Saturday, September 20, 2014

Vermont Man Saves, Promotes Apple Varieties That Actually Taste Good

Ezekiel Goodband of the Scott Farm in
Dummerston, Vermont is saving heirloom
apple varieties, thank goodness.  
NPR last week had a great profile of a guy named  Ezekiel Goodband, the apple orchard manager of Scott Farm in Dummerston, Vermont.   

He's fighting a (possibly winning) battle to stamp out those huge, perfect, beautifully red, but hideous tasting apples that are basically all you can buy in most supermarkets nowadays.

According to The Atlantic, Red Delicious has been the variety of apples most likely to appear on supermarket shelves in recent decades.

The problem with Red Delicious is they taste the opposite of delicious. They're gross.

Red Delicious became all about marketing, and not about how the fruit actually tasted.  They stayed pretty even after traveling across the country. They enticed people with their perfection as they languished on supermarket shelves.

The Atlantic discussed this with Tom Burford, 79, author of "Apples of North America."

"By the time selective breeding had taken its toll, according to Burford, a few big nurseries controlled the market, planting decisions were made from the remove of boardrooms, and consumers didn't have many varieties to choose from. The Red Delicious became 'the largest compost-maker in the country,' he said, as shoppers bought the apples and threw them away."

Red Delicious tastes as good as cardboard that's been sitting at the municipal landfill for a couple weeks. But who cares if large scale agribusiness can make lots of money by foisting this poor excuse for an apple on us, and giving us no tasty alternatives?

Goodband, the apple guy from Dummerston, Vermont,  is going backward in time to bring us the awesome apples our ancestors used to eat.  He has the gall to want to provide tasty fruit, even if it can only come in limited quantities.

His timing might be very good, as people are finally rejecting Red Delicious in America. (Growers are passing them off to foreign markets, and forcing these awful apples on unsuspecting people in Asia)

The apples Goodband breeds might be ugly, or spotted, or visually iffy, so maybe they're not great if you want to market a beautiful supermarket display of inedible apples.

However, these heirloom apples apparently taste AWESOME. After hearing the NPR story, I want to drive down to Dummerston and sample the apples on the Scott Farm.

Too bad Dummerston is on the exact opposite side of Vermont from me so it's a three hour drive. But knowing the organic, traditional, old fashioned foodie type experimentation a lot of Vermont farmers are into, I bet I can find something approximating the Scott Farm close to me.

I'll sure try.

Judging from the NPR report, Goodban seems like a really interesting guy. Says NPR:

"He's spent decades carefully grafting and tending historic varieties - some of which date back hundreds of years."

".....Goodband is helping to preserve historic varieties like the Knobbed Russet that have been handed down over the centuries. Like farmers for generations before him, he painstakingly collected cuttings and grafted them to root stock. That's the only way to do it, to keep the exact DNA of these apples alive.

'It's sort of like a chain letter, and I like that connection,' he says."

I'll also let Goodband and NPR explain why it's important to keep these heirloom apple varieties around.

".....He's not interested in apples designed to travel well for long distances. His is small-batch agriculture, sold locally. His apples cost more than conventional fruit, but Goodban only growns fruit that delights him.

'I've got to be dazzled,' he says, and, he wants his customers to be dazzled, too.

He hopes to reintroduce people to fruit that customers might remember their grandparents growing. Or to introduce them for the first time to fruit that doesn't make it to stores because it doesn't shop well or because it is only at its peak for a week or two. This, he says, is the experience he's looking for.

'When I give people one of these apples, they'll come back next week and say, 'Oh, that was the best apple I've ever had in my life. I didn't know apples could taste like that."

Maybe, just maybe, Goodband might help rid the world of the scourge named Red Delicious.

Then maybe we can start on other produce in grocery stores that's pretty, but disgusting to eat. Wouldn't that be cool.

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