Dabbling in apples

Name that apple …

Name that apple …

In his 2002 agri-historical hit The Botany of Desire, author Michael Pollan took readers on a journey to the wild apple groves of Kazakhstan, where thousands of varieties grow and drop many colors of fruit to the forest floor each fall. Pollan explained how this unique ecosystem has provided humans with long-lasting favorite varieties—trees bearing large or especially sweet fruits and that appeared as chance seedlings; upon discovering them, admirers borrowed branches, grafted them onto existing trees, gave them names and thus gave rise to cultivars. The Fuji, golden delicious, Granny Smith and, so help us, red delicious were born by similar chains of events, and each has since fanned out across the Earth in clonelike armies of trees.

Thankfully, smaller farmers still dabble in smaller apples. Outside of Dixon on Coco Ranch, Greg and Jennifer House grow 32 acres of organic Sommerfeld, Mutsu, Braeburn, pink lady and gala apples, among other varieties.

In Sonoma County, Ratzlaff Ranch produces Gravenstein, Roman beauty, Jonathon and several more varieties, and crushes most into juice. The Ratzlaffs, whose apples can be found at the Davis Farmers Market all winter courtesy of long-term cold-storage, once tried growing apples organically, but farmer Ken Ratzlaff says that worm damage was almost unbearably devastating; they resumed conventional pest-poisoning techniques after several years. Jennifer House acknowledges that the codling moth may plant squirming worms in every apple of an unprotected orchard, but she and her husband, Greg, have mastered the rough road to certified organic apples through integrated pest management.

Pollan told us in The Botany of Desire that the apple won its way into hearts with its sugar, but he also speculated that an influencing force may have been ethanol. This lovable molecule comes easily from the apple. Just ask Ratzlaff, a Seventh-day Adventist who says he does his darndest to keep his juice from turning.

But those keen on getting buzzed now and then might buy an unpasteurized gallon of Ratzlaff’s juice this week, loosen the cap and allow 10 days for the miraculous transformation.