September 01, 2013

A Bounty of Apples

A Bounty of Apples
Alexander Sherstobitov

Autumn was the great poet Pushkin's favorite season, one he celebrated in his lovely poem "Осень" ("Autumn"). To this day, Russians eagerly await autumn's warm days and cool nights, knowing that, along with a hint of sadness at summer's demise, they bring a bounty of mushrooms and apples.

Among autumn's greatest pleasures is the antonovka, a tart, yellow-green apple immortalized by Nobel Prize winner Ivan Bunin in his short story "Antonov Apples." Antonovki are prized for their keeping ability, important in a cold climate like Russia's. But above all Russians wax poetic about the apples' distinctive aroma. In Bunin's story, the smell of antonovki induces nostalgic thoughts of a lyrical past. "I remember a fine, early autumn," the story begins, with "the delicate smell of fallen leaves and the fragrance of Antonov apples, a fragrance of honey and autumn freshness." But as society changes, this fragrance disappears from the country houses of Bunin's childhood, and Antonov apples come to symbolize a lost way of life.

Horticulturalists still debate the true origins of the Antonov apple, partly because so many hybrids have been developed over the years. As early as 1900, the great Russian pomologist I.P. Usikov wrote in Concise Pomology that "The antonovka is to Russian horticulture what rye is to field crops. It is the most widespread type of apple we have, and the most beloved, carted by hundreds of wagonloads into our cities. No apple is more famous in Russia than the Antonov."

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