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A bin of Macoun apples. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A bin of Macoun apples. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

READERS, PLEASE NOTE: THIS WILL BE THE FINAL POST AT THIS ADDRESS. BEGINNING SEPTEMBER 30, 2015, VISIT THE WEBLOG AT New England Apples weblog. THANK YOU.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

PEOPLE MAY DIFFER on how to pronounce it, but there is nearly universal agreement that Macoun is one of the best tasting apples. Whether you say “Mac-cow-n” or “Mac-coo-n,” the apple named for Canadian pomologist W. T. Macoun is renowned for its crispness and sweet-tart flavor.

Macoun is a cross of McIntosh with the heirloom apple Jersey Black. Also called Black Apple because of its deep color, Jersey Black supplies Macoun’s rich, wine-red tones, with occasional green patches or stripes.

Macoun is a tactile pleasure, as pleasing to hold as it is to behold. Its irregular, boxy shape — another feature of Jersey Black — fits easily into the hand. Its light green flesh is crisp and juicy.

McIntosh supplies much of Macoun’s juiciness and flavor, which is more tart than sweet. But Macoun’s texture is firmer than McIntosh, and it has a distinctive, complex spiciness, with a hint of strawberry.

New England Macouns are ripe now at most orchards, and they should be available at farm stands and in stores for several months, while supplies last. For a long time Macoun was considered strictly a fall apple, which heightened anticipation of its arrival. Much of that anticipation remains today, and despite improvements in storage, demand for fresh Macouns remains strong.

Macoun is such a great fresh-eating apple that it is often overlooked for cooking. It can get a little juicy when cooked, but its flavor and firmness work well in pies, crisp, and sauce, especially in combination with other varieties.

As for pronunciation, there is no definitive answer. Descendants of W. T. Macoun pronounced the family name “Mac-cow-n,” but some dictionaries assert that it is “Mac-coo-n,” instead. The disparity over pronunciation undoubtedly has its origins among clans in the United Kingdom, long before the discovery of the Macoun apple in New York in 1909. It was released commercially in 1923.

Over time, both pronunciations generally have been accepted, and their usage now varies some from region to region, even orchard to orchard.

Named in honor of the apple scientist William Tyrell Macoun, in our opinion the “Mac-cow-n” affirmed by his descendants seems like the obvious name for this stellar treat.

But once you sink your teeth into a fresh Macoun, what you call it is irrelevant.

*

TWO  BOOKS by Russell Steven Powell, senior writer, and Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, explore the history of apple growing in the region and look at the nation’s apple industry.

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellApples of New England (Countryman Press) is an indispensable resource for anyone searching for apples in New England orchards, farm stands, or grocery stores — or trying to identify an apple tree in their own backyard.

The book contains color photographs by Weeks and descriptions of more than 200 apples discovered, grown, or sold in New England, accompanied by notes about flavor and texture, history, ripening time, storage quality, and best use. Apples of New England offers practical advice about rare heirlooms and newly discovered apples.

Apples of New England includes chapters on the rich tradition of apple growing in New England, and on the “fathers” of American apples, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thoreau. Apples of New England presents the apple in all its splendor: as a biological wonder, as a super food, as a work of art, and as a cultural icon.

America's AppleAmerica’s Apple (Brook Hollow Press) tells a rich and detailed story about apple growing in America, from horticulture to history to culinary uses. Powell writes about the best ways to eat, drink, and cook with apples. He describes the orchard’s beauty and introduces readers to some of the family farms where apples are grown today, many of them spanning generations.

America’s Apple looks at how America’s orchards are changing as a result of the trend toward intensive planting and the trademarking of new varieties, and what that means to consumers. Powell also writes about the fragile underpinnings of modern agriculture: the honeybees needed to pollinate the crop and the labor required to pick it, plus new and exotic pests and increasingly volatile weather.

Apples of New England and America’s Apple are available in hardcover at fine bookstores and orchards and online. America’s Apple is also available in paperback.

For more information, write to newenglandapples@verizon.net.

A bin of fresh-picked Gala apples at Fairview Orchards in Groton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A bin of fresh-picked Gala apples at Fairview Orchards in Groton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

NO MATTER how you pronounce it, Gala is among the very best sweet apples. It has more character and nuance than most sweet varieties, with outstanding apple and pear flavor. Gala is juicy, and it is good for both fresh eating and cooking.

