October 25, 2004

Northern Spy

by peterb

One of the best features of the Xbox home console system is that you can rip music from music CDs to the hard disk. Some games then allow you to play that music back in-game. The classic street racer Project Gotham Racing is one such game. One of the first things I did upon acquiring an Xbox was to rip a whole bunch of surf music on to the hard drive. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Los Straitjackets. Huevos Rancheros. And a small, barely known band called Barbacoa, who have a song called Northern Spy which, as you would expect, was a sort of Canadianish James Bond-y sort of thing.

It wasn't until many years later that I learned that "Northern Spy" is actually the name of a variety of apple. I'd certainly never tasted one. I decided I wanted one because, well, y'know. It's called Northern Spy. It has to be great! They seem to be very hard to find -- everyplace I've asked has just said that they don't carry them, or that they're sold out. But tonight, at Whole Foods, I found a cache of Northern Spys. So I brought some home.

They're a blotchy red and green, and quite large. The flesh has the texture of a Red Delicious, but the skin is much thinner and thus not so intrusive. They're on the tart side, which I consider to be a virtue -- not as tart as a Granny Smith, but nearly so, and much juicier. They're apparently considered a "pie apple," presumably because people only like eating super-sweet things out of hand. But I enjoyed the one I've eaten in hand so far. I intend to eat more.

I've looked online to find someone who specializes in interesting and unusual apples, but haven't had any luck, at least at reasonable prices (I found one place offering to send me a box of 15 Stayman-Winesaps for something like $40. No, thanks.) Mail order is fine, but I'd be willing to take a road trip, too. If you know of any place like that, please add a comment, below.

Additional Resources

  • Christina recently recommended "honeycrisp" apples, another variety I've never tried (although I have had Macouns, of which they are a hybrid, and I enjoy those very much).
  • If you're in the Pittsburgh area, in addition to Giant Eagle, you can try some of the local orchards. The most well-known include Soergel's in the North Hills, Trax Farms to the south, in Finleyville, and Schramm's Farms to the east, near Greensburg. The availability of different varieties changes often, so call before going.
  • To this day, Project Gotham Racing just doesn't feel right unless I'm listening to surf music. I drive especially well if the song is a Canadianish James Bond-y sort of thing (500 kb mp3 excerpt). The Barbacoa CD is woefully unavailable unless you go to one of their shows, but you can buy a compilation of surf music which has Northern Spy on it.

Posted by peterb at October 25, 2004 09:27 PM | Bookmark This

You may be the only person I know who can relate video games and produce in a single article. :-)

Apples here are surprisingly dull. Fuji, Fuji and more Fuji.

Posted by Kristen at October 25, 2004 11:15 PM

I may have a very unique niche, but I do my best to fill it.

Posted by peterb at October 25, 2004 11:21 PM

I picked up a couple Northern Spy apples at WF tonight, half-remembering this post when I did.

I like them, but I think I like my out-of-hand apples a touch sweeter. They'd make a mean applesauce, though.

Also, they do have a wonderful crisp and juicy texture.

Also also, I'm pretty happy that WF had so many varieties of apples -- there were several that I'd never even heard of, along with most of my favorites. It was pretty hard to pick.

I love apple season.

Posted by Nat Lanza at October 29, 2004 12:45 AM

Northern Spy are the absolute best-

There is an orchard here that I've been going to since I was a small girl- you can buy their apples online. Just go to their store, pick how many you want, and then choose the kind. They charge about $35 for 48 apples- including shipping I think.

If you were here, I think they are $5 a bushel of pick your own. *smile* This week they are picking Cortlands, Gala, Empire, Mutsu, Liberty, Ida Red, Jona-Gold, Red and Golden Delicious.

Best of luck-


Posted by cameo wood at October 29, 2004 12:49 AM

I've been buying Northern Spys all fall at the farmers market in Wilkinsburg. It's held every Monday and Thursday from 3:30-6:30 pm, and there is a great apple farmer there every week. He sells many different varieties of apples, and he'll let you taste them before you buy them.

He also sells unpasturized cider, which really can't be beat.

If you go down Penn Ave. until after you cross under the busway, and then go through one more traffic light, it is on your right in a parking lot. There's a sign hanging over the street.

Check it out!!!

Posted by sarah at November 1, 2004 04:15 PM

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