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Apple blossoms, Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A little overnight moisture dampens the apple blossoms at Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

THE BLOSSOMS are peaking now at many New England orchards, and close up or from a distance, it is a spectacular sight.

After a slow start, the bloom has advanced quickly in the recent stretch of summer-like weather — at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts, for examples, the blossoms were at “match-tip” stage May 9, and many trees were in peak bloom just five days later on May 13. A little further north, McDougal Orchards in Springvale, Maine, reports that bloom is expected to peak there this weekend.

The orchard in bloom is a beautiful sight, but the time for viewing it is short, especially in southern New England locations. If you have a chance to get out to see bloom in person, now is the time.

To learn more about bloom and pollination, view the short video below, in which Frank Carlson of Carlson Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts, explains why apple growers depend on honeybees during this critical stage.

Cortland apples, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Even as a new season begins, crisp New England apples like these Cortlands from Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont, are still available throughout the region.

While the blossoms on the trees now will eventually develop into the 2015 apple crop, the good news for consumers is that there are still plenty of New England apples available from the 2014 crop. Fresh from sealed rooms in controlled-atmosphere (“CA”) storage, the apples are nearly as crisp and just as flavorful as the day they were picked.

New England McIntosh, Cortland, and other varieties should be widely available for at least another month.

Photographs by Russell Steven Powell.

Apple blossoms, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Alyson’s Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Alyson’s Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire, May 13, 2015.

Homer Dunn, Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Orchard Manager Homer Dunn takes a brief break from mowing at Alyson’s Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire.

 

Apple blossoms, match-tip stage, Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Blossoms were till at the “match-tip” stage at Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts, May 9, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Just five days later, the blossoms had rapidly unfurled at Pine Hill Orchards, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bloom was already peaking on some trees at Pine Hill Orchards, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Cold Spring  Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A sea of apple blossoms at Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Atkins  Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015

 

 

Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Green-tipped apple leaf buds beginning to emerge April 23 at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE LONG WINTER and cool spring may be frustrating to heat-starved New Englanders, but it is good news for the region’s apple growers. An early spring — as occurred in 2010 and 2012 — forces a premature bloom in the apple orchard, putting the delicate flowers and nascent apples at risk of frost damage for an extended period.

This year is more normal, from an apple perspective. You can see the dramatic difference in our Spring 2015 McIntosh News, the quarterly newsletter of the New England Apple Association. A photograph taken at Belltown Hill Orchards in South Glastonbury, Connecticut, on April 5, 2012 (page 7), shows smudge pots beneath green grass and budded trees, a strategy for limiting frost damage.

This spring, photographs from Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts, (page 1) nearly three weeks later on April 23, shows green-tip buds just emerging. Bloom is expected around May 10 or later at most of the region’s apple orchards.

There is plenty more in McIntosh News, including:

  • A recipe for Birdie’s Favorite Apple Brownies from Sentinel Pine Orchards, Shoreham, Vermont, on page 7; and
  • Links to our three-part video series on integrated pest management (IPM), an entertaining and educational look at how New England apple growers deal with bugs, bacteria, and other orchard threats (pages 2-4).

If you haven’t seen the series already, it is well worth it, and if you have already viewed them, they are well worth watching again at this critical time of year, when many orchard pests are re-emerging after a winter of dormancy.

The engaging and informative programs star apple growers John and Pete Rogers and Greg Parzych of Rogers Orchards in Southington, Connecticut, and Chuck Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire.

We hope you enjoy the videos and newsletter, and we welcome your feedback and comments.

Russell Steven Powell

Editor

UNFAMILIAR APPLES WITH UN-APPLE LIKE NAMES have been appearing in my grocery store lately. Junami. Ambrosia. Envy. Kiku. Lady Alice. Pacific Rose. Now the latest, Autumn Glory.

These new apples have several things in common:

Their flavor ranges from sweet to very sweet.

Their flesh is firm to dense, ideal for shipping and storage.

They are rolled out strategically for a few brief months or weeks in late winter to compete with the better-known staple varieties available continuously since the fall harvest.

They have sophisticated marketing programs to promote them.

They are trademarked.

New England’s apple growers are not licensed to grow them.

These new apples are examples of a recent trend in apple breeding triggered by the wild success of Honeycrisp since its introduction in 1991. Developers of these trademarked varieties are hoping to replicate Honeycrisp’s meteoric rise, and forestall the potential weakening of the apple through overproduction.

