Esopus Spitzenberg is a name you don’t forget. Especially when it’s ascribed to something as commonplace as a piece of fruit. Dubbed Spitzenberg for short, this firm-fleshed, medium sized apple is a New York Native. Farmers will tell you that it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. Bakers will tell you that it makes a killer pie.
The heirloom apple is one of thirteen varieties available at See Canyon farmer Mike Cirone’s stand this week. Cirone, who has a laid back disposition and faint vocal fry, exudes a surfer vibe; he says that despite drought conditions and stressed trees the flavor of this year’s crop is off the charts. His 60 acre dry-farmed orchards in San Luis Obispo produce dozens of apple varieties favored by chefs like Roxana Jullapat of Cooks County and Jessica Koslow of Sqirl. The Spitzenburg, he tells me, is an early season heirloom. “I wish it were more of a late September apple because it cooks really well. People aren’t really in the apple pie mode quite yet.”
“People” may not be in the apple pie mode yet, but L.A. pastry chefs have fully transitioned into baking with fall fruit. While market shoppers are grappling with 80 degree temperatures, Roxana Jullapat is grappling with flour, butter, sugar, apples, and grapes. The result is her signature Grapple Pie, a celebration of early autumn apples and late summer grapes, slow roasted and baked in a cocoon of shattering flakey dough. While living in Oregon, Jullapat visited Portland Nursery’s annual apple-tasting and fell hard for the versatile Spitzenburg. She describes it as delicious both out of hand and when cooked.
The combination of apples that result in a perfect pie filling are as unique to bakers as dough recipes and crimping techniques. Pie champion Nicole Rucker of GTA likes the larger, juicy Mutsu apples from Windrose Farms, an 8 acre farm near Paso Robles with over 40 types of apple trees. The diverse planting results in new varieties for sale almost every week. For Jullapat, once the Spitzenburgs taper off she opts for Ashmead Kernels from both See Canyon and Windrose Farms. When it comes to grocery store varieties it’s all about the Pink Lady. “It’s a very consistent apple,” she says. “A blend of Fuji and Pink Ladies make a great pie.”
Try a slice of Grapple Pie this Monday, September 8th at Cooks County’s Fried Chicken Monday dinner. Or, try making your own. Both Roxana Jullapat and Nicole Rucker will be judging KCRW’s 6th Annual Good Food Pie Contest. Impress them with your baking know-how by entering the contest here. Quick tip: If you’re wondering if an apple is good for baking, Jullapat suggests putting the whole piece of fruit on a baking sheet in the oven at 375 degrees. After half an hour, take it out and cut it open. If it looks like baby food ditch it. If it holds it shape, it’s prime for pie.
Full disclosure: This author is the producer of KCRW’s Good Food and the show’s yearly pie contest. She still thinks you should enter your pie.
Where to buy unique apple varieties in LA: See Canyon (Wednesday and Saturday Downtown Santa Monica), Windrose Farm (Wednesday Downtown Santa Monica, Sunday Hollywood) and Ha’s Apple Farm (Wednesday and Saturday Downtown Santa Monica, Friday Venice, Saturday Pasadena, Sunday Hollywood)