Arkansas Black Apple Pie: Chef Diep Tran's Farmers Market Recipe
Since September, I've been scouring the tables at the farmers market, rooting expectantly into crates and bins, pestering vendors with questions of when, now, yet? I've politely accepted samples of Honeycrisps (they're very sweet) and respectfully listened to extolments of Pink Ladys ("a lovely eating apple"). I've bought a few Spitzenbergs ("these were Jefferson's favorite, you know"). More market days and with them more venerable cultivars, and then last Sunday, I finally spot my quarry, the Arkansas Black apple.
Felicia Friesema Arkansas Black apples
If you're not already a devotee, allow me to wax rhapsodic about this particular heirloom -- and then we can talk about my recipe for Arkansas Black apple pie.
The Arkansas Black is also known as the Snow White apple. It is an apple possessed of dueling names, one shade, one light -- one a collection of angular consonants, the other a pair of rounded vowels. Named Snow White for its white flesh and ebony skin, it's both weapon and mark. This is a gothic tale in apple form.
Diep Tran Arkansas Black apple pie
The Arkansas Black's siren song starts out bright and tart, then blooms with notes of nutmeg, coriander, vanilla and anise the longer it sits in cellar. But don't stow it away for too long. It's best eaten young, when the acid has yet to mellow and the apple still pulls in different directions at once. Let the apple age, though, and it reveals its singular trick. The Arkansas Black is the only apple to make a costume change after harvest. It begins the season dressed in red with shoulders of green. As the weeks progress, the protean skin eventually turns a burgundy so deep, it's almost black.
Some say it's a baker's apple, because of its pronounced tartness, but I'd categorize it as an apple for the salt-toothed. Its dense, dry texture is a great approximation of a green mango or June plum, two fruits abundant in the tropics, but it's hard to grow well in the States. Give the apple a Southeast Asian treatment and eat it with salt into which you've crushed an equal amount of Red Bird chilies (which might still be available from Yang Farm).
If you don't prefer your apple with salt and chilies, then bring the Arkansas Black to your lips. Taste tart, sugar, spice, cider. Let it whisper to you: I am a pie, I am a pie, I am a pie.
The SoCal season for Arkansas Blacks is very short. Windrose Farm brought in the first of their excellent crop last Sunday and will only have them thorough this weekend and until next Wednesday. Ha's Apple Farm still has to bring in their small crop, so look for them on next week's market run. Grab these apples when you see them, because chances are they'll be gone by the next week.
Turn the page for the recipe...