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Windy Hill Farm, Great Barrington, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

There are plenty of apples and a scenic backdrop at Windy Hill Farm, Great Barrington, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

NEW ENGLAND expects a high-quality apple crop this fall with outstanding color as a result of the summer’s cool days and nights. The size of the 2014 New England apple crop is forecast by the U. S. Apple Association at 3.73 million 42-pound boxes, just over the region’s five-year, 3.52 million-box average. The crop is expected to be slightly smaller than 2013’s fresh harvest of 3.8 million boxes.

The timing of the New England apple harvest so far is on schedule, with early varieties like Ginger Gold, Jersey Mac, PaulaRed, Sansa, and Zestar! already being picked. McIntosh, which accounts for about two-thirds of the crop, is expected to be ripe for picking soon after Labor Day in most areas.

To find detailed listings of area orchards, visit the home page of the New England Apples website, and click on “Find an Apple Orchard.” Be sure to call ahead to see what is ready for picking.

The 2014 fresh harvest officially will be launched with New England Apple Day Wednesday, September 3. The commissioners of agriculture of the New England states will visit orchards that day to sample the new season’s apples and meet with growers.

Nestrovich Fruit Farm, Granville, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The view at Nestrovich Fruit Farm, Granville, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Growing conditions in New England have been good throughout the spring and summer, with only scattered damage from frost or hail. Some apple varieties produce large crops biennially and have a low volume of fruit if 2014 is their off-bearing year.

Some orchards reported losses due to the bacterial infection fire blight in every state but Maine, which expects a significantly larger crop in 2014 than in 2013, despite hail damage reported in the central part of the state (based on our informal survey, the increase in Maine may not be as great as the national report suggests). Elsewhere in New England, Vermont should harvest about as many apples in 2014 as a year ago, while the other states anticipate crops between 10 percent and 20 percent smaller than in 2013.

Most of the region’s orchards expect to have plenty of apples of all varieties in a range of sizes.

Here is USApple’s state-by-state forecast for 2014 (in units of 42-pound boxes):

  2014 crop estimate 2013 harvest % change from 2013 5-year average % change from 5-year average
Connecticut 547 K 643K -15% 514 K +6%
Maine 952 K 643K +48% 719 K +32%
Massachusetts 881 K 1,036K -15% 907 K -3%
New Hampshire 486 K 607K -20% 524 K -7%
Rhode Island 54 K 60K -9% 56 K -4%
Vermont 810 K 810K 0% 800 K -1%

The 2014 United States apple crop is predicted at 263,804 million boxes, about 10 percent larger than in 2013, according to USApple’s annual forecast. Leading the way is Washington state, with a record crop predicted of 162 million boxes. New York expects to harvest 30 million boxes, a 24 percent increase over 2013, and Michigan will be slightly down from a year ago, at 28,740 million boxes.

The 2014 national apple crop forecast is nearly 17 percent above the five-year average of 225,925 million boxes.

*                *                *

WITH A NORTHERN CLIMATE similar to New England’s, Minnesota has produced several apple varieties that flourish in our region. One of these, the mid-season heirloom Wealthy, has a direct New England connection, developed by Peter Gideon from cherry crab apple seeds purchased from Albert Emerson of Bangor, Maine, in 1861. The apple that eventually resulted was named by Gideon for his wife, Wealthy Hull Gideon, and released in 1868.

In recent years, the apple-breeding program at the University of Minnesota has developed several important cultivars, including Honeycrisp, the most sensational apple to be introduced in the past 30 years. Ready for picking in September, Honeycrisp has a unique texture and flavor that growers across the country are trying to replicate. It is a challenging apple to grow and its color varies widely, but New England’s growers produce some of the most outstanding Honeycrisp found anywhere.

Two other recent varieties from the University of Minnesota are Zestar! and Sweet Sixteen.