A good Honeycrisp is an extraordinary apple, sweet with a little tang and an explosive, juicy crunch, justifying the premium price it commands in the marketplace. Its popularity has compelled growers everywhere to begin planting Honeycrisp, despite the fact that it can be a challenging apple to grow.

Honeycrisp does not store as well as some varieties, either. Its color is highly variable (from a solid reddish-pink to nearly all-yellow), and if not grown and harvested properly, its flavor can be watery or bland rather than crisp and explosive. There are many people in the industry who fear that the apple’s distinctiveness will eventually be compromised as too many Honeycrisp of uneven quality flood the market, and the premium price will suffer.

The financial stakes are high. Honeycrisp produced more than $10 million in revenue for its developer, the University of Minnesota, during its 20-year patent period, making it the university’s third most successful “invention” in its history. Honeycrisp today earns growers twice as much or more than some varieties. Who can blame growers for wanting to jump on the Honeycrisp bandwagon, or the developers hoping to find the next apple superstar?

TRADEMARKING NEW APPLES is seen as a way to maintain quality and avoid overproduction, and to return more money to the people and institutions that develop the fruit. The trademarked varieties are “managed” in selective “clubs,” requiring growers to pay licensing fees to grow the trademarked apple.

Some of the funds collected are earmarked for marketing, and each new “brand” comes with a carefully vetted name (as you see from the above list, often having little or nothing to do with apples), and is promoted through elaborate websites, advertising, and in-store promotions.

It may be sound in theory to manage supply to ensure high quality and prices, and the licensing fees are an innovative way to ensure that the varieties are given a fair chance in the marketplace. But the trend toward trademarking penalizes New England’s medium to small orchards, which to date have been excluded from joining the clubs or cannot afford them.

In some cases the trademark is owned by a single company, such as Rainier Fruit Company in Washington state for Lady Alice, or controlled by a region or state, such as New York, where a growers cooperative this year released two new commercial varieties, SnapDragon and RubyFrost. None of these apples currently can be grown in New England.

THE JURY IS OUT on the value of the trademarking trend, but ultimately its success will depend on the quality of the apple. To date, that means New England growers have little to worry about — these new apples add little besides novelty to the experience of eating an apple. Give me a tangy McIntosh or Cortland at any time of year over any of these new, overly sweet apples.

Most of these new, trademarked varieties seem destined for the same fate as the many now rare or extinct apples discovered in New England in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, for similar reasons. Most of the early heirlooms disappeared from the marketplace due to their mild, bland flavor. Perfectly good apples, they simply lacked distinction. Many of these varieties were esteemed more because they stored well rather than due to their flavor, and they gradually lost popularity or disappeared altogether with the advent of refrigeration.

The new trademarked varieties to date have similarly undistinguished flavors (although too sweet rather than mild), and their repetitive firm textures, valuable for shipping and handling, adds little to their bland, sugary taste.

I have nothing against a sweet apple (although I usually prefer one that’s got some tang or bite). But the sweet apples commonly grown in New England, like Honeycrisp, Gala, or Jonagold, retain some character, and still taste like apples. Many of the new, trademarked varieties are nothing but sweetness, generic as bubble gum or cotton candy.

These apples are a novel choice to satisfy a sweet tooth, and healthier than a candy bar, of course, or a slice of cake. The best ones are not overly cloying, and some are at least juicy. But anyone looking for apple flavor is likely to be disappointed by most of these new entries. And they can’t be grown on New England soil.

*          *          *

TWO OTHER NEW APPLES appearing in New England grocery stores for the first time this winter are the first U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved genetically modified (GMO) apples, Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden. Like the trademarked apples above, Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden apples are not grown in New England.

The two varieties, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., of Summerland, British Columbia, Canada, were developed to be “nonbrowning” to increase a sliced apple’s visual appeal when exposed to air, making them more attractive in uncooked foods like salads. The Arctic apples achieve this through the insertion in the apple’s DNA of polyphenol oxidase, a gene found in potatoes.

The subject of GMOs remains controversial, and the USDA in 2013 and 2014 received thousands of responses during the public comment period on the petition to regulate Arctic apples. Baby food manufacturer Gerber announced in 2013 that it had no plans to use Arctic apples, and the fast-food restaurant chain McDonald’s soon followed suit.