Gala’s skin changes color from harvest to storage, often beginning with streaks of yellow on a red background, gradually intensifying to a deeper red, with hints of orange, as the season wears on.

Gala has complex parentage. It conical shape and some of its sweetness comes from Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. Golden Delicious also supplies some of its early season color. Two other Gala parents have orange in their name: the English heirloom Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Kidd’s Orange Red, an apple from New Zealand.

Even the name fits the apple, compact, short and sweet. Biting into a Gala is, as Merriam-Webster defines the word, a festive celebration. Both pronunciations, incidentally, with either a long or short first “a,” are considered correct.

Gala was discovered in New Zealand in 1934, and introduced commercially in 1970. It was one of seven major commercial apple varieties released in the United States between 1962 and 1970, the others with similarly succinct names: Fuji (1962) and Akane (1970) from Japan, Empire (1966) and Jonagold (1968) from New York, PaulaRed from Michigan (1968), and Ginger Gold from West Virginia (1969).

*          *          *

THIS FRIDAY, September 18, marks the opening of the 2015 Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”), the region’s largest fair, which draws about 1.5 million people during its 17-day run. The New England Apple Association booth, in the rear of the Massachusetts Building, will once again feature a variety of fresh apples, baked goods, fresh cider, and literature about the region’s orchards.

The fair runs daily through Sunday, October 4. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

We will have fresh cider from Carlson Orchards in Harvard, cider donuts from Atkins Farm in Amherst, and fresh apples this weekend from Carlson Orchards, Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, and Nestrovich Fruit Farm, 561 Main Rd., Granville. We will also have apple crisp and apple pie!

If you are not out visiting an orchard, please stop by!

*          *          *

THIS SHORT VIDEO has tips about how to prepare for your visit to a pick-your-own orchard:

 

 

The McIntosh are plentiful and showing good color this fall at New England's apple orchards, including Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, where this photo was taken last week. The dull finish on the apples, incidentally, is a naturally occurring bloom that helps the apple retain moisture. They shine right up when you rub them. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apples are plentiful and showing good color this fall at New England’s apple orchards, including Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, where this photo was taken last week. The dull finish on the apples, incidentally, is a naturally occurring bloom that helps the apple retain moisture. They shine right up when you rub them. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

MANY PEOPLE, and some orchards and supermarkets we have visited, want to stick an “a” between the capital “M” and small “c” of McIntosh. It does not exist.

A macintosh (or more commonly, mackintosh) is a raincoat, or the brand name of a personal computer.

A McIntosh is an apple.

Outside of the region, a Mac might evoke images of a computer or a hamburger.

In New England, a Mac is an iconic fruit.

The apple named for its founder, Canadian farmer John McIntosh, has flourished in New England for the past century. McIntosh is the region’s leading apple, accounting for about two-thirds of the New England crop.

McIntosh is particularly well-suited to New England’s rocky soils and cool summer nights. It cannot be grown successfully in the South or West, requiring not just the right soil but the cool nights that help the apple develop its distinctive flavor and color.

The round, red-and-green apple with a heady aroma, plenty of juice, and outstanding sweet-tart taste, has other qualities that limit its spread beyond New England. McIntosh does not travel as well as many of the hard apples imported here from other parts of the country, due to its thin skin.

More problematic for some is McIntosh’s color. While most New Englanders admire the apple’s random splashes of red and green, the marketplace demands purer color. Apple breeders are continually trying to develop redder and redder strains of McIntosh.

Among the many newer versions of the apple featuring greater red color are Marshall McIntosh, discovered on a farm in Fitchburg, Massachusetts; Pioneer McIntosh, and RubyMac. Apart from these redder versions of the original, McIntosh’s influence can be felt throughout the apple world, as a parent of such varieties as Cortland, Empire, and Macoun.

Although John McIntosh discovered the apple in 1801 as a chance seedling, its parents are generally accepted to be Fameuse, or Snow apple, and the heirloom Detroit Red. It took nearly 70 years for McIntosh’s son to introduce the apple commercially. Vermonter Dr. Thomas H. Hopkins is credited with planting the first Mac in the United States, in 1868.

McIntosh’s popularity grew steadily over the next half century, and it was being planted extensively in New England by 1910. Its ascendancy as the region’s leading apple was hastened by the extreme winter of 1933-34, which wiped out most of New England’s Baldwin trees, plus many Gravensteins, among others. The hardy apple from Canada not only survived, it thrived in New England.

