by JiJi Russell
Apples: one fine reason to look forward to autumn in Clarke County. Offering one of the most delicious bounties of the Shenandoah Valley, these nutritional powerhouses are touted for their phytonutrients, which help with blood sugar regulation; their good fiber content; and, of course, their texture and taste.
A member of the rose family, apples are grown in every U.S. state, making them the third most important fruit for the U.S. economy behind grapes and oranges, according to Hungry History, a history.com website.
We are lucky to live in a historically relevant place for apple growing and to have access to a range of varieties, which populate local stands from about late August to early November. I recently spoke with Bill Mackintosh, who along with his wife Lori operates Mackintosh Fruit Farm in Berryville, about varietal highlights for the area. He brims with enthusiasm on the topic of apples and their unique characteristics.
Mackintosh Fruit Farm kicks off the apple harvest with Ginger Gold apples, an early golden type that was discovered as a fluke by Clyde and Ginger Harvey after a severe hurricane hit central Virginia in 1969. According to Mackintosh, who also consults for orchard growers in Central Virginia, the Ginger Gold was not offered commercially until about 1983 or ‘84. “It’s crisp, with a great balance of acid and sugar,” Mackintosh said. “And, when you cut it and put it on the table, it doesn’t brown.” Mackintosh said his late mother used Ginger Golds to make a delicious, light-colored apple sauce.
Any guesses on the number one variety for Mackintosh Fruit Farm? Honeycrisp. “It is pretty unique,” Mackintosh said. “The cell structure is larger than any other apple, so when you bite into it, that’s what gives it the crunch.” Mackintosh believes that the best Honeycrisp apples grown nationwide hail from Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, due to the calcium content in the soil and irrigation water.
Says Mackintosh: “I’m stepping out on a limb here: Washington State can grow a beautiful apple, but when they try to grow the Honeycrisp, they just can’t do it.”
Another advocate for the Honeycrisp is Jamie Cox, who has been working with the owners of Nalls Farm Market in Berryville since 2001. Cox, a long-time friend of the Nalls family, said: “I can sell Honeycrisp till I’m blue in the face. It’s my favorite. Definitely.”
Nalls sells nearly 20 varieties of apples throughout the growing season, with most of the produce arriving from Marker-Miller orchard in Winchester. According to owner David Nalls, Marker-Miller has been operated by the same family for close to 100 years.
At Nalls Farm Market store on Route 7 and Chilly Hollow Road, employees and customers can view a chart which rates each apple varietal by “taste,” “eating,” “pies,” “sauce,” and “baking.”
David Nalls’ favorite, the Nittany, rivals the Honeycrisp for high customer marks at the farm market. And both get “very good” or “excellent” ratings for each criterion on the apple chart.
As for the Galas, a ubiquitous supermarket variety: “We have a beautiful crop this year,” Mackintosh said. The crop should bear at the tail end of August.
In fact, both Mackintosh and Nalls see signs of a great year for apples overall. It has to do with weather, primarily. There were no late frosts and no severe storms with hail, which can devastate crops.
Other local varieties include Jonagold and Criterion, a new variety for Mackintosh Fruit Farm. “It’s a golden type, with a sun blush on it. It’s crisp, very mild, very sweet . . . almost like a sweeter version of Honeycrisp,” Mackintosh said. The Criterion comes in around the third week of September, followed by Fuji, then Pink Lady, the latter making “a fantastic pie,” according to Mackintosh.
If you want your farmer to attest authentically to the wares he or she peddles, consider that Bill Mackintosh has been doing his share of sampling further south in Virginia this season, where the trees already are bearing. “I’ve been living on apples, probably up to 10 per day,” he said.
Check both Nalls and Mackintosh’s web site for events and information. This year, Mackintosh will host a Honeycrisp Festival on September 5, from 8am till 6pm.
JiJi Russell, a yoga instructor and Integrative Nutrition health coach, manages the corporate wellness program for American Public University System in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get Them Apples In Clarke County!
Mackintosh Fruit Farm
1608 Russell Rd., Berryville
Nalls Farm Market
4869 Harry Byrd Hwy. (Rte. 7), Berryville
Clarke County Farmers Market
Frederick County and Winchester, our Apple Blossom Neighbors to the west, offer a multitude of apple growers and outlets, including Marker-Miller Orchards: www.markermillerorchards.com, and Rinker Orchards in Stephens City: www.rinkerorchards.com.