 

Zestar! apple

Zestar! apple

Zestar!, also known as simply Zestar or Zesta, is a medium-sized, early season apple, round in shape, mostly red in color over a yellow base. Its white flesh is crisp and juicy, and more sweet than tart. A good all-purpose apple, its flavor and texture make Zestar! one of the best of the new, early season varieties, though it browns easily, and it stores well for just a few weeks.

Zestar! is the trademarked name for the variety, a cross between State Fair, one of the University of Minnesota’s lesser-known apples, introduced in 1979, and an unnamed seedling. Zestar! was released in 1999.

 

Sweet Sixteen apple

Sweet Sixteen apple

Sweet Sixteen ripens later than Zestar!, in mid-season. It is a large, boxy apple, mostly red on a yellow-green skin, with prominent white lenticels (the dots on an apple’s surface, through which it respires). Sweet Sixteen’s yellow flesh is crisp and juicy. It has a sweet, spicy flavor with hints of citrus and vanilla.

Sweet Sixteen was developed in 1973 by the University of Minnesota from Northern Spy and Frostbite parents. Introduced in 1977, Sweet Sixteen has the same parentage as another Minnesota apple, Keepsake (1978), a late-season apple that is Honeycrisp’s only known parent.

To further complicate matters, both Keepsake and Sweet Sixteen were released decades before their Frostbite parent, which has only been available commercially since 2008. Frostbite’s flavor has been compared to molasses or sugar cane, accounting for some of Sweet Sixteen’s distinctive sweet flavor.

 

McIntosh apple ripening at Pine Hill Orchard in Colrain, Massachusetts (photo by Russell Steven Powell)

The McIntosh are plentiful but still a few weeks away at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts, but PaulaRed and Ginger Gold are already being harvested (Russell Steven Powell photo)

WHEN IT COMES TO APPLES, New England truly is a melting pot. In addition to the dozens of varieties discovered in the region, apples from across the country and around the world have flourished in New England’s climate and soils. We’ll be looking at the origins of some of New England’s best-known apples over the next several weeks.

There are only a handful of active apple-breeding programs left in the United States, at Cornell University in New York, the University of Minnesota, Washington State University, and a joint program of the University of Illinois, Purdue University in Indiana, and Rutgers University in New Jersey, known by the acronym PRI.

The PRI consortium has produced a number of cultivars that are grown in New England: early season apples Vista Bella (discovered in 1956; released commercially in 1974), Mollie’s Delicious (1948; 1966), and Pristine (1975; 1994), the mid-season CrimsonCrisp (1971; 2005), and the late-season GoldRush (1973; 1993).

Two other early season apples developed by PRI are Jersey Mac and Williams’ Pride.

Jersey Mac apple

Jersey Mac apple

Jersey Mac is a medium-sized, round apple with green and light-red patches on a dark-red skin. Beneath an occasionally tough peel, its tender, white flesh has a mild flavor that is more sweet than tart, with hints of strawberry. It can be used for both cooking and fresh eating. Its season is relatively short, as it does not store well. One grower calls Jersey Mac “a good choice for McIntosh lovers who are getting impatient waiting for the Macs to ripen.”

Despite its name and resemblance, though, Jersey Mac’s complex parentage does not include McIntosh. It is a cross between Melba, Wealthy, Rome, and Starr, an obscure, yellow-green apple from the 1920s known for its tart, juicy flesh. Jersey Mac was developed in 1956 at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in New Brunswick, and released commercially in 1971.

Williams' Pride apple

Williams’ Pride apple

Like Pristine, Williams’ Pride is an outstanding newer entry into the early season market, discovered in 1975 and released in 1988. It is a medium-to-large apple, slightly conical in shape with maroon-red color. Its crisp, juicy flesh is cream-colored, and it has a spicy, nicely balanced, sweet-tart flavor. It is an all-purpose apple especially good for fresh eating.