The hardiness of its trees, though, fails to account for McIntosh’s enduring popularity. It has become an iconic symbol of the New England fall, a way to usher in the season with a ritual first bite. As a fresh eating apple, McIntosh has a distinctive crunch to go with its rich perfume and strong flavor, and it is excellent in cider and for baking.

McIntosh tend to break down when cooked, making it an outstanding choice in applesauce. Most bakers are willing to sacrifice a little firmness in their apple pies in order to include some of McIntosh’s flavor and aroma, mixing them with firmer varieties like Cortland or Mutsu. Many people are so in love with McIntosh’s flavor that they are willing to risk a softer pie.

But the days of the soft fresh McIntosh are long gone, or should be. The advent of controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, a method of arresting apples’ respiration by placing them in a sealed room with most of the oxygen removed and carbon dioxide added, keeps McIntosh crisp months after they are harvested.

All apples should be kept cold to retain their crispness, and this is particularly true of Macs, which can soften if left at room temperatures for too long. If you get a soft McIntosh these days, chances are that it was not kept cold somewhere along the chain from orchard to consumer.

It is high season for McIntosh. Most of the region’s orchards will be picking, packing, and selling them this weekend.

If you haven’t had your first one yet, it is time to get started. If you are one of those rare individuals who has yet to try McIntosh, be prepared for a richly complex experience.

Just don’t spell it with an “a.”

*          *          *

BROOKFIELD ORCHARD’S Annual Harvest Craft Fair will be Saturday, September 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine. The orchard will have pick-your-own apples, apple dumplings, cider donuts, and a snack bar.

There will be handmade items by artisans and crafters in many media, wagon rides, and a playground. The fair will have music by Bad Tickers and craft beer by Rapscallion Brewery.

The orchard is located at 12 Lincoln Road, North Brookfield, Massachusetts. For details, call 508-867-6858 or email brookfieldo@aol.com.

The trees are loaded at Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, although McIntosh will not be ready for picking until next week. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The trees are loaded at Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, although McIntosh will not be ready for picking until next week. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan enjoys an apple at Mack's Apples in Londonderry, where she read her proclamation officially recognizing September as New England Apple Month. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan enjoys an apple at Mack’s Apples in Londonderry, where she read her proclamation officially recognizing September as New England Apple Month. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

NEW HAMPSHIRE Gov. Maggie Hassan, Rhode Island Chief of Agriculture Ken Ayars, Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux, Massachusetts State Senator James Eldridge, and Jim Bair, president of USApple, were among the officials visiting orchards Wednesday and Thursday to officially launch the 2015 New England apple harvest.

Many varieties of apples will be available for picking this Labor Day Weekend, including McIntosh, Gala, and Cortland at a number of orchards. Ripening times vary from orchard to orchard, so always call ahead to find out what is available.

Here are a few scenes from New England Apple Day from around the region.

Time to get picking!

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux, right, and Assistant Commissioner Jason Wentworth grab some apples while touring the new packing line at J. P. Sullivan Co., in Ayer. Commissioner Lebeaux earlier presented Fairview Orchards Manager Sean O'Neill with a proclamation from Gov. Charles Baker naming September New England Apple Month. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux, right, and Assistant Commissioner Jason Wentworth grab some apples while touring the new packing line at J. P. Sullivan Co., in Ayer. Commissioner Lebeaux earlier presented Fairview Orchards Manager Sean O’Neill with a proclamation from Gov. Charles Baker naming September New England Apple Month. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Fairview Orchards in Groton, Massachusetts, is already picking Galas, and will begin harvesting these McIntosh next week. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Fairview Orchards in Groton, Massachusetts, is already picking Galas, and will begin harvesting these McIntosh next week. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

L to R: Jim Bair, president of USApple, Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, and Ellen and Mark Parlee pf Parlee Farms in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.

L to R: Jim Bair, president of USApple, Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, and Ellen and Mark Parlee pf Parlee Farms in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.

Rhode Island Chief of Agriculture Ken Ayars took this photo of the crowd gathered at Steere Orchard in Greenville.

Rhode Island Chief of Agriculture Ken Ayars took this photo of the crowd gathered at Steere Orchard in Greenville.

