Maybe it’s an American thing. Johnny Appleseed, as American as apple pie, a visit to the orchard on a cool fall day – we certainly have a distinct apple culture in America. For me, autumn fully arrives when I tote home a big pile of fresh, crisp, tart apples – certainly one of the highlights of the season!
Over the past year I have learned much more about food and cooking here in the region of Campania, and I’ve been trying all the local specialties I can get my hands on. One that I’ve been eagerly awaiting is Campania’s famous Mela Annurca (or Melannurca). Why famous? This apple has a pedigree more ancient than the region’s famous ruins of Pompeii and Ercolano. The great Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who died during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD that devastated those two Roman cities, described the Melannurca apples in his Historia Naturalis. At that time the apples were called “Mala Orcula,” or the apples of the underworld, as they were thought to have originated near Pozzuoli where the Romans believed the gates to hell were located. Now how’s that for a good story?
Photo Pro Loco “Valle”
I simply had to try these apples from the underworld! Mission accomplished two days ago as I toted home a big bag of these little Melannurca apples with a smile on my face. They are known for their small size and good flavor, and after many, many, many taste tests , I can assure you that they are, in fact, very tasty.
The Melannurca apples are peculiar in that they don’t ripen evenly on the tree. They do best when they are picked while still slightly green and then laid out to finish maturing on beds of straw or wood chips, which you can see in the photo above. They are covered with nets to protect them and limit the direct sun exposure, and then painstakingly turned every once in awhile as they ripen. I would love to see this in person!
In 2001, the Melannurca apples gained the IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) status by the EU, which marks quality and importance as well as protects the status and reputation of regional foods. They are grown in all of the provinces of Campania, but especially in Naples, Caserta and Benevento. You can read more about the Melannurca apples in Italian at the Melannurca apple website and at the Regione Campania website.
Happy mela (apple) eating!