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Take a crack at this juicy apple in the dead of winter

A Pinata apple

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The Pinata apple is a nice big specimen, about double the size of a diminutive Empire, with a thin skin of mottled pinks and golds. Inside, the flesh is off-white, juicy, a little tart with a hint of something tropical. Most wonderful of all – it's super crisp. In January!

True, the Pinata is not a local apple, but on the bright side, it isn't being shipped from South Africa or Chile – just Washington state.

Pinata – known in Europe as Pinova and Sonata – was developed in Germany in the seventies and eighties and is a cross between England's Cox's Orange Pippin, Russia's Duchess of Oldenburg and America's Golden Delicious. As for the North American moniker? Stemilt Growers – who own the exclusive rights to growing this apple – took the first syllable from Pinova and the last syllable in Sonata and got Pinata. The Mathison family has been cultivating the 160 acres of land on Stemilt Hill in Wanatchee, Wash., since 1893, when they homesteaded the area overlooking the Columbia River. In 1914, the first fruit trees were planted and the high elevation proved perfect for producing the sweetest tree fruits.

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The Pinata's thin skin and firm flesh make it great for both cooking and eating raw. But what really makes this apple worth upsetting the eat-local, ahem, apple cart for, is timing. It's in season now. According to Brianna Shales, communications manager of Stemilt Growers, "The apples are harvested in October, then spend about two months chilling at just above freezing to intensify their flavours and convert starches to sugars, before being packed and shipped." They arrive in Canada just as our local varieties are starting to get a little thick-skinned, puckered and mealy.

Look for Pinata apples from now until April – conventional and organic – at Loblaws, Sobeys and other major grocers across Canada.

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