Obama’s Apple Bowl – and The Apples All Around Us

apples: winesap top, stayman botom, pink lady right

Dear Mr. President, how about these? (Clockwise from top: Winesap, Pink Lady, Stayman

The President’s office has had the requisite makeover, pictures in the NY Post, story in the NY Times, reviews galore all over the net. Expect I’m not alone in agreeing with just about all of them, including both the snarky –  it looks like a business hotel; the rug is a tad obvious – and the sympathetic: it looks restrained and comfortable and anyway he can’t do anything too stylish when there’s a recession on.

He also can’t do anything even remotely interesting or he’ll just exacerbate the out-of-touch-with-regular-folks problem. But that’s neither here nor there. What I want to know is “what kind of apples are in that bowl of same gracing (if that’s the word) the jazzy new coffee table?”

On the first skim-through of the top posts, I couldn’t figure out why so many design pundits were saying nasty things about the fruit bowl. You can barely see it in most of the pictures and when I think of fruit-as-decor I think of arrangements inspired by Severin Roesen (or Caravaggio)  and think what the hell’s wrong with that?

But as soon as I actually looked it became clear that it ain’t about art. The fruit bowl in question is simply an ok-looking bowl, not completely filled with ok-looking apples.

Could it have been a last minute fix, I wondered, the kind that drives decorators mad? A staffer not trained in the ways of styling takes a look right before the shoot and thinks: OMG! The coffee table looks stark and empty; gotta put something on it, quick!

Nope. As those more up on these things are well aware, the bowl of apples is an iconic Obama item. Per obamafoodarama

“Of course, the apple bowl is present. It has appeared in thousands of photos since President Obama’s inauguration, a steadfast visual cue that healthy food is a critical issue for the administration. It’s a pretty big statement that a bowl of apples, rather than a floral arrangement, is a central decorative element.”

Central, yes, and more power to him. Decorative, not so much, and not nearly as good an apple promo as it might be with a little effort.

The pundits want to know who’d be so relaxed they’d be apple-chomping while talking with the Prex, and what these relaxed people would then do with the cores. I want to know why the bowl appears to be filled with supermarket Macs, instead of  an assortment of antique and modern apples in multiple colors and sizes and flavors.

I almost hate to mention it; at this point the only-five-varieties, what-happened-to-diversity apple is almost as much of a cliché as the Styrofoam tomato. But so what? It’s true. And it’s still a crying shame for still being true knowing what we know now.

On the other hand, change comes slowly, as we also know, and may yet be on the way. Appreciation for flavor is on the upswing and these days good apples can be almost as easy to get as good tomatoes, if you’re willing to go the extra mile or two.

There are small specialty orchards all over the country –  if you don’t know of any nearby, try the Orchard Locator at All About Apples.com – and completely apart from the orchards there are still apples growing almost everywhere apples can grow.

Wild apples by the roadside; apples in the yards of houses built before, say, 1945; apples buried in thickets grown up on abandoned farmland; apples stranded beside parking lots and stores on land that abandoned farming.

Finding the trees is simple. Once you start looking, they start jumping out at you. Finding the ones that have tasty fruit is another matter. Seedling apples are frequently duds and not all cultivated varieties can survive neglect with their flavor intact, so many of these freebies will be somewhere between awful and not-worth-bothering. But not all! Some of them are going to be marvelous.*

apple trees and field

Apple trees at our friend Jeff’s house; he just bought the place and started bringing them back.

Case in point: apples from the (formerly) neglected trees in the picture. The apples look almost the same. Both are very dark red, small, and tending to conical without getting there. But they are not the same. The ones on the right are n-w-b, the ones on the left are beyond splendid: crisp, spicy, juicy, with just the right balance of sweet and sour. So I’ll take a few up to Great Maine Apple Day – October 23rd this year – and see if one of the experts there can tell us if they have a name.

round red apple in tree

Fruit of the left hand apple tree

Meanwhile, I’ll be using them to make Chunky Roasted Apple Sauce, a very good thing to make at this time of year regardless of where you get the apples.

Update: Chunky is also the word for my favorite apple cake. A picture and recipe link are here, along with pic and link for foolproof apple pie (and never fail sour cream piecrust).

* Marvelousness will often be slightly mitigated by a worm or two. It takes terrifying amounts of pesticide to keep conventional apples unblemished and worm free. Alternatively, it takes enormous amounts of being there special care to produce organic apples that don’t look too organic. Apples that nobody’s paying attention to usually require at least a little surgery.

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  • I got to spend seven years with the Father of the Macintosh computer, named for his favorite apple, and spent some time on the Gravenstein Highway, now largely converted to growing grapes. I think the latter variety makes better applesauce. Mom’s Apple Pie is still serving the real stuff, without high fructose corn syrup, I think.

    What amused me was to discover that the Johnny Appleseed apples were only good for cider, not applesauce nor apple pie. Hard cider was easier to transport and sell and more effective for changing one’s mood, I guess.

  • ilana Said,

    I love this post! However, one dilemma for those of us lucky enough to live somewhere with existing apple trees: How do we identify those?

  • ilana Said,

    And do you have a favorite supplier for heirloom varieties when we want to find the oldies but goodies?

    Hi Ilana,

    Don’t know who in the Hudson Valley is in the tree-id biz, but if you call extension — or maybe ask the folks at Breezy Hill – you might find somebody. If you do, please comment, I’m sure there are others who’d like to know too.

    As for a tree supplier, it’s hard to beat fedco trees (http://www.fedcoseeds.com/trees.htm). Lots and lots of heirloom apples along with a few modern ones especially suited to organic management.


  • ilana Said,

    Meaning trees, not snacks nor fruit bowl fillers.

  • Jan Gregory Said,

    I can’t believe this statement: “it looks restrained and comfortable and anyway he can’t do anything too stylish when there’s a recession on.” In this stagnant economy all you see is the Obamas taking million dollar trips, with an entourage of over 20-30 friends, sometimes Michelle taking a separate planes to the same affair! forget about being too “stylish, how about being frugal? They love to talk about sacrifices we all should make, but it doesn’t ever enter their minds that maybe THEY should lead by example! It’s good to be King and Queen!

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