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Archive for the ‘New England apple varieties’ Category

 

 

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.

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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 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Zestar! apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Sweet Sixteen apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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.

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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 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jersey Mac apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Williams’ Pride apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Enterprise apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Suncrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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.

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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.

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'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.

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"Great New England Apple Pie" winner Lori Meiners points to her pie as a spectator prepares to sample it after the judging. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Great New England Apple Pie” winner Lori Meiners points to her pie as a spectator prepares to sample it after the judging. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

While neither the maple leaf pie nor the dragonfly won awards, they were noteworthy for their beautiful presentation. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

While neither the maple leaf pie nor the dragonfly won awards, they were noteworthy for their beautiful presentation. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

 2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

JUDGING BEGAN earlier this year, late morning rather than early afternoon, and that meant a change in routine. Like a finely-tuned runner on marathon day, I had to carefully consider what to eat, and when, in advance of the competition, my fourth time serving as a judge at the annual “Great New England Apple Pie Contest.” The event was held Saturday, October 19, during the first day of Wachusett Mountain’s weekend-long AppleFest.

I needed just enough to blunt my appetite so that I would not be tempted to wolf down the first few entries. Caution is the word when you have to taste more than 40 pies in two hours; to continue the running metaphor, if you go out too fast at the beginning of the race, you will pay for it later on.

For the same reason, I needed to go light on breakfast. Too much food in my stomach and I might not make it through the day’s pies. I chose a small bowl of cereal about three hours before the judging began.

Now in its fourth year, the contest has grown in size, resulting in the earlier start. For the second year, Rick Leblanc of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources joined New England Apple Association Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks and me on the five-person panel of judges, with on-air radio personalities Chris Zito of WSRS and Ginny Sears of WTAG, both in Worcester.

One of the more unusual apple pies had a bacon latticework top. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

One of the more unusual apple pies had a bacon latticework top. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE RED-AND-WHITE checkered tables beneath a tent and a crisp October sky gave the event the informal atmosphere of a bake sale or church supper. But the long tables were laid out with impressive-looking apple pies of all descriptions, no two exactly the same.

Some pies had elaborately sculpted, crumb, or latticed crusts, some were arranged artfully in picnic baskets or surrounded by apples and foliage. Others came with no frills — just straightforward apple pie.

The pies are graded on presentation and appearance, but this is largely subjective, and in any event we judges agreed that the greater weight in our scores should go to flavor, crust, and texture. When it comes to looks, though, I am more partial to a beautiful, hand-crafted fluting around the pie’s edges than I am to a nice container, although both contribute to the pie’s sensory pleasure.

It is hard to make generalizations after sampling the efforts of 43 different bakers, mostly women. Almost any apple variety — or combination — can succeed in a well-made pie. Apple pies should be lightly spiced; I love nutmeg, but a little goes a long way. Less sugar usually means more apple flavor. A consistently flaky crust can take years of practice.

Cranberry Apple Pie, from the 2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Cranberry Apple Pie, from the 2013 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

WE BEGAN with eight pies in the “Apple and Other” category, and there were some outstanding ones with cranberries and pecans. Last year’s winner in the “Apple Only” category, Patricia Kuhn Bonita of Winthrop, Massachusetts, entered a pie featuring apples with Asian pear, but the pear flavor did not come through.

Bonita, a veteran pie-maker and winner at other contests, took the feedback in stride, especially since her friend, Anita Mochi, also of Winthrop, won the category with her Apple Praline Pie.

Then it was on to nearly three dozen “Apple Only” pies. Pacing myself with just two bites of each and cleansing my palate with water in between, I was fine until the last six or seven. I was able to maintain my focus during the judging, but for the first time I looked forward to the end.

Every last bite was worth it, though. Lori Meiners of Hubbardston, Massachusetts, won first prize in the “Apple Only” category with her delicious rendition of New England’s favorite dessert. The final scores were close, and we had to resample two pies in order to decide between the second- and third-place winners.

It is inspirational to see the combined efforts of so many proud and imaginative bakers, and humbling to evaluate their delicious but perishable works of art. I hope I am invited back to try again next year.

Lori Meiners’ Apple Pie

For the crust (makes 2 pies):

4 c unsifted flour, spooned lightly into cup

1 T sugar

2 t coarse salt

1-3/4 c shortening

1 T cider vinegar

1 egg

1/2 c water

For the filling:

8 large New England Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut up

3/4 c white sugar

1/4 c brown sugar

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t ground nutmeg

2 T flour

2 T butter, cut into pieces

For the wash:

1 egg yolk

1 T sour cream

1 t water

1. Prepare the crust:

In a large bowl, use a fork to mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the shortening until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, gently whisk together vinegar, egg, and water. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Divide dough into four portions, quickly form into discs, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

2. Prepare the filling:

Peel, core, and slice the apples into a large, heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water over apples until just covered, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain water and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour, and set aside.

3. Assemble the pie:

Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out the dough: generously flour flat surface and both sides of the dough. Roll out to 1/4″ thick. Place in pie pan. Pour apples into pan. Add butter pieces, spread out on top of apples. Pour sugar mixture over apples. Roll out top crust and place over apples. Trim edges so there is about 1/2″ of dough hanging over edge of pan. Fold dough under and pinch to seal. Cut several slits in the top crust to vent steam while baking. In a small bowl, mix egg yolk, sour cream, and water, and paint over top crust.