While Arctic apples “are unlikely” to pose a plant risk to agriculture and other plants, according to the USDA’s February 13 announcement of their approval, apple industry leaders have been concerned about the Arctic’s potential to harm consumer perception of their fruit.

“We have been anticipating this decision and preparing to answer consumer questions about what their choices will be — now and down the road,” says Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the United States Apple Association in Vienna, Virginia. “We want to make clear that all other apples currently in stores are non-GMO and will remain available for consumers to continue buying, including non-GMO varieties that are naturally low browning.”

“The New England Apple Association supports science-based biotechnology that protects consumer health, the environment, and the marketplace,” according to a statement by the nonprofit’s board of directors. “At this time, there is no demand for GMO apples, and no consensus about GMO produce. No New England growers are planting GMO apples to our knowledge.”

Consumer demand will determine the future of GMO apples in the marketplace, says Brannen. “We see our job in the meantime being to quell people’s concerns and continue encouraging them to eat all U.S.-grown apples as part as a healthy, nutritious lifestyle.”

*          *          *

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellTO LEARN MORE about the history of apple growing in New England — including how to identify a trademarked from a locally grown apple — with photographs and descriptions of more than 200 varieties discovered, grown, or sold in the region, check out Apples Of New England (Countryman Press, 2014), by Russell Steven Powell, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks.

Spencer apples, Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Spencer apples, Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

HERE IS a link to our special winter edition of McIntosh News, the quarterly newsletter of the New England Apple Association:

winter 2015 McIntosh News

The issue features a photo essay of the New England apples booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) by Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks. The 17-day fair attracted more than 1.5 million visitors this year in the middle of the fresh harvest, from September 12 through September 28.

Check it out — you might recognize yourself or someone you know. In addition to people, the photographs show stellar examples of the fall apple crop, and serve as a reminder to ask for New England grown apples in your supermarket. They should be available in most places until late spring, at least.

My Favorite Apple

Golden Delicious, from Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, is an outstanding all-purpose apple. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Golden Delicious, from Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, is an outstanding all-purpose apple. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

NEXT TO “What is the best pie apple?” the question I am asked the most — and which I frequently ask others — is “What is your favorite apple?” It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not something you can even ask about a strawberry or a banana, and there are many ways to slice it.

These are things I consider:

  • Flavor – sweet to tart
  • Juiciness
  • Texture – tender, crisp, or dense
  • Physical beauty – striking color, distinctive shape
  • Storage quality
  • Character – some apples gain complexity and sweetness over time
  • Early, mid-, or late-season
  • Availability – some apples for only a few weeks
  • Quality – according to season and region
  • Heirlooms or new apples

No other fruit locates us in place and time as apples do, or has the power to remind us of important people in our lives. On a macro scale, apple myths and stories serve as historical milestones across cultures and centuries. From this fruit we glean attitudes toward commerce, cooking, diet, and landscape, as well as religion and science, from Adam and Eve to the Golden Apple, from Sir Isaac Newton to Johnny Appleseed, each with its particular context and meaning.

Apples continue to leave cultural footprints today, in New York City, otherwise known as “The Big Apple” since the 1920s, and in commerce: the Beatles’ Apple Record label in 1968, and the Apple computer company in 1976. Apple Computer carries its apple imagery one step further, naming its iconic personal computer after New England’s iconic apple: McIntosh, or simply Mac.

On a micro level, many people have strong personal and emotional ties to apples, a grandfather or uncle who owned an orchard, perhaps, or a youthful job sorting, picking, or selling apples at a neighbor’s. Apples are uniquely tangible legacies of our mothers and grandmothers through the knowledge of a favorite pie apple and hand-scrawled recipes on ancient index cards stained with egg white threads and traces of cinnamon.

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Apples have many associations for us, culturally and as individuals, and my personal experience influences my favorites. I grew up with McIntosh and Cortland, and Northern Spy is my mother’s favorite pie apple. My friend uses nothing but Cortland in his pies for 25 years. I’m sure his daughter has taken notice.

These associations help explain why every apple has its fans: an apple may evoke warm memories of places as well as people, adding depth to its eating appeal.