Like Jersey Mac, Williams’ Pride has complex parentage that includes Melba, Jonathan, Mollie’s Delicious, and Rome. It was named for Edwin B. Williams, long-time head of the disease-resistant apple-breeding program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Two late-season apples from PRI are Enterprise and Suncrisp.

Enterprise apple

Enterprise apple

Enterprise is a round, medium-to-large apple, deep-red in color with prominent white lenticels. Its spicy flavor is more tart than sweet, and it is considered best for cooking. Its flesh, crisp at harvest, softens some in storage, and its somewhat tough skin develops a waxy coating, but it keeps exceptionally well.

Discovered in 1978 and released in 1990, its parentage includes Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Rome Beauty. Another variety credited to Edwin B. Williams, Enterprise was developed for disease resistance at Purdue. It is immune to apple scab and highly resistant to fire blight and cedar apple rust.

Suncrisp apple

Suncrisp apple

Suncrisp is a late-season apple that continues to develop its flavor long after harvest. A large apple, it has orange-red striping over a yellow skin. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp and juicy. More tart than sweet when picked, it becomes sweeter and develops a complex, spicy flavor in storage, where it can keep for up to six months. It is especially good for cooking.

Suncrisp was developed in the 1990s by Dr. Frederick Hough at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in New Brunswick from Gold Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Cortland parents. The Suncrisp name is trademarked by Rutgers University.

*          *          *

WITH THE FRESH HARVEST upon us, here is a simple, straightforward, and delicious way to get those apple juices flowing. Adapted from From A Monastery Kitchen by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette.

Apple Crumble

4 medium-sized New England apples, sliced

½ c flour

½ c whole wheat flour

⅓ c sugar

1 t baking powder

¼ t salt

½ t nutmeg

2 eggs

1 t cinnamon

3 T butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375°. Arrange apple slices in 9” round cake pan. Combine remaining ingredients except cinnamon and butter, and spread mixture loosely over apples. Stir cinnamon into butter and drizzle on top. Bake for 30-40 minutes until apples are done.

*          *          *

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellApples of New England: A User’s Guide (The Countryman Press) is now out! A new book by Russell Steven Powell, it features color photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties grown, sold, or discovered in New England, plus a history of apple growing in the region spanning nearly four centuries. Photographs are by Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association.

In addition to extensive research, Powell interviewed senior and retired growers and leading industry figures from all six New England states, and obtained samples of many rare varieties at the preservation orchard maintained by the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

A chapter on John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”), for the first time links him with another Massachusetts native, Henry David Thoreau, as the fathers of American wild apples, Chapman for planting them, Thoreau with his pen.

Apples of New England is intended for use by all apple lovers, whether they are visiting the orchard, farm stand, grocery store, an abandoned field or a back yard — or in the kitchen. The descriptions include detailed information on each apple’s flavor and texture, ripening season, and best uses, as well as age, parentage, place of origin, and unusual histories.

Powell has worked for the nonprofit New England Apple Association since 1996, and served 13 years as executive director from 1998 to 2011. He is now its senior writer. He is the author of America’s Apple (Brook Hollow Press, 2012), a book about apple growing in the United States.

America’s Apple is now available in paperback for $19.95. Visit Silver Street Media or Amazon.com to order online, or look for it at your favorite orchard or bookstore.

 

McIntosh apples at Buell's Orchard, Eastford, CT

The McIntosh apples are sizing up nicely at Buell’s Orchard in Eastford, Connecticut, and should be ready for picking on or near New England Apple Day September 3. (Russell Powell photo)

 

Ginger Gold apple (Photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

Ginger Gold apple

ONE OF THE BEST early season apples is a relatively new one, Ginger Gold. It was discovered in 1969 in Lovingston, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the 2014 New England fresh apple harvest just underway, it will not be long before these beauties are ready for picking — as early as this weekend in some locations.

Ginger Gold has crisp, juicy, white flesh, with outstanding flavor, sweet with a little tartness. It is medium to large in size, round to conical in shape, and has a green-yellow skin, often with a light pink blush.