L to R: New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, owners Andrew Mack Jr., Nancy, Zoey, and Cindy Mack of Mack's Apples in Londonderry. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

L to R: New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, owners Andrew Mack Jr., Nancy, Zoey, and Cindy Mack of Mack’s Apples in Londonderry. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Owners Chuck and Diane Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire, with Jim Bair, president of USApple. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Owners Chuck and Diane Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire, with Jim Bair, president of USApple. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Owner Tim Bassett and store manager Wendy Hsu of Gould Hill Orchards in Contoocook, New Hampshire, listen as USApple President Jim Bair discusses the current crop. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Owner Tim Bassett and store manager Wendy Hsu of Gould Hill Orchards in Contoocook, New Hampshire, listen as USApple President Jim Bair discusses the current crop. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Honeycrisp are plentiful at Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont. They will not be ready for picking for another week or so, but Wellwood will be picking Macs and Cortlands this weekend. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The Honeycrisp are plentiful at Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont. They will not be ready for picking for another week or so, but Wellwood will be picking Macs and Cortlands this weekend. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Visitors pass through a field of flowers en route to the pick-your-own orchard at Riverview Farm in Plainfield, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Visitors pass through a field of flowers en route to the pick-your-own orchard at Riverview Farm in Plainfield, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

 

*          *          *

The following four-minute video has tips about how to prepare for your visit to a New England pick-your-own orchard:

Introducing the new logo of the New England Apple Association.

Introducing the new logo of the New England Apple Association.

TODAY MARKS the official kickoff of the 2015 New England apple harvest.

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan will bite into an apple at Mack’s Orchard in Londonderry Wednesday, September 2, at 3 p.m. Among those attending will be New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill, Jim Bair, president of USApple, and Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association.

Thursday morning at 9, Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux will join Bair, Weeks, and other officials at J. P. Sullivan Co. in Ayer for a tour of the company’s new packing line, followed by a visit to nearby Fairview Orchards. J. P. Sullivan is the largest packer and shipper of apples in the region.

Events celebrating the new season will be held in the other New England states throughout the month. While a number of early season apple varieties were picked in August, September is when many of New England’s leading varieties ripen.

McIntosh, New England’s most popular apple, is already being picked in some orchards, and should be widely available over the next seven to 10 days. Cortland, Gala, Honeycrisp, and others will soon follow, with late-season apples available for picking through much of October.

As always, call ahead to make sure that the variety you are looking for is available.

*          *          *

TODAY ALSO BEGINS the nonprofit New England Apple Association’s 80th year. Founded by a group of growers from New England and New York in 1935, the organization became known as the Northeast McIntosh Growers Association in 1993. The name eventually was shortened to New England Apple Association.

The Association promotes the New England apple industry through educational and promotional events and projects. Its website introduces visitors to the wide variety of New England apples and orchards, the nutritional value of apples, and how apples are grown and prepared.

In recognition of its anniversary year, the Association today introduces a new logo, designed by Christopher Rob Weeks.

Tomorrow we will post photos from today’s events and launch the association’s new website!

*          *          *

TWO RECENT BOOKS by Russell Steven Powell, senior writer, and Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, explore the history of apple growing in the region and look at the nation’s apple industry.

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellApples of New England (Countryman Press) is an indispensable resource for anyone searching for apples in New England orchards, farm stands, or grocery stores — or trying to identify an apple tree in their own backyard.

The book contains color photographs by Weeks and descriptions of more than 200 apples discovered, grown, or sold in New England, accompanied by notes about flavor and texture, history, ripening time, storage quality, and best use. Apples of New England offers practical advice about rare heirlooms and newly discovered apples.

Apples of New England includes chapters on the rich tradition of apple growing in New England, and on the “fathers” of American apples, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thoreau. Apples of New England presents the apple in all its splendor: as a biological wonder, as a super food, as a work of art, and as a cultural icon.

America's AppleAmerica’s Apple (Brook Hollow Press) tells a rich and detailed story about apple growing in America, from horticulture to history to culinary uses. Powell writes about the best ways to eat, drink, and cook with apples. He describes the orchard’s beauty and introduces readers to some of the family farms where apples are grown today, many of them spanning generations.

America’s Apple looks at how America’s orchards are changing as a result of the trend toward intensive planting and the trademarking of new varieties, and what that means to consumers. Powell also writes about the fragile underpinnings of modern agriculture: the honeybees needed to pollinate the crop and the labor required to pick it, plus new and exotic pests and increasingly volatile weather.

