all things Midwestern) took me aside and explained to me about apples. Her lesson basically concluded with this refrain: It isn't an apple unless it's a Honeycrisp.
I was skeptical. I'd been raised on Galas and Jonagolds and they were both perfect to me in their balance of tart and sweetness. One crunchy bite of a good specimen of either could make me well up with nostalgia for my Southland, no matter where I was. And they made great baking apples, too. Nope, I didn't need to try anything else, I knew where I'd come from and nobody could tell ME anything new about apples. My hackles were up for a good while.
Sadly, I am a woman with a tragically unteachable spirit, y'all.
But one day at my local grocery store I ran across a display of Honeycrisps. They were so shiny and pretty! A little golden, a little green and a little red, all brought together in a marblized effect on one solid, big, firm, lovely piece of fruit. Bean squealed with delight Appoooos Mama! Appooos! and, feeling magnanimous toward Bean and intrigued by Katie's unwavering Honeycrisp loyalty (much as I hated to admit it to myself, being unteachable and all), I picked up a couple of them and put them in our cart. We brought them home and Bean and I cut one up to have with our lunch that day.
Heavens to Betsy!
One bite revealed a crispness I'd normally ascribe to an underripe and therefore extra tart specimen of my beloved Galas. This was the kind of crispness that usually accompanies a dryness that almost seems to suck back at your mouth in bitter search of moisture to quench itself. But the Honeycrisp's crispness isn't dry like that. The peel of this apple is like the taught rubber of an inflated water balloon, and when a Honeycrisp balloon breaks, you do indeed get splashed. With apple juice! The juice experience is actually not applelike at all. It's peachlike. Like it runs down your chin and maybe onto your arms and down to your elbows. Seriously. How many times have you needed more than one napkin when eating even a really GREAT apple?
And the flavor? So very sweet. But balanced with a gentle tartness. The Perfect Marriage of Flavors. Yes, like honey, in that it's a floral sweet, but then ... citrusy, somehow. Yes, a citrusy, honey peach of an apple.
Bean and I each gobbled up our halves that day and wanted more. The next day, I went back to that same store and bought a huge bag, then several more bags before the short season ended. I never convinced Al to try one last season - he's an apple pie man, but not a plain old raw apple eater. But last week I saw the first of the Honeycrisps at the store and seized a huge bagful to bring home. Al grabbed one out of desperation on his way out the door to catch a flight and called me later from his hotel when he got in. The first thing out of his mouth was, "Where did you get those APPLES in the fruitbowl? That was the BEST APPLE I've EVER had in my whole life!" And he continues to rave over them. Now that three of us love to munch away at then any time of the day, I'm finding it hard to keep us stocked up.
So I guess what I'm saying is, if you haven't had a Honeycrisp, see if you can find some. My very limited research online reveals that they are, in fact, now grown in the Golden Corner (although I think the season is all but over down there now). But don't allow yourself to get hooked unless you know you'll have a steady supply, because once you've tried one, you're gonna want to have plenty on hand.
(And yes, they are excellent baking apples, too. It's just that they're never around long enough for that, at my house.)