Ginger Gold is good for both cooking and fresh eating, especially in salads, as its flesh browns slowly when sliced. Its season is short, beginning in mid- to late August; like most early season apples, it does not store as well as many later varieties.

Ginger Gold was a chance seedling discovered in the orchard of Clyde and Ginger Harvey. Clyde originally proposed naming the apple “Harveylicious.” Fortunately,
wiser heads prevailed, and Clyde was persuaded to use his wife’s first name instead. Ginger Gold’s parentage is not known, but its color, flavor, and other traits suggest that it may include both Golden Delicious and Albemarle Pippin.

To find out where Ginger Gold is grown, visit New England Apples and click on “Find An Apple Orchard.” Be sure to call ahead to learn the ripening dates at the orchard you intend to visit, as they vary some according to location.

*          *          *

NEXT TUESDAY, August 19, is Savior of the Apple Feast Day, an Eastern Slavic holiday of pre-Christian origin associated with harvesting of ripe fruits, especially apples. Sometime after the 10th century, it became celebrated by Russian Orthodox Christians in conjunction with the New Testament narrative of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

On Savior of the Apple Feast Day, people from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine eat apples, apple pies, and other apple dishes — even if they are not Orthodox Christians. Churches across the countries bless the new harvest. According to one tradition, a person making a wish while eating an apple on Savior of the Apple Feast Day will have it come true.

Here is an account of a 2011 Savior of the Apple Feast Day from Margaret McKibbon, president of American Friends of Russian Folklore, excerpted from the Historic Hostess website:

“At a church in Belarus, every family brought a basket lined with a colorful woven or embroidered towel and filled with apples and other fruit, usually what was growing in their own gardens at home. The baskets were tucked out of the way until the end of the liturgy, when the parishioners drew back to leave a central aisle clear with baskets on the floor lining it on both sides.

“The priest then advanced down the aisle, repeating a blessing as he flicked blessed water over the baskets and people. After a closing prayer everybody picked up their baskets and headed for home, old ladies serenely pedaling their bicycles down the road.

“At home, our hostess carefully divided up the blessed fruit into portions for her friends and relatives who had not been at the service. Much of the rest of the day was spent in paying visits and distributing the fruit, which was always received with reverence and gratitude.”

Closer to home but a bit later, New England Apple Day will officially launch the local apple harvest Wednesday, September 3, as the commissioners of agriculture in the six New England states make appearances at a number of orchards throughout the region. Details to follow as the date nears.

*          *          *

FOR THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, ripe apples will overlap with green tomatoes. Ruth Griggs of Northampton, Massachusetts, supplied us with a recipe that combines the two:

“I wrote this down in the early 1970s as told to me by Louise Leu, who looked over our family farm, Stone Farm, in Chesterfield, New Hampshire. Louise was of German heritage and moved next door in the early 1960s from Queens, New York, when her husband, an accomplished violinist named Lou Leu, became ill.

“Louise tended our huge vegetable garden and put up all the vegetables come harvest — both freezing and canning — plus she made jams, pickles, sauerkraut, and the like. She was also a very good cook. I suspect this is a very old recipe, as the pie is served with ‘rich cream’ — perhaps before ice cream was invented?”

Green Tomato and Apple Pie

Brush bottom and sides of a pastry-lined pie with unbeaten egg white and cover with a layer of small green tomatoes, thinly sliced. Sprinkle with a little salt mixed with a little cinnamon and nutmeg and dot with 1 T butter creamed with 1 T brown sugar.

Cover with a layer of thinly sliced, tart apples and repeat the seasoning and sugar. Add another layer of green tomatoes and two of apples, each layer seasoned and sugared. Round the filling in the center and pour in 1/3 cup apple cider.

Adjust the top crust, make a few slashes, and brush with milk. Bake in a moderate oven for 40 minutes, or until the crust is delicately browned. Serve warm or cold with rich cream.