Apples of New England and America’s Apple are available in hardcover at fine bookstores and orchards and online. America’s Apple is also available in paperback.

For more information, write to newenglandapples@verizon.net.

EARLY SEASON APPLES have come a long way in the past 50 years. Today, there are a number of excellent choices to satisfy people’s palettes as they await the arrival of the traditional fall apples like McIntosh and Cortland.

These newer early season varieties taste better and last longer than many of their predecessors. Here are six of the best:

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Akane (ah-KAH-neh) was discovered in Japan in 1937, but it was not released commercially until 1970. It has beautiful red color with occasional yellow streaks, and sweet-tart flavor with hints of strawberry. Crisp and juicy, Akane is good for both eating and cooking, as it holds it shape well. Akane is the result of a cross between two heirloom varieties: Jonathan, which supplies Akane’s rich red color, and Worcester Pearmain, which contributes its strawberry flavor.

Ginger Gold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Ginger Gold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Ginger Gold was discovered as a chance seedling at a Virginia orchard in 1969; based on its characteristics and where it was found, it may be a cross between Golden Delicious and Newtown Pippin. It has yellow-green skin and is crisp and juicy. Ginger Gold’s flavor is more sweet than tart. It is good for both cooking and fresh eating, and its flesh browns slowly when sliced, making it especially good in salads.

Pristine apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Pristine apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Pristine was developed at Purdue University in Indiana in 1975, and released commercially in 1994. Yellow with an occasional pink blush, Pristine’s sweet-tart flavor has hints of citrus. It is crisper and stores better than many early season varieties. Its parentage is obscure, a cross between an unnamed seedling and Camuzat, a little-known apple from Spain.

Sansa apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Sansa apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Sansa is another red apple with yellow streaking, although it sometimes can be deep pink. It is the product of a 1970 collaboration between researchers in Japan and New Zealand, and it was released commercially in 1988. It is sweet and juicy, with just a little tang, and it is considered best for fresh eating. Sansa is a cross between, Akane, which contributes to its red color, and Gala, which lends it sweetness.

Williams' Pride apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Williams’ Pride apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Williams’ Pride is another apple developed at Purdue’s joint apple-breeding program with Rutgers University in New Jersey and the University of Illinois. It was discovered in 1975 and released commercially in 1988. Maroon red, it is crisp and juicy, with a spicy, sweet-tart taste. It is considered a good all-purpose apple and is especially good for fresh eating. Williams’ Pride is the result of a complex cross that includes Jonathan, Melba, Mollie’s Delicious, and Rome.

Zestar! apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Zestar! apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Zestar! is the newest of this early bunch, developed in 1999 at the University of Minnesota. It is mostly red in color over a yellow base. Crisp and juicy, its flavor is more sweet than tart. A good all-purpose apple, Zestar! is the trademarked name for the variety, which resulted from a cross of an unknown seedling with State Fair, a little-known apple native to Minnesota.

*          *          *

VISITORS to Farm Fresh Fest at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Massachusetts, this weekend, will have a chance to taste some of these outstanding early season apples at the New England Apple Association booth. In addition to fresh apples, there will be apple baked goods and other apple treats.

Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks and Senior Writer Russell Steven Powell will be on hand to talk about apples and the upcoming season, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, August 29, and Sunday, August 30.

*          *          *

NEW ENGLAND expects a good apple crop in 2015.

The U. S. Apple Association estimates the 2015 New England apple crop at 4.03 million 42-pound boxes, 18 percent higher than the region’s five-year average of 3.42 million-boxes. The crop is expected to be about 14 percent larger than 2014’s fresh harvest of 3.55 million boxes.

Growing conditions were outstanding in early spring and summer, with good weather during the pollination period throughout the region, and little or no damage from frost. Parts of New England have been dry for the past month, notably areas of Connecticut and New Hampshire, and there has been scattered hail damage in some areas, but over all the crop is shaping up nicely.

The timing of the New England apple harvest so far is on schedule, with early varieties like Akane, Ginger Gold, Pristine, Sansa, Williams’ Pride, and Zestar! already being picked. McIntosh, which accounts for about two-thirds of the crop, is expected to be available by Labor Day Weekend or soon thereafter 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.

