My grandpa’s stories never grow old, but sometimes I suspect they might have grown taller over the years. Recently, after a morning of hard work shooting off Fourth of July firecrackers, we were sitting around the living room hearing stories from my grandparents’ childhoods.
“When I was in kindergarten,” Grandpa said, “after lunch I used to get a nickel to get candy at the corner shop on my way back to school. Well, one day I went in there and they had red delicious apples. I’d never seen those before — all we had around Chanute were jonathans or apples like that. So that day instead of getting candy, I got a red delicious apple.”
“And did you like it?” I asked. “Oh, it was the best apple I ever had!” he exclaimed. “For several weeks after that I was buying delicious apples instead of candy!”
I admit I was surprised at that, since my grandpa is well known for having a full set of sweet teeth, and very few little boys I know would choose an apple over candy — let alone a red delicious apple.
Let’s face it, nowadays the red delicious has a bit of an image — or flavor — problem.
Last summer, when the U.S. Apple Association’s August forecast said gala was going to take the No. 1 production spot from red delicious, the New York Times published a piece called “The Long, Monstrous Reign of the Red Delicious Apple Is Ending.” Slate’s take was a little more blatant: “Good Riddance to the Red Delicious, an Apple That Sucks.”
We’ve all heard — or even made — jokes about the underwhelming nature of the red delicious. “It’s mealy.” “It’s waxy.” “It’s tasteless.”
But sometime during my 10+ years at The Packer I seemed to recall hearing that newer strains of red delicious were getting better, so I decided to test this theory the best way I knew how — buy one and eat it myself.
I know, July is hardly the time to be judging the quality of any North American apple, but I didn’t want to wait two months for my taste test, so I picked out the most beautiful-looking specimen I could find at the store and took it home, where I sliced it up and took a bite.
It was ... not bad. Genuinely not bad. This particular fruit had slightly crisp flesh and a mild, sweet flavor. The skin wasn’t too thick or waxy. I have certainly had worse apples. But I’ve also had more exciting ones, ones whose flavor or tang and crunch left a memory on my tongue as potent as that memory of my grandpa’s.
So maybe it isn’t so much that the red delicious of today is bad — there’s just a multitude of newer, prettier, juicier, tangier, crunchier varieties on our grocery store shelves all year round, so why would we choose such an unassuming variety whose glory days are evidently past?
Some things never change, however. When I opened my grandparents’ refrigerator to put away the lunch leftovers, there on the shelf were two red delicious apples.
Amelia Freidline is The Packer’s designer and copy chief. E-mail her at [email protected].
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