Before “farm-to-table” was a culinary craze, it was simply the way everyone ate. Today’s discriminating eaters may be hyper-aware of where their food comes from, but do they know how it got there? How do farmers select their crops? Why do chefs choose a particular variety of fruit or fowl? In this occasional series we talk to producers and chefs to see how food gets from Farm to Restaurant. In this installment: the Melrose Apple.
Growers Bill and Barbara Spencer, Windrose Farm, Paso Robles, CA.
The Spencers’ Melrose apple trees were first purchased from Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery, now an heirloom nursery called Trees of Antiquity.
“For heirlooms, patience really pays off. For about eight years, this apple was pretty nondescript and we were asking ourselves, “why did we plant this?” All of a sudden, it got comfortable and really showed its character and true qualities, and it’s really beautiful. It is one of the most perfect apples we’ve seen, it should be much better known and much more planted. It’s a Jonathan and Red Delicious cross, and has a lovely red-green, medium-to-large bush. It is a true multipurpose apple that is excellent to both eat and cook with. Plus, its flavors really improve with storage; it stores just beautifully.
The Melrose apple is sweet with a little tartness; so not as sweet as a Fuji or Gala, but you can give it to someone who wants a Fuji and they will be pleased with the sweetness, or you can give it to someone who wants a McIntosh and they’ll be happy too, as it has some of both of their qualities. People often come back immediately after buying and eating one at the market and ask for it again.”
Gary Menes, Marche
Speck with Shaved Melrose Apples, Pecorino, and Arugula
“I was introduced to Melrose apples when going to Barbara’s stand. They have a number of good items–Bella de Boskoop, Smokehouse– eight or more apples usually at a time. This one just had the right flavor profile that I was looking for. It’s both savory and sweet. And they’re nice and crisp, so they have good structure to use raw, and a great acidity-to-sugar ratio to cook with. And the skin is really good too, kind of like a plum’s. These apples are like a great glass of wine, just perfectly balanced. I have used them in many different dishes. And once Windrose is out of apples, I’m done using apples. Just like when they’re done with potatoes, I’m done using potatoes.”
Amy Sweeney, Ammo
Wood-Oven Roasted Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Melrose apples, on green beans and baby potatoes
“We’ve been shopping with Bill and Barbara at The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market for years and were introduced to the apple when we had a recent Farm-to-Table dinner with them at Ammo. It is a wonderfully crisp and tart apple, and it’s incredibly versatile and very complex. It’s tart, but with a subtle sweetness that really lends itself to the pork. And the crispness stands up so well to the caramelizing. We start by poaching them in apple juice and then caramelizing them in butter. In fact, our most popular drink is an apple-lemon ginger juice and we’ve just started using the Melrose apple in it, starting this past weekend.”