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

Here is USApple’s state-by-state forecast for 2015 (in units of 42-pound boxes):

2015 crop estimate 2014 harvest % change from 2014 5-year average % change from 5-year average
Connecticut 631 K 474K +33% 516 K +22%
Maine 1,000 K 905K +11% 738 K +35%
Massachusetts 1,121 K 1,031K +9% 906 K +24%
New Hampshire 495 K 402K +23% 461 K +7%
Rhode Island 55 K 43K +28% 53 K +4%
Vermont 729 K 700K +4% 750 K -3%

The 2015 United States apple crop is predicted to be 234.8 million boxes, about 14 percent smaller than 2014, according to USApple’s annual forecast. Leading the way is Washington state, with an estimated crop of 143 million boxes, about 18 percent smaller than a year ago. New York expects to harvest 26.2 million boxes, a 15 percent decrease from 2014, and Michigan will be slightly down from a year ago, at 24,000 million boxes.

The 2015 national apple crop forecast is close to the five-year average of 236,008 million boxes.

*          *          *

TWO RECENT BOOKS by Russell Steven Powell, senior writer, and Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, explore the history of apple growing in the region and look at the nation’s apple industry.

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellApples of New England (Countryman Press) is an indispensable resource for anyone searching for apples in New England orchards, farm stands, or grocery stores — or trying to identify an apple tree in their own backyard.

The book contains color photographs by Weeks and descriptions of more than 200 apples discovered, grown, or sold in New England, accompanied by notes about flavor and texture, history, ripening time, storage quality, and best use. Apples of New England offers practical advice about rare heirlooms and newly discovered apples.

Apples of New England includes chapters on the rich tradition of apple growing in New England, and on the “fathers” of American apples, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thoreau. Apples of New England presents the apple in all its splendor: as a biological wonder, as a super food, as a work of art, and as a cultural icon.

America's AppleAmerica’s Apple (Brook Hollow Press) tells a rich and detailed story about apple growing in America, from horticulture to history to culinary uses. Powell writes about the best ways to eat, drink, and cook with apples. He describes the orchard’s beauty and introduces readers to some of the family farms where apples are grown today, many of them spanning generations.

America’s Apple looks at how America’s orchards are changing as a result of the trend toward intensive planting and the trademarking of new varieties, and what that means to consumers. Powell also writes about the fragile underpinnings of modern agriculture: the honeybees needed to pollinate the crop and the labor required to pick it, plus new and exotic pests and increasingly volatile weather.

Apples of New England and America’s Apple are available in hardcover at fine bookstores and orchards and online. America’s Apple is also available in paperback.

For more information, write to newenglandapples@verizon.net.

"Truth #1," by Peter Dellert, one of nearly 30 sculptures nestled among fields and apple trees at "Art in the Orchard," at Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Truth #1,” by Peter Dellert, one of nearly 30 sculptures nestled among fields and apple trees at “Art in the Orchard,” at Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

"Orchard Pig,"  by Susan Halls, 2015 "Art in the Orchard," Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Sculptor Susan Halls says of her fired clay “Orchard Pig,” “In my native UK, it was common in the autumn to let pigs forage on wind-fallen fruit in the orchard. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to pay homage to that tradition with my version of fruit-fattened sow.” (Russell Steven Powell photo)

MANY HEIRLOOM APPLES have one or more flaws that keep them from mass cultivation. It may be that the variety is biennial, producing crops every other year, or is otherwise an unreliable “cropper.” The apples may be small or misshapen.

Some otherwise fine apples do not make it to the marketplace because they do not store or ship well. Some apples simply fall out of fashion, notably the once popular russets, with their brown and copper colored skin and rough, sandpaper-like skin.

The flavor of some heirloom varieties is too bland to compete with today’s commercial apples. The virtues of some apples do not translate well from their native climate, geography, and soil, losing distinctiveness when grown on a mass scale.

Some apples pose horticultural challenges, susceptible to certain pests and disease, dropping fruit before it is ripe, or vulnerable to extremes of weather.

The owner of a commercial orchard cannot afford large plantings of rare or obscure apples that may be difficult to grow, fail to produce, lack distinction, or cannot compete in the marketplace. Yet on a small scale and in the right circumstances, many heirloom apples continue to flourish, broadening our experience of this incredibly diverse fruit.

The apple is ancient, but constantly reinventing itself. Heirlooms are unique, edible relics from earlier times, exact replicas of the fruit from their original tree. The best of these are not just historically significant, they add a range distinctive colors, shapes, flavors, and textures to the eye and palette.

