Last week brought an opportunity that was unlike any I’ve had before. As a representative of The Daily Meal, I traveled to the Yakima Valley in eastern Washington to see firsthand the apple production activities of Rainier Fruit Company. My assignment was to obtain knowledge on apple varietals, their growth patterns and behind-the-scenes processes, synthesizing this information into a ten-image slideshow (you can see the completed article and slideshow here).
Given the nature of the trip, I expected that I’d learn a lot (and I did), but what took me by surprise was the way in which my affections were stirred for this land on the other side of the Cascade Mountain range. From the outskirts of town, the high desert, characterized by sagebrush and haze from nearby wildfires, isn’t exactly inviting, but in the midst of it sit a number of lush, irrigated apple orchards. Not even the prickle of the hot sun on my pasty, white Seattle skin or the sore throat I was battling could take away from the beauty of the trees with their golden, blushing jewels.
And it wasn’t just the apples that I appreciated; it was the people, too. These folks love the land, and they care for one another. Rainier is a major supplier of Washington-grown apples in our state, nation, and across the globe, but the family vibe among the staff was palpable and inviting.
Another unanticipated benefit of this adventure was the understanding I obtained by speaking with the staff about the practices they use to combat pests on their conventional apple crops. As a conscious consumer that cares deeply about providing my family with wholesome, nutritious food, I am often conflicted about when to buy organic and when to save my money for something else.
I wish it was black and white, that the choices were more clear, that I wouldn’t have to juggle my desire for good, clean food with the dollars and cents of our family budget. Add to those pressures the conflicting information that is flooding through the media (much of which I am skeptical toward because most people have something to gain by propagating their own point of view), and I am often left paralyzed by indecision.
It’s in light of this struggle that I was grateful to hear the perspective of these farmers as they described how they apply targeted chemicals during certain time periods to treat specific pests. It sounds like things have changed a lot since the 1970′s when conventional produce was sprayed with high levels of carcinogenic pesticides; regulations are more stringent, and companies like Rainier are working hard to maintain as healthy of a crop as possible. This is something that I respect and appreciate, and based on the information they provided, I would (and will) eat their conventional fruit without hesitation.
As far as how this translates to my grocery store buying decisions, that is yet to be determined. The experience has whet my appetite for more knowledge, and I have intentions of researching more of the actual companies that supply produce, dairy, and meat in my area to learn about their practices. As easy as it would be to believe that Monsanto is the devil and that money-grubbing, mega-corporations are destroying our food source, I’m not sure how true that is. Or, more specifically, I don’t know how much of the market such “evil” companies have. I’ll share my findings here, and if you have insight into this (especially firsthand experience on a commercial farm), I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And with that, let’s transition to chatting about eating these tasty things! We sampled several of the 13 varieties that they produce, but my favorite by far was the Honeycrisp. I know this variety has been around for awhile, and I’ve heard others rave about its delicious flavor, but it was my first time trying it. Sweet, juicy, and crisp – apple perfection! They are more difficult to grow than other apple types, which contributes to their higher price, but oh my, what a treat. Another variety, Lady Alice, is exclusive to Rainier, and it’s sweet, dense, slightly tart flesh was a favorite among some of the other taste-testers.
The apples were without flaw in their natural form, but sometimes it’s fun to jazz them up a bit. This quick and easy caramel apple salad recipe was included in a recipe book that was gifted to me by Dan’s family as a wedding present over six years ago, and the first time I tried it, I was sold. I typically prefer to avoid recipes that call for a box of this and a can of that, and while I’ve had intentions over the years of remaking it with more whole food ingredients, that simply hasn’t happened yet. And to be honest, I’m okay with that. It’s not something I’d eat everyday, but the autumn flavors of apple and caramel are a scrumptious treat this time of year. I hope you enjoy it as well.
Smooth whipped topping is combined with butterscotch pudding mix and crushed pineapple to create the “caramel” flavor. The marshmallows melt into the pudding and the apples are bright and crisp. I used Honeycrisp (of course), but feel free to incorporate whatever apples taste good to you. A light sprinkling of peanuts over each serving provides just a little more crunch.
- 1 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
- 1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple
- 1 3.4-ounce box instant butterscotch pudding mix
- 4 cups diced apple (peel on)
- 1 cup mini marshmallows
- Dry roasted peanuts, for garnish
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the whipped topping, crushed pineapple, and pudding mix, stirring until smooth.
- Fold in the apples and marshmallows, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Serve with a sprinkle of dry roasted peanuts, if desired.
Adapted from Gooseberry Patch.
Tips and Tidbits
- This recipe provides a basic framework, but the ingredients can be tweaked to fit your taste. Pears would be delicious, I’m sure, and walnuts or pecans might be tasty in lieu of peanuts.
- In the process of doing a quick search online to determine the original source of the recipe, I came across many variations that incorporated chopped Snickers and/or Heath candy bars. I guess if you’re going to be naughty, you might as well go all out! I might have to try adding some of those goodies next time…
Just so you know, Rainier Fruit Company paid my expenses for this trip, but they did not ask me to write this post. All opinions are my own.