An heirloom apple in Big Jones’ kitchen isn’t news in and of itself – we use almost exclusively antique apples. The one exception to this is the exquisite Williams Pride Apple, a 1987 Midwestern apple that I love for its snow white flesh streaked crimson and crisp, sweet/acid balance. Our typical stock apples are the Red Cortland (1915) and Northern Spy (ca. 1830.) What is news today are two really cool (and old!) antique apples to which we’ve recently gained access, with more on the way.
Calville Blanc d’Hiver was developed in France in 1598 and is still in demand amongst the 3-Starred Michelin chefs in that country, even as it languishes in obscurity in other parts of the world. One taste, and it’s obvious why top-flight pastry chefs in France still demand this particular fruit – it’s crisp yet yielding, with lots of acid (more vitamin C than oranges!) and great sweetness supporting exotic banana and tropical fruit aromas. Wowza. I think this one calls for strudel, which I can assure you is Southern as fried chicken, citing the historic German settlements in Dutch Fork, SC and St. Charles Parish, LA. I promise photos (and maybe a recipe) as things take shape. The skin is avocado green with a beautiful red blush, and the flesh is yellow as a banana, preparing you visually for the delightful aroma as you crunch into your first bite. It was surely among the apples planted with the first French settlements in Canada and more importantly for us, the South.
The Fameuse, or “Royal Snow” apple was developed in Quebec around 1740, and it is hard to believe that this apple isn’t in high demand today. Pint-sized by apple standards, but beautifully formed with a crisp skin that resists insect and worm spotting, it has a great winey taste and medium-grained texture that makes it versatile for cooking, fresh eating, or cider. The name comes from the arctic-white flesh; it’s the whitest apple flesh upon which I have ever gazed. I think this is at its best right off the tree as an eating apple, but look for it in salads at Big Jones soon.
Each day I continue my search for crops that fed us before the industrialization of food so I can bring them to your table. As modernist cuisine continues to develop, to me the most exciting aspect has been the renewed interest in heritage crops and livestock. The cooking techniques may be modern and the future unfolds every day, but our ingredients can be a link to our collective history, a celebration of our heritage, and fuel for our souls.