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonathan, a beautiful red heirloom from New York, is a favorite of a friend from the Midwest, where it has long been popular, and much to his chagrin it is not widely grown in New England. Black Oxford, despite its distinctive color and good eating qualities, is rarely found outside of its native Maine.

It may be that a variety has superior flavor only when grown in certain soils and climates. Wolf River is a favorite of many Wisconsin natives, where the apple is also native; in New England it is typically valued more for its exceptionally large size than its mild flavor.

Propagated through grafting, apples are direct descendants of the original tree of the variety, sometimes centuries old; eating one is like ingesting a bit of history, a living reminder of the rural, agrarian roots of now-urban settings like Roxbury, Dedham, and Wilmington, Massachusetts, or Hartford, Connecticut.

With names like Tinmouth, Bethel, and Boxford, apples continue to celebrate small towns in New England’s rural countryside, too, or else perpetuate the memory of a farmer, landowner, or statesman, such as the Massachusetts apple Baldwin, named for a distinguished war veteran, public servant, and civil engineer, Col. Loammi Baldwin.

An apple’s history, no matter how illustrious, does not make it taste any better. Still, knowing its unusual or local story can influence my choice. 

THIS LONG PREAMBLE to my list of favorites is necessary to explain why I can only narrow it down to eight apples.

I could happily survive on dozens of other varieties:

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Akane and Sansa are two of the best of the early season apples. I’ve rarely met a russeted apple I didn’t like, such as Roxbury Russet, America’s oldest named variety (1635).

It is hard to imagine a better all-purpose apple than Cortland or the sweeter Golden Delicious, or a more interesting apple than the orange russet, Ashmead’s Kernel.

Some apples have vintage years, like fine wines. Two years ago, Ginger Gold from Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, were the best I ever had; last year it was Shamrock from the University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown.

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

This year, two relatively hard-to-find apples were particularly noteworthy: Gravenstein, from Atkins Farms in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Suncrisp, from Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine.

Suncrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Suncrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Both were exceptionally crisp and juicy with a tantalizing, lemony tart flavor and looks to match. Gravenstein’s red and green blend like a watercolor, Suncrisp’s rich yellow has beautiful pink cheeks or stripes.

But none of these fine apples make my list.

Cox's Orange Pippin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cox’s Orange Pippin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

MY THREE FAVORITE heirlooms are Cox’s Orange Pippin (England, 1825), Baldwin (Massachusetts, 1740), and Northern Spy (Connecticut, 1840).

Cox’s Orange Pippin’s complex flavor is the best of any apple I have tasted. Cox’s Orange Pippin is hard to find, and orchards sell out by December.

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

After dominating apple production in the Northeast for more than a century, Baldwin and Northern Spy were surpassed in the 1930s by McIntosh and Cortland, which are easier to grow. Fortunately, you can still find these heirlooms at many orchards, and because they store so well, supplies often last through December.

Baldwin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Baldwin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

From an eating standpoint, both Baldwin and Northern Spy are superior apples, and they are especially good in baking: large, firm, and they hold their shape. Northern Spy in particular has been a favorite pie apple for generations of bakers. Baldwin and Northern Spy are good eaten fresh, too, lively, spicy, with some tartness.

In general I like my apple to have a little bite, some tang, a degree of tartness. It goes with being a New Englander, the complex flavors analogous to living with the four seasons. An apple with some spiciness or tartness broadens my experience of flavor.

I like a sweet apple now and then, though, and there are some good choices, like the russeted, pear-flavored Hudson’s Golden Gem (Oregon, 1931). But I put Honeycrisp (Minnesota, 1991) at the top of my sweet apple list, followed by Gala (New Zealand, 1934).

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp has a distinctive, light-crisp texture that explodes with more juice than any other apple. It is the biggest new variety to hit the apple industry in the past 50 years, and its success has apple breeders around the globe scrambling to develop the next pomological superstar.

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala is the Golden Retriever of apples, ubiquitous, not the most complex creature but irresistibly sweet, and beautiful to behold. With its pear-like taste, Gala is a more flavorful alternative to the sweet, bland Red Delicious. Both apples have a distinctive conical shape, but Gala’s color is more complex than the monochromatic Red Delicious, turning gradually deeper shades of yellow, red, and orange in storage.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Two fresh-eating apples on my favorites list are Macoun (New York, 1923), and Jonagold (New York, 1968). Macoun has some of the pleasing tartness of its McIntosh parent but a crisper texture, and a complex, spicy flavor with hints of strawberry. I love its wine-red color and boxy shape.

