K&K Ranch is getting a nice reputation for bringing serendipitous harvests to the market. Their previous crop of red-skinned walnuts came from trees gifted to them from a friend, and it wasn't until harvest time that they realized they were something special. The same goes for the Granny Annie. Or the Pippin Smithin, depending on what the pollinator brought to the momma Granny Smith tree in their orchard. DNA paternity tests for apple trees are not in the works, so we'll just have to point accusing fingers at nearby Pippin and Anna apple trees.
Questionable parentage aside, given current agricultural methodology and brutal farm efficiencies, this apple tree should not exist. Grafting fruiting scions (cuttings from the desired fruit stock) onto rootstocks is the preferred method of propagation for most commercial orchards. This upstart apple started from seed, which isn't terribly surprising given the optimum growing conditions. What is surprising is that it was allowed to take root and mature. What's more, it didn't get the memo about seed-started fruit trees being generally unreliable fruit bearers, because it's actually thriving, producing large, flavorful, market quality fruit in mass quantities, defying conventional orchard wisdom in a bucolic Johnny Appleseed genetic lightening strike kind of way. But that's exactly how we got the first Granny Smith tree back in 1868, so insert your apple/tree idiom here. The catch? There's only one tree of it, possibly making it the most unique local fruit you can buy in L.A.
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Granny Smiths are the prototypical cooking apple, lending their sharp tart brightness and acidic aroma to many favorite apple pies, butters, and sauces. They have a dense, crunchy flesh that stands up to high heat cooking and a thick lime green skin that gives them a long shelf life (as well as a lot of natural pectin for jelling). The Granny Annie (the chosen name for now) isn't as uncompromisingly acidic at its mother. But it does have the bite, just somewhat subdued. The pollinator was a sweet eater, giving the Granny Annie a lovely sweet finish, a slightly thinner skin, and a rather enormous size. Granny Smiths are usually around baseball size or smaller. This new progeny is almost a third larger, with a multi-use flesh that could either handle cooking or a nice cheese pairing.
According to Sean Laughlin of K&K Ranch, the cross apple is likely a Pippin (though he's been calling it Granny Annie after the Anna apple). The tree was actually slated for destruction to make room for a new planting. Crossed schedules and other work interfered with their intentions and the tree ended up taking root. It's now producing a couple hundred pounds of fruit a year, and this year is the first time they've brought it to market. Sean's brother Kevin likens the taste to another hard to find apple favorite.
"It's a lot like the Gravenstein," said Kevin. "Just really good old fashioned apple flavor. I like it."
You can get your chance to like it for the next couple of weeks. K&K Ranch is at the Torrance, Hollywood, Cerritos, Palos Verdes, and Westchester farmers markets each week.