Monterey Bay Apple Tasting 2022 – Rankings and Highlights (72 Apples)

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Our apple tasting returns!

After a two year hiatus, we were overjoyed to return with our 30+ year running annual apple tasting of the Monterey Bay chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers. The tasting, held this year on October 8, 2022 at the Santa Cruz Live Oak Grange, welcomed hundreds of visitors to sample an extraordinarily broad array of 72 mid-season apples. The samples highlighted substantial variations in sugars, acids, aromatics, colors, shapes, textures and more among the world’s most diversified temperate fruit crop. (More than 7500 named apple varieties are estimated to exist globally.)

We extend huge thanks to all of the wonderful volunteers among our fruit growing society who make this event happen, and double thanks to our growers and contributors of fruit, who this year included Freddy Menge, Jim Rider, Nadine Schaeffer, and Carol Golsch. All of the apples presented were locally grown in Santa Cruz County, representing how beautifully this crop performs in our area, despite the commercial contraction of what was once a quite prominent apple growing region.

Our crowds of novice tasters report delight, surprise, and bewilderment, facing an array so far beyond the familiarly mild supermarket fare (see a short video encapsulating our 2018 tasting). We invite them to mark their three favorite apples of the day on a poster at the end of the lineup. These tallies serve well to highlight some truly excellent apples that are often hardly well known.

How to Interpret Apple Rankings

What follows are some brief profiles of our top vote-getting apples of 2022, and a complete photo catalog and vote ranking. These rankings, of course, should be interpreted keeping in mind a couple important caveats:

  • This tasting represents a freeze-frame of fruit picked over just one week somewhere in the heart of an apple season that can stretch an unusually lengthy six months or more in our area. We only include varieties in the realm of harvestably ripe—but with different fruit cultivars improving and declining continuously over the course of a long season, we’d likely see very different rankings from a tasting held even a couple weeks earlier or later.
  • This is not a double-blind taste test, but an event in which a whole gamut of additional factors (storied apple names, sparkling apple displays, spirited apple conversations) serve to excite the ripening of our guests’ apple appreciations. Where being unblinded may serve to bias a perception of flavor in its strictest sense (the tongue-nose phenomenon), in other ways it better reflects the multi-faceted ‘real world’ social-sensorial cognition that is deliciousness.

All this considered, the upper echelons of these rankings (alongside those in our previously published rankings from 2018 and 2019) are probably most useful, in highlighting and elevating many notably excellent mid-season apples for our region. The bottom half of the list may bear some duds, but without a doubt also includes many great apples that simply didn’t have their day to shine.

It’s well worth noting that just about every apple on offer has had at least one taster rate it as a top choice, accentuating just one of the imperatives behind our organization’s mission to conserve and promote agricultural biodiversity.

Photo: Natalie McNear

Favorite Apples of 2022 Examined

These top eight ranking apples of our 2022 tasting each had twenty or more tasters voting it a favorite. Though admiring words might also readily be applied to many of the great varieties falling below these in the rankings, the following eight apples hit their mark today. These offer a chance to describe a bit of the diversity in apple qualities and origins that makes apple tasting so fun.

Karmijn de Sonneville

Karmijn de Sonneville (Photo licensed CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute to Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

Karmijn de Sonnaville (31 votes) is one of the best appreciated apples of the Netherlands (ca. 1949), derived from one of the best appreciated apples of England (Cox’s Orange Pippin, ca. 1825), and now cements its place as one of the best appreciated apples of California connoisseurs, known for its well-balanced high flavor.

Brushy Mountain Limbertwig

Brushy Mountain Limbertwig (Photo licensed: CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

Brushy Mountain Limbertwig (28 votes) is a frequent top finisher at our October tastings, confounded by the lingering question of whether or not our famous locally grown Brushy is true to type with its North Carolina namesake. What’s not in question, though, is that this apple has near universal appeal: crisp, juicy, and sweet for the lunchbox set, but with unique fruit cocktail aromatics for the appleheads.

Stardust

Stardust (Photo licensed: CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

Stardust (28 votes) is a lovely, crisp apple discovered by MBCRFG’s Freddy Menge as a chance seedling on an old orchard in nearby Aromas several years ago, named for the striking constellations of bright lenticel spots marking its gorgeous dark red base. You can read a bit more from Freddy on Stardust and some other of his introductions in our 2019 article on this topic.

C-14-140

C-13-140 (Photo licensed: CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

C-13-140 (23 votes) is one of the unreleased trial specimens graciously provided from our community member Jim Rider‘s local apple breeding program (see also: his presentation to MBCRFG on cider making). While not bearing the striking pink flesh of the other experimental apples he’s shared with us, this one had an alarming and exciting intense sweetness that caught many of our attentions. If you were there to taste it, you were there.

Mutsu

Mutsu (Photo licensed: CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

Mutsu (22 votes), aka. Crispin, is true chonker of an apple from Japan (ca. 1930): fruit maxing out at enormous sizes, with more vigorous tree growth than any other apple I’ve known (and leaves sometimes as large as my entire hand on one particularly shaded specimen). It can be a lot of apple in to take in, but this is otherwise a very easy-eating one: refreshing, with some of the honey of its Golden Delicious parent, and enough acids and structure to make it also choice for baking.

VIP

VIP (Photo licensed: CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

VIP (22 votes) is the latest from Freddy Menge’s local breeding project to make a splash, a tasty redflesh with bright pigmentation, progeny of the superb keeper Allen’s Everlasting, likely pollinated by Albert Etter’s (see below) Grenadine apple. Its name was elevated by admiring tasters to VIP, from the field name ‘VP’ for Very Pink.

Wickson Crab

Wickson Crab (Photo licensed: CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

Wickson Crab (21 votes) is one of the most esteemed Californian apples by those in the know, released by Humboldt Co.’s aforementioned Albert Etter in 1947 (best known today for his pink-fleshed Pink Pearl). Called a crab for its fun three-bite size, Wickson is a perfect little flavor-bomb, intense on the tongue in every dimension, with a special amorphously punchy, spicy character. A great cider apple but like candy in the hand.

Hudson’s Golden Gem

Hudson’s Golden Gem (Photo licensed: CC BY-NC 4.0, attribute Andy Moskowitz http://seedculture.org)

Hudson’s Golden Gem (20 votes) was an Oregon discovery introduced in 1931, a hefty beauty queen among russeted apples, and a perfect introductory one. Sweet, juicy, and slightly pear-like, this is a perfectly pleasant apple to win over eaters who find more coarsely potato-skinned “russets” challenging to eat, despite the great aromatics found in so many of them.

Complete Apple Rankings of 2022

Varieties are ordered most to least by number of votes received (indicated in parentheses) at our Oct 8, 2022 apple tasting, each vote representing one of three top choice apples allowed per taster. Rankings are also available in tabular text format (pdf).

See you next year!

Roxbury Russet, a russet which did not find its favored tongue at this time and place, is an often delicious apple itself, revered as the oldest known American apple. This variety perhaps exemplifies one of the most valuable characteristics of apples as a fruit, that they’ll nourish you through the dark days of winter (with choice storage varieties holding firm for months and sugars even continuing to develop off the tree). As asserted by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Uncle Venner, “…I suppose I am like a Roxbury russet, – a great deal the better, the longer I can be kept.”

May each one of us get a great deal the better, in cultivating our scrutiny and appreciation for the subtle and diverse sensations of this life, as we tuck ourselves away in storage until next year’s Monterey Bay apple tasting. See you then!

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