chucl wendig with apple eyes

We Talked to Bestselling Author Chuck Wendig About Apples and Only Apples

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You may know bestselling author Chuck Wendig from his work in comics, or his many, many novels, including the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, or his most recent novel Wanderers. But we didn’t want to talk to him about those things. We wanted to talk about apples. There are few things on Twitter that are purely joyful and wholesome, but one of them is Wendig’s annual thread in celebration for heirloom apples.

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So naturally, with fall in full swing and Thanksgiving around the corner, we had to talk to Wendig about apples. Just apples.

The Mary Sue: Hi Chuck, Thanks again for taking the time to talk about the most important topic on all our minds: Apples. I think this is a really important discussion to have, especially for those folks whose apple horizons are limited to the horrific mealiness of red delicious. First off, some terminology. This interview is about your love of Heirloom apples, but what IS an heirloom apple?

Chuck Wendig: An “heirloom apple” is an apple that has been passed down from generation to generation — from grandmother to mother to daughter, let’s say — and all along, that apple soaks up the family’s ENERGY and BLOOD and GRUDGES and —

*checks notes*

No, wait, that’s not right.

An heirloom apple (or any other kind of fruit/veg) is, practically speaking, any old cultivar of 50-100+ years old that can continue to be cultivated.

When did you first discover the joy of heirloom apples?

A few years ago I started going to our local farmer’s market and there was a vendor, North Star Orchard out of Chester County. And they had bins of apples with the strangest names — LIMBERTWIG and ESOPUS SPITZENBERG and KNOBBED RUSSET and it was like, you’re just making these up. Surely. C’mon. I mean, Ashmead’s Kernel? What the fuck is that? So I started buying whatever weird apples they sold and then one day reviewed them on Twitter because what is Twitter for, if not a repository of apple-flavored shenanigans?

From there I discovered of course that there are over 7,000 varieties of apple, and given that we tend to get (max) about a dozen of those in our grocery stores, I started digging into the history of these apples and how they rose to prominence — and fell out of it, too. The reason we have the Judas Apple, the Red Delicious, is really just because it looks nice and travels well — flavor was not its most useful quality. Now with refrigeration and savvier forms of shipping and packing we can deliver better apples, of course, but it still means thousands of varieties are lost to the average grocery store.

What would you consider a good gateway apple for those who are curious about heirloom apples?

Cox’s Orange Pippin. A classic from which many apples arrive — and fulfills a number of good heirloom characteristics. First, it’s tasty, so it has a nice sweet-tart balance. Second, it has a funny name, and the best heirlooms have funny names. Third, it’s small enough so if you don’t like it, you didn’t waste much. It’s got a hint of complexity to it, too, but not so much that it’s really funky, or what they would call a “spitter” apple. It’s tasty.

What’s the secret to finding good heirloom apples? I assume having a good relationship with a local vendor is key.

You have to meet the OLD APPLE MAN down by the DARK CIDER RIVER and hand him three coins made of dried. devil-cursed potato. Or, instead, you just search for local orchards and see what they produce. Obviously that’s not an option for everyone — you won’t find many orchards, I assume, in Arizona. It helps to be in an apple-producing state or in proximity to one. Scott Farm in Vermont ships, though.

Different apples are good for different things; do you have a favorite out-of-hand apple or a favorite pie apple? A favorite salad apple?

GoldRush is one of my favorites all around — bad when it drops off the tree in late October, but give it a month or three and it’s an amazing apple for nearly every application.

What are your feelings about the more accessible apple varieties?  Are you a fuji man or more of a gala guy? Is Honey crisp just a fancy trend?

Honeycrisp is overrated YEAH THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT FIGHT ME sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean for that to come out that way. But seriously, I find it a bit too sweet. Too “on the nose” for an apple. Good for kids, though. Red Delicious is a liar apple, but not as bad as everyone says. I like Pink Lady as a go-to. Fuji is fine enough, especially in a salad, as asked above.

Thanksgiving is coming up, which in my house means apple pie. Do you have any apple pie thoughts or tips?

I usually make one apple pie per year and choice of apple is everything — because that apple really has to hold up lest your pie turn to an (admittedly delicious) apple swamp. Again, GoldRush is my go-to. But also, I remind folks that if you don’t wanna do a proper pie, just get some puffed pastry, roll it out, cut it in half, lay your apples down the center, and bake that into a big apple pie-flavored pastry log.

Your heirloom apple threads are a small beacon of light in a drab, angry twitter landscape. What inspired you to become an apple social media influencer and what has the response been?

The response has been (pun not intended until now) golden. It’s pretty weird and some people get annoyed because I’m inundating them with 140 tweets about weird apples, but honestly, I hope it provides most people with a diversion from *gestures broadly*.
It’s at least been fun enough of a ride that I’m writing a horror novel about apples and orchards right now. But I can say no more, lest the orchard hear me …

We hope this inspires you to get out there and try some heirloom apples on your own. Wanderers is out in book stores now, and Chuck remains the apple of our eye on Twitter. Happy eating!

(image courtesy of Chuck Wendig)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.