It’s Apple Time
WHEELING — There’s a certain point each autumn — as the nights grow cool and long — when Josh Jebbia can’t help but think of applesauce.
Sure, he manages the iconic Jebbia’s Market, where whole truckloads of the fruit are coming in from orchards in the Eastern Panhandle. They are truckloads that demand immediate unloading into a vast storage room behind the store that is dedicated to apples, pears and the occasional flat of mushrooms at the moment. It is 38 degrees there and massive fans near the ceiling — two stories up — keep the air in constant, fruit-scented circulation.
“We say we work half days — 12 hours,” he joked of the expediency the harvest season requires. “People usually get a kick out of that.”
But, that’s not it. It’s about grandma, he admitted.
Patricia Jebbia, widow of market-founder Eugene Jebbia, is now in her 90s and living in Florida, he said. But, when he was young — absorbing the family business into his very blood and bones — she always seemed to have a pot of her special recipe bubbling.
“You’d go to her house and there’d always be applesauce. That was a staple,” Jebbia said, noting his favorite memories of the dish are when it was served at Thanksgiving. “Right off the stove is some of the best.”
Given the market’s omnipresence for the Jebbias, he said there was no need for his grandmother to can the stuff. There were always apples available because of the controlled-atmosphere rooms that allow the market to keep a crop that is harvested only in fall fresh all year long.
Not to say a seasonal progression doesn’t still at least partly run the show. Jebbia said it’s only when night temperatures start dropping into the 40s and even 30s that apples become their most colorful and best tasting. In the higher elevations of the Eastern Panhandle, that starts in September.
“Once the new crop starts, they pick for two to three months and then they put them in storage,” he said. “West Virginia supplies us for four and a half months and then they’ll be done.”
Later in the year, the market’s apple-storage coffers will be refilled from orchards much farther away, he said of tapping into U.S.’s apple, well, core. “You get later in the year and you need apples, you’ve got to go to Washington state or you’ll have nothing.”
For now, though, what’s on the floor is shifting to homegrown, he said. Most of the sweeter varieties of apples for sale at the market are already from this year’s harvest. Varieties such as Gala, Honeycrisp (his favorite), Golden Delicious and McIntosh are great for eating — right out of the grocery bag if desired, he added.
Other varieties — firmer, tart and often reserved for cooking — are soon on the way, he said. Jebbia ticked off some of his favorites, noting some varieties that he likes have never had much local appeal. Deep-red Winesaps are the best local seller among these apples, he said.
Overall, he said the market and its wholesale division will offer about 20 varieties — to families, schools, restaurants and other grocers — before the harvest ends.
Many varieties of the fruit will stick around after that, vying with the market’s top-selling bananas throughout the winter, he added. (Three bananas are sold to every apple.) They’ll even be on shelves next summer, when many shoppers shift their focus to nectarines, plums, melons and such.
That’s then, however. Right now, it’s apple time and Jebbia can’t help but smile when he thinks about the pending arrival of Winesaps. “That’s a good cooking apple — apple sauce, pies. They’re good.”