How does all that flavor get into that apple????
Dana Reed, orchardist and co-owner of Reed Valley Orchard, gave me an impromptu lesson in flavor-building recently. I asked, "Why does every piece of fruit I eat from Reed Valley Orchard have so much flavor? How do you do it?" Dana credits God's goodness, and then names some factors and practices that humans can bring to raising flavorful fruit. Here's what I understood from Dana's list.
> Clay builds flavor. The soil at Reed Valley Orchard, at the margins of Bourbon and Harrison Counties is clay-ey, not like the rich dark loam in the heart of the Bluegrass. Whether it's nutrients in the clay, or ways the clay makes the apple tree take in and process nutrients -- clay contributes to apple flavor. "Richer soils will build more tree," Dana says, "but clay seems to give the fruit more flavor."
> Sunlight builds flavor. The Reeds prune their trees skillfully, so sunlight reaches more fruit directly. Dana says some researchers have figured out an ideal leaf-to-fruit ratio for best fruit flavor: 40 leaves per individual fruit. Dana doesn't have to count leaves one by one. With his years of study and work, he knows what that 40-to-1 ratio looks like, and how to use pruning and thinning to get to it.
> Thinning the fruit builds flavor. Dana says, "Each tree has a certain amount of sugar. The tree divides that sugar among all the fruit on the tree. If there are fewer apples, each gets more sugar."
> Picking fruit when it is ripe captures flavor. Dana says there are a lot of ways to test for ripeness, and ripeness matters. While it is easy to tell when to begin picking some apple varieties he has grown for years, Dana uses science to decide when some of his apples are ripe. When needed, the Reeds use a refractometer, seed color (brown is good), an iodine/starch test that measures how much starch has been converted to sugar, and more. "Some people in the Bluegrass start picking too early," Dana says. They need to take some Flavor Lessons from Dana.
We were talking about apples, but I award five mental flavor stars to fruits from Reed's all through the growing season: blueberries, plums, blackberries, black raspberries (my favorite), tart Montmorency cherries, and the glorious parade of late summer pears and apples.
The more I learn about the work, thought, patience, dedication, and love that go into the wonderful central Kentucky foods I so enjoy, the luckier I feel. I hope our local food economy keeps ripening, maturing to the benefit of growers and eaters both.