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold has a light-crisp, juicy flesh similar to Honeycrisp but not as sweet, with just enough tartness to give it depth. Jonagold happens to be beautiful as well, a fiery blend of gold and red from its Golden Delicious and Jonathan parents. Popular at orchards and at farm stands — and especially in Europe — Jonagold curiously has not yet caught on in most of New England’s supermarkets.

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I must include McIntosh (Canada, 1801), available throughout the year. McIntosh is the standard, the staple, so consistently good and widely available that I sometimes take it for granted. But there are good reasons that this durable heirloom, is New England’s most popular apple.

McIntosh has great flavor and aroma, refreshingly crisp and tart when first picked and mellowing over time, a little sweeter and juicier in storage. It’s great for fresh eating.

McIntosh adds exceptional flavor to almost any baked good. Some people don’t like the fact that its tender flesh tends to break down when baked, but this is not always the case, and it can be ameliorated by mixing in a few firmer varieties. The ingredients for Peg’s New England Apple Squares include cornflakes in the filling, which soak up excess juice and contributes to the pastry’s firmness.

Those are my choices, a favorite apple for all purposes, and for all seasons.

And you? What is your favorite apple?

***

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven Powell

APPLES OF NEW ENGLAND (Countryman Press, 2014), a history of apple growing in New England, includes photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties discovered, grown, or sold in the region. Separate chapters feature the “fathers” of American wild apple, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thorea; the contemporary orchard of the early 21st century; and rare apples, many of them photographed from the preservation orchard at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

Powell is senior writer for the nonprofit New England Apple Association after serving as its executive director from 1998 to 2011. Photographer Bar Lois Weeks is the Association’s current executive director.

Available in bookstores everywhere.

'America's Apple' cover

AMERICA’S APPLE, (Brook Hollow Press, 2012) Powell’s and Weeks’s first book, provides an in-depth look at how apples are grown, eaten, and marketed in America, with chapter on horticulture, John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), heirloom apples, apples as food, apple drinks, food safety insects and disease, labor, current trends, and apple futures, with nearly 50 photographs from orchards around the country.

The hardcover version lists for $45.95 and includes a photographic index of 120 apple varieties cultivated in the United States. America’s Apple is also available in paperback, minus the photograph index, for $19.95, and as an ebook.

Available at numerous bookstores and orchards, and Silver Street MediaAmazon.comBarnes and Noble, and other online sources. For quantity discounts, email newenglandapples@verizon.net.

 

 

McIntosh Meets Cardamom

The view from North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine, in mid-October. Like many New England orchards, North Star's farm store will remain open until Christmas. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The view from North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine, in mid-October. Like many New England orchards, North Star’s farm store will remain open until Christmas. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scandinavian Apple Cake (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scandinavian Apple Cake (Russell Steven Powell photo)

VERSATILE as apples are, I have not come across many recipes that combine them with the sweet spice cardamom. Though native to India, Guatemala is now the leading producer of cardamom, an unusual spice that is often featured in Scandinavian baked goods.

My fondness for cardamom dates back to childhood, when my mother made a braided Scandinavian coffee bread every Christmas flavored with this distinctive spice. She always made breads to give away in addition to the loaves inhaled by our family of six, to family, friends, even the postman and milkman some years.

The coffee bread was highly aromatic, moist, and chewy, and it came served with butter topped by a thin layer of almond extract-tinged icing decorated with candied cherries and finely chopped walnut pieces. But it was the cardamom that gave the bread its distinctive bite.

In making the recipe below I followed my mother’s method of peeling whole cardamom seeds from their whitish husks, and grinding them by hand with mortar and pestle to the consistency of coarse pepper. This worked to great effect in her bread — you could see little shards of cardamom bursting with intense cardamom flavor — and whole seeds kept in glass jars keep their flavor longer.

But the cardamom flavor in the cake I made was too mild using this technique, overshadowed by the pecans. I subsequently read that finely ground cardamom is the preferred consistency for most baked goods, infusing them with stronger cardamom flavor than the rougher mortar-and-pestle-crushed seeds.

This Scandinavian Apple Cake recipe was adapted from one given to my mother by Trish Leipold of Wolfeboro Falls, New Hampshire, years ago; my mother only recently passed it along to me.

