Envision an autumn afternoon spent apple-picking in Benton County, Arkansas. While wandering through the orchard, your gaze lands on apples so deeply hued that they seem to have emerged from a fairy tale. You reach out reflexively and pluck an enchanting orb, pressing its waxy, smooth skin against your palm. On taking a bite, you discover a rock-hard, sour piece of fruit. It’s terrible.
Arkansas Black apples aren’t meant to be eaten straight off the tree. In fact, the best thing you can do to one is put it in the refrigerator and forget about it until next season. Patient pickers are rewarded with a sweet, firm fruit that offers notes of cherry, cinnamon, vanilla, and coriander, but only after having aged it in cold storage for a few months.
Growers first discovered and cultivated this breed in 1870, at an orchard in the county seat of Bentonville. Arkansas established an economy around apple production, and during the 1920s, 15 to 20 percent of the state’s yield was its namesake black variety, thought to be a descendant of the Winesap apple. But moth infestations that necessitated costly management and the onset of the Great Depression were a fatal blow to commercial production.
Families maintained Arkansas Black apples trees in their yards, but the supply was relegated to home cooking, including baking the long-lasting fruit into pies and pastries. Today, the species make up between 3 and 5 percent of the state’s apple production. Over the last decade, local chefs have taken to the fruit with renewed interest, using the heritage crop to add a unique element to meat accompaniments, pie fillings, and cheese pairings.
Need to Know
Arkansas Black apples begin appearing on store shelves in the northwest region of the state around late November and disappear in February. They can vary in darkness, with some having near-ebony hues and others having a dark red color.
Where to Try It
Vanzant Fruit Farms Website3705 E Hwy 264, Lowell, Arkansas, 72745, United States
This seasonally-operational farm sells fruit Monday-Saturday, from 8am-6pm.
Los Rios Rancho, Oak Glen, CA Website39611 Oak Glen Rd, Oak Glen, California, 92399, United States
This California farm hosts a wide array of produce, including the Arkansas Black Apple, as well as a number of events throughout the year.