OUR THREE-PART video series on integrated pest management (IPM) concludes with a look at one of its five basic principles: how apple growers use a diverse combination of management tools to treat pests in their orchards that pose an economic threat, including the introduction of beneficial insects, and the use of pheromones to attract, distract, trap, or confuse would-be predators.

Part 1 of the series examines how pests are prevented and identified.

Part 2 explores how New England apple growers monitor pest populations in their orchards and decide when to treat the predators threatening the apple crop.

The series was produced for the nonprofit New England Apple Association, with funding from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and its Division of Pesticide Control.

PLUM CURCULIO, Oblique Banded Leaf Roller, and apple aphids are the featured pests as New England apple growers describe how they monitor populations in their orchards and decide when to treat the predators threatening the apple crop.

Part 1 of this three-part video series examines how pests are prevented and identified.

Part 3, to be posted Friday, looks at the diverse combination of management tools growers use to combat pests, including the use of pheromones, beneficial insects, and weather monitoring.

The series was produced for the New England Apple Association, with funding from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and its Division of Pesticide Control.

FOR AS LONG as humans have cultivated the soil to grow the food that sustains them, a whole horde of beasts, bugs, and bacteria have attempted to partake of the bounty. For the modern fruit grower, the challenge of protecting their trees and fruit from predators and injury has been compounded by the introduction of new pests introduced to New England’s orchards from around the world.

The orchardist uses a continually evolving combination of tools to combat these threats, collectively known as integrated pest management, or IPM. These methods include:

  • Add nutrients to the soil to strengthen the trees’ natural defenses
  • Introduce beneficial insects to the orchard to feed on harmful ones
  • Use pheromones to attract, distract, trap, or confuse the apple’s would-be predators
  • Monitor the weather with sophisticated equipment
  • Keep records to determine pest levels and to target critical periods in their life cycles
  • Apply a chemical treatment only if a threshold for significant economic damage is reached

Growers have powerful incentives to use as few chemicals in the orchard as possible. They are expensive to purchase and apply. In New England, most farmers and their families live on the farm. Growing apples is hard work, a round-the-clock job requiring devotion to the land. Apple growers are part scientists, part environmentalists, who take immense pride in growing beautiful, delicious fruit and maintaining healthy orchard ecosystems.

There are many safeguards to guarantee the safety of the apples we eat. The heaviest pest pressures occur in the spring and early summer, beginning before the fruit is even formed, and often months before it is picked. Growers must follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s “pre-harvest intervals,” prescribed periods between the time the trees are sprayed and when it is safe to pick the fruit. Upon entering the packing house, the apples are floated in a long water bath before brushing and sorting begins.

The trend toward smaller dwarf and semi-dwarf trees means that less spray is needed to cover the tree canopies, and in some cases enables the grower to use drip lines instead. Whenever possible, growers spray near dawn when the air is still — this further limits chemical “drift.”

Consumers should always wash their fresh produce as a safeguard against mishandling between the time it leaves the farm and when it is purchased. Growers will continue to be vigilant in seeking effective, non-chemical treatments to combat the threats to their orchards. Consumers can help by being more accepting of minor blemishes to their fruit, the harmless patch of apple scab, the occasional spot or nick that typically keeps otherwise perfectly healthy fruit from the marketplace.

But as you will see from “Apple Growers Battle Pests with IPM,” our three-part video series, nearly every farmer is invested in producing healthy fruit in sustainable ways.

Part one addresses the first two of the five principles of IPM:

  • Prevent pest problems
  • Identify the pest

Part two tomorrow covers:

  • Set an economic threshold
  • Monitor pest and damage

The series concludes Friday:

  • Use a combination of management tools

The three IPM programs will be posted on our website, newenglandapples.org, and on YouTube. Please forward them to anyone who is interested in this important and fascinating topic.