I made a few mistakes in my first attempt, corrected here. Further chopping of the cubed apples will improve the cake’s texture and make it moister by releasing more of the apples’ juice. The apple’s skin, incidentally, included for nutritional purposes, adds flavor and color to the cake.

I used three McIntosh and two Golden Delicious apples. The cake is delicious, and definitely merits another try.

Scandinavian Apple Cake

1 c white flour

1 c whole wheat flour

2 t cinnamon

1 t baking powder

1 t baking soda

⅔ t ground allspice

¼ t ground cardamom

pinch of salt

 

5 medium-sized New England apples, cored and chopped

½ c sugar

1 c chopped pecans or walnuts

⅔ c butter, melted

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 t vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9”x13” baking dish.

In large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.

In another large bowl, mix together apples, sugar, nuts, and butter. Using a food chopper or processor, make apple pieces about the size of peas. Stir in eggs and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to apple mixture, stirring just until combined. Spread into prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until the apples are soft and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes clean.

***

THIS SUNDAY, November 23, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. author Russell Steven Powell will sample apples, answer questions, and sign copies of his new book, Apples of New England, at Tags Hardware in the Porter Square Shopping Center, 29 White St., Cambridge, Massachusetts.

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellAPPLES OF NEW ENGLAND (Countryman Press, 2014), a history of apple growing in New England, includes photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties discovered, grown, or sold in the region. Separate chapters feature the “fathers” of American wild apple, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thorea; the contemporary orchard of the early 21st century; and rare apples, many of them photographed from the preservation orchard at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

Powell is senior writer for the nonprofit New England Apple Association after serving as its executive director from 1998 to 2011. Photographer Bar Lois Weeks is the Association’s current executive director.

Available in bookstores everywhere.

'America's Apple' coverAMERICA’S APPLE, (Brook Hollow Press, 2012) Powell’s and Weeks’s first book, provides an in-depth look at how apples are grown, eaten, and marketed in America, with chapter on horticulture, John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), heirloom apples, apples as food, apple drinks, food safety insects and disease, labor, current trends, and apple futures, with nearly 50 photographs from orchards around the country.

The hardcover version lists for $45.95 and includes a photographic index of 120 apple varieties cultivated in the United States. America’s Apple is also available in paperback, minus the photograph index, for $19.95, and as an ebook.

Available at numerous bookstores and orchards, and Silver Street MediaAmazon.comBarnes and Noble, and other online sources. For quantity discounts, email newenglandapples@verizon.net.

 

 

 

 

Fresh apples for sampling at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, during Franklin County CiderDays. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fresh apples for sampling at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, during Franklin County CiderDays  (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

TWICE A DAY at least I reach into a paper bag in my refrigerator and pull out an apple. It could be any color, size, or shape — I like to be surprised. I take an apple on my morning and afternoon walks, where it can be savored in its natural environment, without distraction.

An apple is perfect for walking, clean and compact, fitting neatly in my pocket, giving me a sweet energy boost and fresh juice along the way. Apples work on all the senses, beautiful to behold (especially in contrast with November’s muted landscape) and lightly perfuming the air, their smooth, round or conical shape weighing comfortably in my hand.

While the last New England apples have been picked, the bounty of the harvest will last until late spring, at least. During the fresh harvest I was able to amass a wide variety of my favorite apples from around New England, which will supply my walks at least through Thanksgiving.

From my orchard visits in October I picked up small bags of Baldwin, Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, plus Honeycrisp, Jonagold, and McIntosh. I had some Gala, Empire, Macoun, and a few Silken left over from our booth at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) in September.

One bag is filled with heirloom varieties like Esopus Spitzenburg, Ribston Pippin, and Roxbury Russet. There are a few loose stragglers on the refrigerator’s shelves, a Golden Delicious one day, Suncrisp the next. I never know what I will retrieve when I reach in.

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold apple            (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Monday I ate a Jonagold in the morning, and a Macoun in the afternoon — two of my favorite fresh eating apples. There are mixed reports about the storage qualities of Jonagold, a 1968 cross of Golden Delicious and Jonathan, but this one, purchased a month ago, held up beautifully, crisp and loaded with juice, with its characteristic flavor, sweet with a little tartness.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple                  (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

After a similar time in storage, the Macoun, the offspring of McIntosh and Jersey Black parents introduced in 1923, remained crisp, and its flavor was rich and complex, with its spicy, strawberry notes more pronounced than ever.

