Archive for November, 2011

GoldRush were one of the last apples picked this fall at Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

GoldRush were one of the last apples picked this fall at Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

GOLDEN APPLES have been potent symbols of beauty, desire, and power over centuries in cultures around the globe. They appear in fairy tales from Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, and Russia — usually stolen from a king. In Norse mythology, golden apples grant immortal life to the gods.

Golden apples figure prominently in three Greek myths, serving in one as a catalyst for the Trojan War. Eris, the goddess of discord, was the only deity uninvited to the wedding of Peleus and the beautiful sea-nymph Thetis. Outraged, she threw a golden apple inscribed “for the fairest” before the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera.

The three beauties argued over who should get the apple, and Zeus was loathe to decide, so he appointed a Trojan shepherd boy, Paris, to answer the question instead. The goddesses tried to bribe him. Hera, queen of Olympus, told Paris she would grant him power to rule the world. Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, said she would make him a brilliant strategist in battle.

Aphrodite, goddess of love, offered Paris the love of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, even though Helen was married to the king of Sparta. Paris succumbed and awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite. She helped him to elope with Helen to Troy, launching the Trojan War and eventually leading to Paris’ death.

Aphrodite used golden apples again to aid the mortal Melanion, who wished to marry the brilliant athlete Atalanta. Atalanta had agreed to wed a suitor only if he managed to beat her in a foot race. With Aphrodite’s help, Melanion threw a golden apple ahead of Atalanta whenever he fell behind. Fascinated, she stopped to pick each one up, and she lost the race.

As a source of immortality, golden apples were the object of one of Hercules’ 12 labors. Hercules was commanded by Eurystheus to bring back golden apples from Hera’s Garden of Hesperides, at the edge of the world. The golden apples were guarded by a hundred-headed dragon, and by the Hesperides, the daughters of Atlas, the titan who bore the sky and the earth upon his shoulders.

After many trials, Hercules finally reached the garden, where he convinced Atlas to retrieve the apples from his daughters by agreeing to take over his burden, as Atlas was tired of holding up earth and sky. When Atlas returned with the golden apples, he told Hercules he would take them to Eurystheus himself, leaving Hercules to bear Atlas’ heavy load for eternity. Hercules agreed, but asked Atlas to take the world back for a moment while he padded his shoulders to better carry the weight. When Atlas set the apples on the ground, Hercules picked them up and ran off, carrying them back to Eurystheus.

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THE GOLDEN APPLES we eat today may not bestow immortality, but their beauty and flavor make them divine enough to be food for the gods. Three late-season golden apples that thrive on New England soils are Golden Delicious and two of its offspring, Mutsu (also known as Crispin), and GoldRush.

Golden Delicious apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Golden Delicious apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

While unrelated to Red Delicious, Golden Delicious shares its conical shape and many of its flavor characteristics. Like the Red, Golden Delicious is a sweet, medium-to-large apple and is an excellent keeper. Golden Delicious has a greenish-yellow skin that turns gold, and its yellow flesh is crisp and juicy. It is good in cooking, especially in pies, as its flesh holds up well when cooked. Golden Delicious is also excellent eaten fresh and in salads.

The Golden Delicious originally was called Mullins Yellow Seedling after its discovery in West Virginia in 1890. It was renamed Golden Delicious when introduced commercially in 1916.

Mutsu, or Crispin, apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Mutsu, or Crispin, apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Mutsu, or Crispin, is an excellent dessert apple and good in salads, but it excels in pies and baking, with a sweet, light flavor when cooked, and holding its shape well. Mutsu can grow quite large (a pie made with them may require as few as three apples). Its flesh is white to pale yellow.

Mutsu has its origins in Japan, developed in 1930 from a Golden Delicious crossed with an Indo, a Japanese seedling. It was introduced in the United States in 1948.

GoldRush apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

GoldRush apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

GoldRush is a good dessert apple, juicy and honey-flavored like its Golden Delicious parent.

Golden Delicious is GoldRush’s seed parent, with crosses from several other research varieties including Siberian Crab Apple, Winesap, Melrose, and Rome Beauty. Its development began in 1945, but it took until 1973 for the first seedling to be planted at Purdue University by the cooperative breeding program of the Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Stations. It was released commercially in 1993.

If you are planning a home orchard, GoldRush is considered a good choice due to its heavy bearing, disease resistance, winter hardiness, and ease of growing.

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IF YOU ARE NOT QUITE READY to bake Thanksgiving pies, here is a recipe that you can try this weekend, using any of these golden varieties. Easy to make, it should make a delicious dessert all winter.

