Archive for February, 2013

Scott's Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scott’s Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

I HAVE COOKED with apples for many years and written about them almost as long. Still, it felt a little audacious for me to bring apple squares to a professional chef, Luca Paris, to share live on his radio show on WKBK in Keene, New Hampshire, last Thursday. The recipe is an old favorite, but I had not made it for some time. What if the squares were just average, or worse?

Like many recipes, the ingredients list a range of apples (in this case, four to six). While this accounts for different-sized fruit, I always use the higher number; the low end of the range strikes me as the bare minimum, if you are low on apples. Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, in her three-part video series on how to make an apple pie, says she likes to “pile them high” with fruit, and I feel the same. I used good-sized apples, two each of Cortland, Empire, and McIntosh (nearly any variety can be used in making this recipe).

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I kept the skins on, for reasons practical (the nutrients are concentrated on or just beneath the apple’s surface) and aesthetic (color). The two Empires were a deep, deep red, almost burgundy, and they gave the squares a rich hue.

To avoid stringy threads of peel I cut the apples in small, irregular chunks from the outside in until I reached the core, rather than coring and slicing them. Placing the chunks in a bowl, I chopped the skins into even smaller pieces with the aid of a biscuit cutter.

There is very little spice in these squares, just a little cinnamon. This allows the full range of naturally sweet apple flavors to come through. The different varieties impart subtly different tastes and textures to the squares; too much sugar or spice can overpower them.

The original recipe, which came to me from the late Margaret Richardson of Brookfield, Massachusetts, called for cornflakes in the middle. The crisp, light cereal flakes soak up excess moisture, add flavor, and help the squares hold together better. I substituted multigrain flakes to make them a little healthier.

The crust does not have to be perfect as long as you manage to seal most of the edges. The dash of almond extract in the glaze makes a nice contrast to the apple flavor.

I sampled a square before I left for the studio, and it tasted fine. Still, there were no guarantees that Luca or his co-host, Dan Mitchell, would like them. Luca complimented me after the first one while we were waiting to go on the air, but he might have just been being polite.

Then Dan tried a square. Then they both had another one. By show’s end, Luca had eaten two more squares — four in all — and taken some home with him. That evening, he wrote in an email, “those squares were amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!” On the strength of this endorsement, I thought it time to share the recipe.

The recipe is included in my book America’s Apple, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks. America’s Apple can be ordered online in hardcover or as an ebook at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

— Russell Steven Powell

Peg’s Apple Squares

1 egg yolk


2-1/2 c flour (use white whole-wheat for better health)

1/2 t salt

1 c butter (use half coconut oil for better health)

1 c multigrain or corn flakes

4-6 New England apples, cored and chopped

3/4 c sugar (use raw cane sugar for better health)

1 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat egg yolk in measuring cup and add enough milk to make 2/3 cup liquid.

Mix flour and salt, and cut in butter with a pastry blender.

Mix wet and dry ingredients together until it forms a dough. Divide in half.

Roll out half the dough to fit into a 15-1/2” cookie sheet, pressing it into bottom and sides. Sprinkle with corn flakes. Top with apples.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.

Roll out remaining dough and place on top of apples. Seal edges. Cut holes in dough to let steam escape.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until crust is brown and apples are soft.

Glaze (omit for better health):

1/2 c confectioners’ sugar

1-2 T milk

almond extract

Mix with a few drops of almond extract. Drizzle over warm squares.


FEBRUARY IS TIME for pruning in New England’s apple orchards. See how it is done in this two-part video series starring Mo Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts:

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WE ARE ALWAYS INTERESTED in books about apples, and four titles published between 1993 and 2012 have recently come our way:

IMG_0393A Basket of Apples (Harmony Books, 1993) by Val Archer is a worthy addition to our collection for the author’s watercolor illustrations alone. Every page and every recipe is accompanied by a beautiful painting, and there is a section with thumbnail images of dozens of apple varieties. The book has a distinctly English flavor (Archer is a native and studied at the Royal College of Art). We have yet to try her recipes, so we cannot vouch for them, but there are some intriguing titles like “Apple and Stilton Strudel” and “Wilted Spinach Salad with Apple and Feta,” plus standards like apple pie and muffins.

IMG_0392Apples (Applewood Books, 2009) is chock full of apple images in painting, photography, and advertising. It is a picture book that provides a good overview of how apples have been grown and sold over the past century. A small, thin volume, it is entertaining through a combination of nostalgia and contemporary images.

Apples, Apples and More (Ineda Publishing, third edition, 2006) by McGarvey Summers is at the other end of the spectrum from Apples: a no-frills cookbook without illustration. The book opens with this warning: “These recipes are not low fat, low sugar, or low carbohydrate!! They were put together by old-timey cooks and bakers for enjoyment! They are not for those on a diet, or for those who don’t like good food.”

IMG_0394Despite this, honey replaces or reduces white sugar in many of the recipes, and a number of recipes include healthy ingredients like whole wheat flour. Some of the recipes are simple to prepare with processed foods among the ingredients, and there are some not-so-subtle advertisements for certain brands. But there are some interesting choices, too. Recipes that caught our eye include “Apple Rhubarb Pie,” “Baked Apple Charlotte,” “Cranberry Apple Cobbler,” and “Applesauce Pudding.”

IMG_0388John P. Bunker’s self-published Not Far From the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo, Maine (third printing, 2012) contains a wealth of information about heirlooms and apple growing, lavishly illustrated with black-and-white drawings, many by the author. While his jumping off point is narrow, as the title suggests, and there is lots of local history, Bunker covers a lot of ground in his detailed, first-person descriptions of varieties and horticulture. Bunker’s interest in apples extends more than three decades as a founder of Fedco Trees, a source for many heirloom apple varieties.


IMG_0396A FIFTH BOOK celebrating apples was previously known to us, but deserves special mention as it celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2013. The Apple Orchard Cookbook (Countryman Press, second edition, 2010) by Janet M. Christensen and Betty Bergman Levin resulted from an apple-cooking contest held on WCVB-TV’s former “Good Day!” program, which Levin wrote and produced. She suggested that a proposed cooking contest feature apples because of their accessibility, affordability, and, she says, “their extraordinary versatility and delectable taste!”

Three recipes were chosen from each New England state. The top selection from each state held a “cook-off” on the air in the studio “where I was able to get an oven manufacturer to provide six ovens and get them to the studio,” says Levin.

One recipe that Christensen and Levin included in the book’s second edition was from a cousin of Levin’s from South Africa, who made and served it at her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. “It’s a recipe I’ve never seen elsewhere and was surprisingly good when I tasted it,” Levin says.

Julia’s Danish Herring

1 12 oz. jar marinated herring with onions

1/4 c vegetable oil

1/4 c tomato paste

1/2 c chopped apple (tart like Granny Smith or Rhode Island Greening)

1/4 c brown sugar

Cut herring into 1/2-inch squares or bits. Mix all ingredients. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve with crisp crackers or round of rye or pumpernickel bread.



'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.

'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.


 TO LEARN MORE about New England apples, visit our website, New England Apples.


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