.Apple Grower Freddy Menge Shares a Bushel of Knowledge

The return of the annual tasting event at Live Oak Grange will showcase 70 apple varieties

“It tastes like a really ripe pineapple. You can taste nuances of banana, pear and anise, and it’s so complex, it sucks your attention, like ‘What is that?’”

That’s how local apple grower Freddy Menge describes one of his favorite apple varieties, the suntan. This weekend, Menge will be sharing several varieties of apples he grows as part of the 70 or so varieties at an apple tasting at the Live Oak Grange.

After a two-year hiatus for the event, Menge is excited to once again make unique varieties of apples available for tasting. There will be a string of tables covered in apples, and guests will have a sheet laying out the order of the tasting, and space to make notes and rank favorites. At the end, there will be a board where people can put a gold star next to their top three varieties. 

Menge says he loves seeing the top choices at the end of the tasting. “Everyone posts, and it’s always surprising what the results are,” he says. “It’s amazingly varied how people have different preferences. Typically, all 70 varieties will get at least one vote for somebody’s favorite. For me, that’s mind blowing.” 

One rare variety that catches people’s attention is the apple stardust, “That is just a weird accidental apple found in an abandoned orchard in Aromas, and it’s so good,” he says. “It’s got a Macintosh flavor to it, but it’s got a great crunch and it’s crisp. People freak out when they taste it, and it’s this completely unknown apple. It always scores really high.”

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Menge says he has around 45 varieties he will be bringing, and Jim Ryder, an apple breeder and orchardist who he calls his “partner in crime,” will be bringing around 20 major commercial varieties, including Fuji, honey crisp and pink lady. 

Ryder will also be sharing a variety of red fleshed apples he has been breeding. “He’s got this incredible apple breeding operation where he’s planted 50,000 seedlings with the intent of producing a commercially marketable red fleshed apple,” says Menge. “He’s got hundreds of experimental red fleshed apple varieties and he’s gonna kick in 10-15 of the best ones.”

Menge will spend the tasting near a couple of his favorite varieties. “The whole time I’m cutting apples and talking to people,” he says. “I usually center myself around my favorite apples and see how people react to it and talk to them about it. I’ll be next to the Allen’s everlasting and the suntan. I love comments, people come in and tell me the craziest things sometimes. I remember a few years ago at the tasting near the suntan apple—a really strong tasting apple—this elegant woman takes a piece and says ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh I like that one, I kinda like that one, I like an apple that kinda kicks you around a little bit.’ And I thought, ‘Yes, that’s it!’”

Menge enjoys the opportunity to share varieties of apples that can be harder to find, as well as varieties harvested at their prime. “Year-round apples is what it’s all about, and I think the industry wants that because it’s super convenient, but people do not want that,” he says. “People don’t want to acquiesce to having to eat some hockey puck because it’s convenient for the marketers. I’d rather eat the fruit that’s ripe right now, that’s right off the tree.”

Menge says an ideal apple has acidity, astringency, aromatics and sugar. 

“When a really good-flavored apple is green, the sugar is yet to develop, so all you taste is the acidity and the astringency and some of the aromatics, not all of them,” he says. 

“But no one wants to taste an astringent and sour green apple that colors early, and they pick it and they sell it. So they intentionally select these apples that have no acidity and no astringency so you could pick it green and even with low sugar, it tastes okay.”

The apple tasting, hosted by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, will take place on Saturday, Oct. 8 from 2-5pm at the Live Oak Grange, 1900 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. $5. mbcrfg.org.

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