Apple Bread Pudding

4 slices of whole-grain bread

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1-2/3 c milk

1 t vanilla

3 New England apples, cored and thinly sliced, such as Golden Delicious, Mutsu, or GoldRush

1/4 c each white and brown sugars

1 t cinnamon

1/4 c butter, in chunks

In a medium size bowl, coarsely crumble the bread. In a small bowl, beat together eggs, milk, and vanilla. Pour milk mixture over the bread crumbs and set aside. Meanwhile, combine sliced apples, sugars, and cinnamon in an 8″ square buttered baking dish. Pour soaked bread crumbs over the apples. Dot with butter. Bake at 325° for 50 minutes or until apples are tender.

Serve warm with ice cream, hard sauce, frozen yogurt, or whipped cream.

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Find Fuji apples at Averill Farm in Washington Depot, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Find Fuji apples at Averill Farm in Washington Depot, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

ONE OF THE WAYS Americans have made the apple distinctly our own is in the kitchen. Of course there is Waldorf Salad, introduced at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1893. The original recipe of maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky comprised diced red-skinned apples, celery, and mayonnaise. Eventually, chopped walnuts were added to the mix, and today a wide variety of apples of any color can be used to make this unique salad.

Then there are a trio of desserts that share simple crusts and colorful names: Apple Brown Betty,  Apple Cobbler, and  Apple Pandowdy. All were favorites in early New England for their economy and ease of preparation, and, of course, their rich apple flavor.

Apple cobbler has a thick, biscuit-like crust over a deep-dish filling. In some versions, the crust encloses the filling like a pie, in others the batter is dropped in spoonfuls on the top. While popular in New England, cobblers may have originated in Europe, deriving their name from their uneven crust resembling cobblestone streets.

Apple Brown Betty is a pudding-like dish featuring apples baked between layers of buttered breadcrumbs. Betties also have European roots, originating in England and closely related to the French Apple Charlotte. This was a popular dish during Colonial times, although the name Apple Brown Betty only dates back to the mid-19th century.

Pandowdy is another deep-dish apple dessert, spiced and sweetened with maple syrup, molasses, or brown sugar. Pandowdy differs from cobbler in that its biscuit-y topping gets pushed down into the fruit as it bakes, allowing the apple juices to bubble up through. Apple Pandowdy has been traced to the early 1800s, but the origin of its name is unclear. It may refer to its simplicity and dowdy look.

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ONE DEFINITION OF “COBBLE” isto mend or patch coarsely.” We cobbled together our recipe from several cookbooks and sources, starting with a whole-wheat dough adapted from Joy of Cooking. For apples, we chose two Fujis, one Honeycrisp, and one Macoun, all good sized (most recipes called for six apples). We used less butter and sugar than most recipes called for, and the result was a delicious cobbler brimming with apple flavor, with a touch of lemon and cinnamon.

Cobblers are best eaten while still warm from the oven, topped with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, whipped cream, or even a dollop of tapioca pudding.

New England Apple Cobbler

4-6 extra juicy New England apples, like Fuji, Cortland, or Golden Delicious

1/2 c sugar

1/2 t cinnamon

3 T lemon juice

1 t lemon zest

* * *

1 T apple cider vinegar

about 1 c milk

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1 c whole wheat flour

3/4 c white flour

2 t sugar

2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

3/4 t salt

1/3 c butter

Preheat oven to 425°. Core and slice apples. Mix with sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and zest, coating slices. Place in 3-quart casserole or baking dish.

Put vinegar in measuring cup and add enough milk to make one cup. Set aside.

Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Cut in butter with knives or pastry blender until crumbly. Add milk mixture and mix with a fork until it forms a soft dough. Knead 8-10 times on lightly floured surface, and roll out by hand to about 1/2” thick. Shape to fit baking dish, and place over apples. Make several inch-long cuts in dough to allow steam to escape. Cook for 50 minutes, or until apples are soft and crust is brown.

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Fuji apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fuji apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fuji is a good late-season apple that can be found in more and more New England orchards. It has a dense, firm flesh but is very juicy, with a sweet flavor owing primarily to its Red Delicious parent (Fuji’s other parent, the Virginia heirloom Ralls Janet, is a good eating apple known for its late bloom, making the variety less susceptible to frost damage.).

Fuji is a medium to large-sized apple, excellent for fresh eating, baking, and drying. Fuji is a great keeper, maintaining its quality for several weeks left in a fruit bowl or for up to a year refrigerated.

Fuji was developed in Japan in 1939, and was named in 1962, after Japan’s tallest and most sacred mountain.

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IN OCTOBER we published a post, Seek No Further, expressing our interest in locating the heirloom apple Westfield Seek-No-Further. A reader responded with one possible source, Bear Path Farm in Whately, Massachusetts. We visited the small orchard, but the Seek-No-Furthers had already been picked.

A little later we received an email and photographs from a grower, Walter Curtis of Honey Hill Farm in Fayette, Maine. Imagine our surprise this week when a box of beautiful Westfield Seek-No-Furthers arrived in the mail from Walter! We are deeply indebted.

