On your marks ... get set ... bite!

Among the many rituals of the season, the taste of the first local apples ranks high. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's Apple House will open Friday, and be open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through early November. Operations manager Pete Moe reports that this year's crop is looking good, perhaps better than recent crops. First off the trees will be LaCrescent and Zestar, then SweeTango and Chestnut Crabs, then Honeycrisps by mid- to late September. For info on current available varieties, call the apple hot line at 952-443-1409. The Apple House, about 11/2 miles west of the arboretum entrance on Hwy. 5, on weekends will feature T.C. Confections' sweets and its own Queen's Apples dish of sliced apples topped with caramel, whipped cream, nuts and cherries, along with Ba Ba Ba Basil ice cream.

Take the Spam challenge

Well, this is a bit of a conundrum. The makers of Spam are seeking recipes that re-create a signature dish from your region, such as Spambalaya or Spam tacos. But Spam originated right here in Minnesota at Hormel Foods, so our signature area dish is ... Spam. Right? We joke, of course. Think of Swedish Spamballs, or German Spammerschnitzel. You take it from there. The contest enables cooks to share, try and rate fan recipes by submitting original recipes to "recipe exchange" on www.Spam.com through Sept. 26. Entrants receive a free Spam cookbook while supplies last. At the end of the challenge, the top-rated recipe creator will win a $1,000 grand prize and four runners-up will get a year's worth of Spam products.

Heirloom, defined

We're passing along a timely tidbit from the Los Angeles Times, which looked at what the oft-used term "heirloom" really means, especially when some toss it around like arugula. Originally, the word was a legal term linked to property that descended to an heir, so it came to refer to something of special value handed down from one generation to another. The Oxford English Dictionary first cited the word in a horticultural context in 1949, defining "heirloom" as "a variety of plant or breed of animal which is distinct from the more common varieties associated with commercial agriculture, and has been cultivated or reared using the same traditional methods for a long time, typically on a small scale and often within a particular region or family." So, just as you suspected.