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  • Susan Welsh

Nature's first green is Ginger Gold. .

The Ginger Gold is a "niche" apple, miraculously propagated by Clyde Harvey on his farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. As the story goes, after Hurricane Camille in 1969, Harvey replanted all his young Winesap apple trees that had survived. Six years later, he discovered an unusual tree growing in the orchard, yielding fruit two months ahead of the usual harvest. Harvey considered this golden-hued apple "a gift from God" and named it after his wife Ginger.

The Ginger Gold is one of my favorite snacking apples for many reasons--it's non-browning, has a mild tartness, and softens quickly rendering the flesh somewhat soft (what most refer to as mealy), but a characteristic I find texturally pleasing.

The Ginger Gold is also synonymous with early September, which for many decades of my life meant the end of summer vacation and the beginning of another year of teaching. Like many families it signaled an end to a more care-free approach to the gathering and preparation of food and the return to a regimen-- complete with meal planning and portable healthy snacks. My go-to bag lunch snack was the Ginger Gold and I'd buy them by the dozen in anticipation of long days of lesson planning and teaching ahead.

Like the Transparent, they seem to be getting harder to find and this year I'm ordering a box from Kaufmann's Fruit Farm and Market in Bird in Hand, Pennsylvania. When Simran Sethi speaks of the loss of agricultural biodiversity, I feel it acutely in my apple buying choices. The Transparent, locally abundant for years, has dwindled down to mail-order availability from just a few orchards in the US. The same fate seems to be on the horizon for Ginger Golds.

I've never met an apple I didn't love, but I like choice-- different varieties for different reasons. I choose apples the way I choose wines--for the occasion. In the same way a dry Riesling is best as a summer sipper on the deck, so too, is the Transparent apple best for my mother's much-loved and traditional tart applesauce, and a Ginger Gold for its soft, yielding bite and sweet-tart balance, as a perfect afternoon snack.

September signals the end of summer and the beginning of the apple season. In the US there are approximately 2,500 varieties of apples grown and only about 100 available commercially. Of these, typically your supermarket will carry about 12 of these (if you're lucky). So unless you live in, or travel through an apple-growing region, your choices will be limited.

There is hope, however, in the form of people like John Bunker and Daniel Bussey. Bunker, anointed the "apple whisperer" and "apple guru" has written the book Not Far From the Tree--A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine. Another voluminous and incredibly comprehensive book on the subject is Bussey's The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada.

Bussey's encyclopedia includes cognomens, descriptions and history for 17,000 apple varieties grown between 1623 and 2000.

It is daunting to watch so much disappearing from our food chain. Documenting and preserving the legacy of our agricultural roots is more important than ever. With the disintegration of ice shelves and the devastating effects of every superstorm that wipes out another city, we are nudged to remember that we, as citizens of the world, are responsible for the cultivations and preservation of the beauty that remains.

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