Westfield Seek-No-Further apple (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Westfield Seek-No-Further apple (Russell Steven Powell photo)

We’re happy to say that, thanks to Walter, Westfield Seek-No-Further will soon appear on our New England Apples website (among the 30 new varieties we will be adding later this fall to the more than 100 already photographed and described).

Westfield Seek-No-Further is a sweet, aromatic apple with a slightly nutty, almost buttery flavor. Primarily a dessert apple, it is not generally recommended for cooking. Seek-No-Furthers have a creamy yellow, firm, crisp flesh. Their skin has a smooth, deep yellow or greenish base, and can be streaked red, with some russeting around the stem.

Westfield Seek-No-Furthers originated in Westfield, Massachusetts, in the 1700s, and were a popular New England variety in the 1800s, especially in Connecticut, New York, and the Midwest.

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Crabapple-sized Wickson apples ready for pressing at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Crabapple-sized Wickson apples ready for pressing at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell)

APPLE CIDER is as varied and versatile as the fruit from which it is pressed. It can be frozen or fermented, guzzled fresh or used in cooking, pasteurized (or not), made from almost any apple variety (usually a blend), in almost any condition (dings and dents welcome). Cider was America’s drink from Colonial days until well into mid-19th century, when it fell victim to several factors, including the migration to cities and the rise in popularity of beer.

But cider is experiencing a revival, from large commercial producers to small orchards and cider mills that make unique blends, to people who are experimenting with small batches made in their homes. There are a number of ciders, from the sweet, unfermented drink we commonly know now, to several types (and strengths) of “hard,” or alcoholic, cider, which can be as strong as wine. Distilled further, cider can be made into applejack or apple brandy.

Many orchards press their own cider, and there are a growing number of cider mills and passionate artisan cider makers that are reviving the art of finding and pressing rare apples that are virtually inedible, but lend a richness and complexity to their cider.

You could write a book about cider. In fact, several people have. Two that we recommend are Cider, Hard and Sweet, by Ben Watson, and Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, by Lew Nichols and Annie Proulx, author of the acclaimed novel Shipping News. Both give detailed instruction on cider-making; Watson’s book includes a global history of cider, fun facts, and descriptions of varieties favored by seasoned makers.

We are often asked the difference between apple juice and cider. Both drinks are made from apples, but apple juice is clear, invariably sweet, and keeps longer than cider. The primary reason is filtration; all of the pulp found in cider is strained out of the juice, giving it a lighter color and extending its shelf life.

While making true hard cider requires some special equipment and a number of steps, fermenting cider into something fizzy and slightly alcoholic couldn’t be easier. Just take a jug of cider and leave it alone, and once past the expiration date the fermentation begins.

Be careful, though; we heard last week of a woman who carefully cleaned her refrigerator and then, against her better judgment, put back in an old jug of cider that her husband was saving. The cider had begun to ferment, and soon the resulting gases built up so much pressure on the plastic cap that there was an explosion.

We are happy to report that her husband at least cleaned up after his own mess.

About freezing cider: it is a perfectly good way to store cider for the long-term if you don’t want it to get fizzy in the fridge. Just remember to remove a little liquid first (at least one-quarter cup for a gallon jug), or it will pop the cap as it expands.

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AN EARLY, HEAVY SNOW blankets much of New England. It’s hard to think that just one month ago we were cleaning our sticky apple booth in the Massachusetts House at the Big E (Eastern States Exposition), closing it up for another year. The occasional cider spill is inevitable, but this year it was coupled with smoothie spills. More on that in a minute.

First, think back to our post, Oct. 6, 2011, on Dings and Dents. We gave that a lot of thought at the fair because the apples with small blemishes didn’t seem to sell as fast. We got to putting these slightly imperfect apples into the door of the fridge, saving them for smoothies.

With the purchase of a commercial-grade blender, a few Macs from the Ding & Dent Department, fresh Carlson cider, spices, and (optional) ice cream, Big E booth manager Bar Lois Weeks produced a recipe for our very own Apple Pie Smoothie that we’d like to share with you, just in time for Franklin County CiderDays this weekend.

It’s quick and easy, inexpensive, healthy, and delicious!

Apple Pie Smoothie (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Apple Pie Smoothie (Bar Lois Weeks)

Big E Apple Pie Smoothie

Add to your blender:

1 New England apple, like McIntosh or Cortland, unpeeled, cored and chopped

1-1/4 c fresh cider

1 scoop vanilla ice cream (optional)

1/2 t apple pie spice mix (or 1/4 t cinnamon, a pinch of ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cardamom)

Set blender on high until the apple peel is in small flecks. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Enjoy your apple-a-day the easy way!

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Don’t miss this weekend’s 17th Annual Franklin County CiderDays. Some of the events are free, others require fees and reservations, but the two-day event offers a wide range of cider-related activities and workshops in the towns of Colrain, Deerfield, Greenfield, and Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.  A schedule can be downloaded from the CiderDays website.

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Here is a video about how sweet cider is made by one of New England’s largest commercial producers, Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Massachusetts:

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