Tuesday I ate two heirlooms, McIntosh from Canada (1801), and Northern Spy (1840 New York, from seeds from Connecticut).

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple             (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Mac was outstanding, early in its flavor “arc” that sees the apple gradually sweeten and soften over several months. It had been two months since this McIntosh was harvested, and much of the apple’s tartness remained intact, giving it a rich flavor as beguiling as fresh-picked and spicier, more complex.

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Northern Spy apple         (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The pink Northern Spy was huge, firm, and juicy, its initial tartness gradually transforming into something broader and deeper. It is easy to see why this apple was a favorite for nearly a century despite being somewhat unreliable and difficult to grow, as it stores well, and is equally good for fresh eating and baking.

I began Wednesday with a giant Honeycrisp that had been sitting in the crisper drawer for about two months.

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple             (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

While still juicy, its flavor was unexceptional, certainly nothing like what the apple has become famous for since it hit the marketplace in 1991, from a 1961 cross of Keepsake and an unnamed seedling at the University of Minnesota.

Some Honeycrisp store better than others, depending on where they were grown and when they were picked, but it is an apple that is appreciably better eaten fresh. A good Honeycrisp can also be almost solid pink-red in color, much like Northern Spy.

Baldwin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Baldwin apple                 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I ended the day with a Baldwin, one of New England’s oldest varieties, dating back to 1740 in Wilmington, Massachusetts. Baldwin was the region’s most popular apple for nearly a century before McIntosh’s ascendancy in the early 1900s.

The Baldwin I ate was the crispest and tartest of the six apples I tasted during the three days (it may have been the last of these varieties to be picked). Beneath its round, nearly solid vermillion skin, freckled with cream-colored pores, or lenticels, the Baldwin’s crisp, juicy flesh was pleasingly tart at first but finished sweeter, ending in sublime flavors of pineapple and melon.

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The view from Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, early November.  (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The view from Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, early November           (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

HERE ARE A FEW ways to get the most from your fresh apples:

When trying a new variety, always purchase at least four apples. Eat two of the apples a few days apart, within a week of purchase. No two apples are exactly alike. Subtle flavors like vanilla, nuts, or mango can vary in intensity from apple to apple, and sometimes can be hard to detect. By trying two fresh apples, you are more likely to experience the variety’s full range of flavors.

Place the other two apples in your refrigerator, and mark the date they were purchased or picked. Ideally, seal the apples in plastic bags and store them in your crisper drawer. As long as they are kept cold, though, most apples keep pretty well in a paper bag. Either bag helps them retain moisture, and keeps them from absorbing odors from foods around them.

Wait a month before tasting the first of these stored apples. Note if there is an appreciable difference in flavor and texture, good or bad. Some apples peak in flavor around this time.

Many varieties follow a similar ripening arc, albeit it at different rates, gradually losing some of their initial tartness and becoming sweeter, more complex, and juicier over time. The same variety can be appreciated in different seasons for different reasons.

From a crisp, tart green apple in late September, Shamrock gets progressively spicier and juicier for about a month before it begins to break down. The flesh of the Connecticut heirloom Sheep’s Nose is dry at harvest, but becomes mellower and juicier after a month or more in storage.

Idared’s best flavor will not emerge until the new year, when it excels in pies and in cider. The flavor of Suncrisp is said to improve in storage, but I wouldn’t know — I enjoy their sweet-tart, citrusy taste so much eaten fresh that I cannot seem to make one last long enough to find out. I have one left in my refrigerator this year, and I am determined to make it last to December, at least.

If your apple has held up well for 30 days, leave the remaining one in the refrigerator for another month (or more) before tasting it. Fuji is famous for its storage qualities. Russeted-covered apples like Ashmead’s Kernel and Roxbury Russet are well known for developing richer, more complex flavors in storage, sometimes months after they have been harvested.

Obviously, the apples available now in grocery stores, farmers markets, orchards, and farm stands, were picked weeks ago. But they have been maintained in either regular, or controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, retarding their ripening process.

Stored properly — meaning kept cold — the apples may be slightly less crisp than the day they were picked, but not much. You can test an apple’s ripening qualities any time you make your purchase.