Russell Steven Powell produced and directed the programs for the nonprofit New England Apple Association, and Associate Producer Bar Lois Weeks wrote the script. John Browne videographed, edited, and narrated the programs. Special thanks to John Rogers, Pete Rogers, and Greg Parzych of Rogers Orchards in Southington, Connecticut, Chuck Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire, and IPM Field Scout Brian Farmer of Apple Leaf LLC, for sharing their knowledge and experiences.

The series was funded with grants from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and its Division of Pesticide Control.

The view from Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The view from Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

A GREAT USE for our fall bounty of New England apples is also among the easiest to make: applesauce. All it requires is a few minutes to wash and quarter some apples. You can use one variety or 20. If an apple is too tart or has lost a little of its firmness, toss it in: its flavor may blossom in applesauce.

Throw the apples in a big pot with 1-2 cups of liquid (water or fresh cider if you have it) to keep the apples from sticking to the bottom. On low to medium heat, cover and cook the apples until they are soft, stirring occasionally.

Either put the apples through a food mill or mash them with a fork. Add a little cinnamon or not. You are done.

It is that easy to make this naturally sweet treat. Applesauce can be enjoyed by itself or sprinkled with raisins, served over ice cream or pancakes, or stirred into oatmeal or yogurt. It freezes well and is a featured ingredient in many baked goods. Applesauce can be substituted for other liquids in recipes, from butter and shortening to water and eggs.

* * *

THIS FALL I find myself tasting many more apples than usual — and I normally taste a lot of apples. The reason for the increase is that I am working on A Field Guide To New England Apples, which will be published by Countryman Press next year. I am tasting and re-tasting dozens of apples to better describe them, fresh off the tree and a month or so into storage, and cooked, when possible.

My 2012 book America’s Apple features photographs by Bar Lois Weeks of 120 apples, and her photographs will illustrate the Field Guide’s detailed descriptions of 150 varieties currently grown and sold in New England. Add to this more than 100 rare heirlooms (including about 60 varieties preserved in an orchard at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts), and I will have eaten or sampled several hundred apples by the end of my research.

Applesauce-making (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Applesauce-making (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Recently I spent several nights making sauce with some of these rare apples, mixed in with  contemporary varieties in my refrigerator. I used classic standards like Cortland, contemporary varieties like Creston, Honeycrisp, Shamrock, and Spencer, heirlooms including Arkansas Black, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Gravenstein, and such rare apples as Crow’s Egg, Deacon Jones, and Peck’s Pleasant. The results made these batches of applesauce as delicious as they were unusual.

For the liquid, I used a jug of mulled cider left over from our booth at The Big E, which gave each batch a hint of cinnamon and other spices. I froze half of each batch and have been enjoying the rest on maple walnut ice cream or mixed with chopped dried apricots. It adds great flavor to this recipe for Apple Gingerbread, adapted from Cynthia and Jerome Rubin’s Apple Cookbook (1974, Emporium Publications).

The recipe is unusual in that the sauce is separate rather than mixed in with the batter. The nicely spiced gingerbread bakes in a bed of applesauce, which makes a nice topping when the cake is served.

The gingerbread is especially good served warm. The original recipe calls for whipped cream sprinkled with orange zest. I did not have either ingredient on hand but did not miss them, though it sounds delicious.

Apple Gingerbread

1/2 c butter

1/2 c warm water

1 c molasses

1-1/4 c whole wheat flour

1-1/4 c white flour

1 t baking soda

1 t ginger

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t salt

1/4 t cloves

1/4 t nutmeg

2-1/2 c applesauce

Preheat oven to 350°. Melt butter in large saucepan. Remove from heat, and add water and molasses. Sift together dry ingredients and add to liquid, beating until well blended.

Pour applesauce into an 8″ x 8″ pan. Spoon gingerbread over applesauce. Bake for about 35 minutes.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION about New England apples, visit newenglandapples.org.

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