How ’bout them apples?

Today’s New York Times whinge of the day: New Yorkers aren’t buying the right apples.
Dan Barber, whose byline says he’s the chef at Manhattan’s Blue Hill restaurant, laments the plight of upstate apple farmers whose crops of Johnathans and Winesaps are going begging due to large crops of cheap Granny Smiths imported from Africa.
The sad fact for Mr Barber is, Americans prefer a tart, firm apple like the Granny Smith. They like being able to buy apples when they’re out of season, even if they’re grown by eeeevil multinational corporations. (As even Mr Barber admits: he says “In New York, in the middle of the winter, there’s really no other way to get a pineapple.”) And they, like everyone else on earth, prefer paying less for food.
As anyone who has traveled to upstate New York in the fall knows, this part of the country is phenomenally well suited to growing apples, in many lovely varieties. But if the small local farmers want to make themselves more competitive, why not grow Granny Smiths, the proven seller and crowd-pleaser? I don’t know, and Mr Hill doesn’t say. Is it possible that Grannys are better suited to large industrialized plantations? It may be possible, since they arrive shiny and crisp at the largest supermarkets, are slow to go bad, and remain tasty for a long time. Most apples are eaten fresh, not made into pies and the like, and the Granny is ideal for both purposes. (Unlike the regional McIntosh, which promptly disintegrates upon heating; I once had an apple crisp made with Macs that tasted like a melted apple Jolly Rancher mixed with sand.)
I wonder who is doing more good in the world: the large industrial farm that provides food and jobs to poor Africans (and cheap tasty produce for the rest of us), or the small farms that provide “boutique” fruits to wealthy epicures and gourmet chefs like Mr Barber.



  1. Dave in LA

    It would seem that the noble Hudson Valley farmers need better marketing. Maybe Dan, the Times’ chef/badgerer, can do the trick. It seems to me that if these farmers are competing with “90 other apple varieties,” then they know what they’re up against. I buy most of my produce at local farmers’ markets, and am always game to try new suggestions from the growers (each grower has their own stall here). Most of us who shop these places are glad to pay a bit more if the flavor and quality justify it.
    Berger makes an interesting statement about the cost of the evil foreign apple: “[the cost of]…this discounted apple ignores a laundry list of invisible costs.” No, Dan, it doesn’t. It simply costs what it costs, including shipping. Many consumers will be willing to pay 140% more if they see a reason to. Marketing is about finding those consumers, and selling them on the benefits.

  2. Mike Rentner

    Maybe I’m in the minority but to me eating a Granny Smith is not a pleasant experience. I always thought that their only purpose was to be baked to remove their tartness.
    I’ve taking a liking recently to Braeburn apples. Red Delicious are crispy, but their skin is too bitter.
    The best apple pies in the world are baked at the Love Creek Apple Orchard in Medina, Texas.

  3. Helena Wasserman

    I am a reporter from a South African newspaper.
    We did an article about Mr Barber’s views on our apples – we don’t have a gripe with the fact that the Granny Smith might not be as tasty. But his blatant protectionism is a serious problem for people in the developing world.
    According to his logic, we should also now start boycotting US produced food in our country.