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Ashmead's Kernel apples are deliciously ugly

OK, so they're pockmarked and russet brown, but they deliver intense, complex flavor.

October 09, 2009|By David Karp

Small, russet brown, and dotted with pockmarks, the Ashmead's Kernel apples grown organically by Windrose Farm in Paso Robles definitely won't win any beauty prizes. They do, however, have the most intense, complex flavor of any fruit in the world, strong and sharply sweet, with an aroma that reminds Britons of the traditional candies called pear drops -- derived, say chemists, from the amyl acetate ester.

The catalog of Trees of Antiquity, the nursery in Paso Robles where Windrose bought this variety, describes the fruit as having a "crisp nutty snap," adding that it "explodes with Champagne-sherbet juice infused with a lingering scent of orange blossom."

Originating in Gloucester, England, around 1700, Ashmead's Kernel has a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic, and regular customers rush to buy them as soon as Barbara Spencer sets them out at the Santa Monica Wednesday farmers market.

FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this story misidentified Barbara Spencer of Windrose Farm as Barbara Windrose.

Traditionally connoisseurs would set aside such sharp-tasting apples for a month or two to mellow, so that their acidity would drop and the flavors would develop and come into balance, although the fruit would also lose some of its crunch.

The great English apple authority Joan Morgan once told me that it was "very uncivilized" of Americans to eat such apples right off the tree, although they do ripen much earlier in the California warmth.

Giant Fuyu persimmons

The persimmon harvest started about two weeks ago, but the first pickings of Fuyu types, typically still tinged with green or very light orange in color, tend to be bland and even a touch astringent; it's wise to wait until the fruits turn dark orange, in late October and November.

The best choice of this early is the so-called Giant Fuyu -- properly named Gosho, an old Japanese variety -- which is round and firm, although not as hard as a Fuyu, and with a shorter shelf life.

Burkart Farms of Dinuba sells good Giant Fuyus at the Torrance, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Beverly Hills markets; Peacock Family Farms has them at Thousand Oaks, Ventura downtown, Santa Monica and Hollywood.

Calimyrna figs

Tip of the week: Calimyrna figs are sweet but a bit bland as fresh fruit, yet when dried their flavor becomes rich, nutty and honeyed -- the standard of excellence in a dried fig. The catch is that to bear fruit this variety requires "caprification," pollination by fig wasps, which makes it difficult to grow, so a really great dried Calimyrna is hard to find.

Over the years Paul and Kathy Mesple of Fresno, who farm considerable acreage of figs in Chowchilla and Madera, have offered to friends and family their finest Calimyrnas, so-called "naturals" untreated with preservatives, and selected to be large, firm, plump, moist and packed with luscious sweetness.

Even so, in some years they have had only enough for a few weeks, from mid-September to early October. But this year's excellent harvest should allow Mesple Farms to offer the fruit by mail order to the public, hopefully through Thanksgiving, at $7 a pound plus shipping. Call (559) 439-0104 or e-mail

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