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

It is safe to say that if an apple has been cultivated for 400 years, it must have something going for it. Such is the case with Gravenstein. Its limitations as a commercial apple are mostly horticultural, especially its vulnerability to extreme cold. Its obscure, old-fashioned name is a liability in today’s marketplace, and it does not store or ship as well as some varieties due to its thin skin.

Yet Gravenstein is beautiful to behold and excellent for both cooking and fresh eating. It is a medium-sized apple with a blunt, conical shape, more barrel-like than the taller, slender Red Delicious. Gravenstein’s mix of reds and light greens blend together in an unusual watercolor wash. Its white flesh is crisp and juicy, and its flavor is lemony tart.

Gravenstein inspires an almost cult-like devotion in some people, who consider it to be the best single variety for an apple pie. They will drive miles to get their hands on Gravensteins when they learn of a supply. It is fruitless to argue with these enthusiasts, especially early in the season, since Gravensteins ripen before such leading pie-apple contenders as Cortland and McIntosh, Mutsu and Northern Spy.

Gravenstein’s parentage and origin are unknown, but it is believed to have come from Germany or Italy, dating back to at least the 1600s. It has been popular in Denmark since it first arrived in the southern town of Gråsten in 1669, and it was named Denmark’s national apple in 2005. Gravenstein is the German name for Gråsten.

Gravenstein migrated to England in 1819, and to the United States in the 1820s, possibly as one of several apples imported here by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Gravenstein became popular in New England in the late 1800s, and it was the fifth most widely planted apple in the region as recently as 1930, trailing only Baldwin, McIntosh, Red Delicious, and Wealthy.

Gravenstein’s decline was hastened by the same harsh winter in 1933-34 that wiped out most of New England’s Baldwin crop. Gravenstein remains a hard-to-find heirloom in New England today, but it is still grown widely in parts of Europe and the United States, especially in California.

Red Gravenstein is a sport variety of Gravenstein, meaning that it resulted from a mutant limb rather than seed. As its name suggests, it is redder in color than its parents, and a little less tart. It was first cited in 1873.

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"Feed Me Apples," driftwood sculpture by Lindsey Molyneux, 2015 "Art in the Orchard," Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Feed Me Apples,” driftwood sculpture by Lindsey Molyneux. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

"Jacob's Dream," by Fletcher Smith, 2015 "Art in the Orchard," Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Jacob’s Dream,” by Fletcher Smith. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

About 1,000 people attended the opening of the third Art In The Orchard, a biennial outdoor sculptural exhibit at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton, Massachusetts, Saturday, August 15. The walking orchard tour features the works of nearly 30 artists from around New England, whose sculptures are nestled throughout the farm, in and among the apple trees. The sculptures will remain on view through October 15.

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TWO RECENT BOOKS by Russell Steven Powell, senior writer, and Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, explore the history of apple growing in the region and look at the nation’s apple industry.

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellApples of New England (Countryman Press) is an indispensable resource for anyone searching for apples in New England orchards, farm stands, or grocery stores — or trying to identify an apple tree in their own backyard.

The book contains color photographs by Weeks and descriptions of more than 200 apples discovered, grown, or sold in New England, accompanied by notes about flavor and texture, history, ripening time, storage quality, and best use. Apples of New England offers practical advice about rare heirlooms and newly discovered apples.

Apples of New England includes chapters on the rich tradition of apple growing in New England, and on the “fathers” of American apples, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thoreau. Apples of New England presents the apple in all its splendor: as a biological wonder, as a super food, as a work of art, and as a cultural icon.

America's AppleAmerica’s Apple (Brook Hollow Press) tells a rich and detailed story about apple growing in America, from horticulture to history to culinary uses. Powell writes about the best ways to eat, drink, and cook with apples. He describes the orchard’s beauty and introduces readers to some of the family farms where apples are grown today, many of them spanning generations.

America’s Apple looks at how America’s orchards are changing as a result of the trend toward intensive planting and the trademarking of new varieties, and what that means to consumers. Powell also writes about the fragile underpinnings of modern agriculture: the honeybees needed to pollinate the crop and the labor required to pick it, plus new and exotic pests and increasingly volatile weather.

Apples of New England and America’s Apple are available in hardcover at fine bookstores and orchards and online. America’s Apple is also available in paperback.

For more information, write to newenglandapples@verizon.net.

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