Don’t reject perfectly good fruit. You can’t always judge an apple by its skin. Most surface blemishes on an apple are harmless and easily removed, such as a patch of apple scab, a dent from hail, or spot russeting. An otherwise fine apple can be misshapen because it rested on a branch as it grew. The apple’s flavor is in no way impaired.

All apples bruise if treated roughly, and some varieties are more susceptible than others. A thin-skinned apple like Silken or a tender-fleshed one like McIntosh require special care in handling. But a bruise here and there on an apple’s surface can easily be ignored, avoided, or removed.

A perfectly good apple often awaits beneath that less-than-perfect exterior. The Galas from The Big E are looking a little wrinkly on the outside, but their flesh remains firm and their flavor is as good as ever. The color of Galas changes in storage, too. It typically has patches of yellow at harvest, and gradually deepens to a rich red-orange.

Rub the apple, eat the skin. While apples leave the orchard and packinghouse clean, like all produce it is best to wash them off before eating, mostly because of the possibility of contamination by human handlers. You never know who may have previously picked up that apple in the bin.

The natural film or “bloom” on an apple, sometimes mistaken for pesticide residue, helps the apple retain moisture. Some of the bloom gets washed off in the packinghouse, and in some cases a drop of wax is applied to replenish it and give the apples a shine. Both the natural bloom and the cosmetic wax are harmless.

The majority of the chemicals used to treat apple pests and disease are applied in the spring and early summer, some before the fruit is even formed. Most residual traces of chemicals are washed off by rain over the summer, and apples entering the packinghouse are first dunked in a tank of water where they float for ten feet or more before entering the packing line, where they will be further buffed and brushed along the way.

But it’s always a good idea to clean your fruit before you eat it. The beauty of the apple is that you don’t need water to wash it— just rub it on your shirt, especially convenient when outdoors.

The peel and the flesh just beneath it contain much of the apple’s nutrients, so there are compelling reasons to eat it. That’s automatic for most people eating a fresh apple, but requires some rethinking on the part of many bakers and cooks. Prepared properly, though, apple skins can add color as well as nutrients to any dish.

Make sure your apples are ripe. It’s good to know what you are getting. The best way to tell if an apple is ripe is by examining its seeds. The apple should not be picked until the seeds are dark brown, almost black, in color.

If you find that some of your apples were not fully ripe when picked, you can eat them without harm. They are likely to be more tart than usual, though, may not store as well, and may have inferior flavor.

I purchased some Ginger Golds in August, and when I cut several of them open, their seeds were white, not brown. The apples tasted alright, but nowhere near as good as Ginger Golds I have had in the past.

Today, two-and-a-half months later, the apples have slowly ripened in my refrigerator, and the seeds are now medium brown. But the ripening has been uneven; the flavor is not much improved, the flesh is beginning to go soft, and they are not very juicy. Reluctantly, I’ll have to throw them out.

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For more information about New England apples, including where to find them, visit New England Apples.

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'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellAPPLES OF NEW ENGLAND (Countryman Press, 2014), a history of apple growing in New England, includes photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties discovered, grown, or sold in the region. Separate chapters feature the “fathers” of American wild apple, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thorea; the contemporary orchard of the early 21st century; and rare apples, many of them photographed from the preservation orchard at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

Author Russell Steven Powell is senior writer for the nonprofit New England Apple Association after serving as its executive director from 1998 to 2011. Photographer Bar Lois Weeks is the Association’s current executive director.

Available in bookstores everywhere.

'America's Apple' coverAMERICA’S APPLE, (Brook Hollow Press, 2012) Powell’s and Weeks’s first book, provides an in-depth look at how apples are grown, eaten, and marketed in America, with chapter on horticulture, John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), heirloom apples, apples as food, apple drinks, food safety insects and disease, labor, current trends, and apple futures, with nearly 50 photographs from orchards around the country.

The hardcover version lists for $45.95 and includes a photographic index of 120 apple varieties cultivated in the United States. America’s Apple is also available in paperback, minus the photograph index, for $19.95, and as an ebook.

Available at numerous bookstores and orchards, and Silver Street MediaAmazon.comBarnes and Noble, and other online sources. For quantity discounts, email newenglandapples@verizon.net.

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