4. Bake:

Place pie in preheated 350° oven for 35 to 40 minutes until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Anita Mochi’s Apple Praline Pie

Crust:

2-1/4 c flour

1/4 t salt

1/2 c shortening

7 T butter

5-7 T water

Apples:

2 Cortland

2 Honeycrisp

2 Jonagold

1 Granny Smith

Blend together:

3 T butter

1/4 c brown sugar

1/4 c sugar

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1 t lemon juice

3-1/2 T flour

Praline topping:

In small saucepan, melt 1/4 c butter, 1/2 c brown sugar, 2 T cream. Bring to boil. Remover from heat and stir in 1/2 c pecans. Spread over pie shell and return to oven for five minutes.

The crowd had a chance to taste the entries while waiting for the winners to be announced. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The crowd had a chance to taste the entries while waiting for the winners to be announced. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

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Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vermont, is one of many New England orchards with outstanding Cortland apple crops this fall. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vermont, is one of many New England orchards with outstanding Cortland apple crops this fall. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE INFLUENCE of McIntosh on the world’s apple supply extends well beyond the McIntosh itself. Its exceptional flavor, juiciness, and aroma have made McIntosh a favorite of apple breeding programs for more than 100 years, and Macs are parents of some of New England’s most celebrated varieties, especially Cortland, Empire, and Macoun.

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Like McIntosh, Cortland has been a New England favorite for more than a century, and it excels in every use. A large, juicy apple with a sweet-tart flavor that is a little sweeter than a Mac, Cortlands are excellent for fresh eating. They are outstanding in pies for their flavor, size, and because they hold their shape well when baked. Their white flesh browns slowly after slicing, so Cortlands are excellent in salads, too.

Cortland is the product of a cross between McIntosh and Ben Davis, an heirloom apple from Virginia dating back to the early 1800s. Much of Cortland’s distinctive flavor comes from McIntosh, while its crisp texture, red skin with green striping, and large size are characteristic of Ben Davis. Cortlands can develop a slightly greasy look and feel in storage, another quality of Ben Davis. Cortlands were developed in 1898 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.

Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Empire is a cross between two of America’s most popular varieties: McIntosh and Red Delicious. Red Delicious, a chance seedling discovered in Iowa in 1880, provides Empire’s predominantly deep red color and sweetness, but McIntosh gives it a complexity and measure of tartness, as well as a green or yellow blush.

Empire’s juicy white flesh resembles a Mac, but it is firmer and does not bruise easily, like Red Delicious. Empire is great for fresh eating, but is a good cooking apple as well. Developed by R.D. Way at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in 1945, Empire was introduced commercially in 1966.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun was also developed at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, by crossing McIntosh with Jersey Black, a variety from New Jersey also known as Black Apple, dating back to the early 1800s. The resulting apple is named for Canadian horticulturalist W.T. Macoun, and it was released in 1923.

Many consider Macoun to be the finest fresh-eating apple available, in large part due to its sweet-tart, McIntosh-like flavor and powerful fragrance. But Macoun has a firmer, crisper flesh than McIntosh, and a distinctive, spicy taste, with a hint of strawberry.

Macoun is red and green like McIntosh, and its darker, wine-red tones and irregular, boxy shape are attributes of Jersey Black. Macoun is good for cooking, too, but rarely gets that far, coveted as it is for fresh eating. Macoun is pronounced as if spelled “MacCowan,” although some people say “MacCoon.”

Other varieties that owe their existence to McIntosh include Brock (crossed with Golden Delicious, developed in Maine in 1933), Jonamac (crossed with Jonathan, New York, 1972), Milton (crossed with Yellow Transparent, New York, 1923), Spartan (crossed with Newtown Pippin, British Columbia, 1936), and Spencer (crossed with Red Delicious, British Columbia, 1959).

RubyMac is one of several newer strains of McIntosh, and it is distinguished by its deep red color and firm, light-green flesh.

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FOR INFORMATION about where to find McIntosh and other New England apples, click here.

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McIntosh apples waiting to be plucked at Douglas Orchards in West Shoreham, Vermont. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apples waiting to be plucked at Douglas Orchards in West Shoreham, Vermont. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

APPLES COME and apples go, but McIntosh is that rare variety whose popularity never fades. It took nearly 70 years after its discovery on a Canadian farm more than 200 years ago for McIntosh to make its commercial debut. But since 1870 the Mac has enjoyed a sustained run as one of our nation’s favorite apples, firmly entrenched in America’s top ten (the sixth most popular variety grown in the United States), and accounting for about two-thirds of the New England crop, where Macs grow exceptionally well.

A century ago McIntosh was competing with varieties like Baldwin, Northern Spy, and Rhode Island Greening for marketplace supremacy. Yet, while those varieties are still grown in a number of the region’s orchards, their popularity crested long ago, and they are now treasured as heirlooms rather than grown widely on a national scale.

Many varieties that were popular one hundred years ago were not so lucky, and are now rare or extinct. Three Massachusetts apples, for example, were not only regional favorites but cultivated across the country. Benoni (an early season apple from Dedham in the early 1800s, with crisp, juicy yellow flesh and red, or orange-yellow, striped red skin), Danvers Sweet (a variety from the 1700s included in the American Pomological Society’s first list of recommended varieties for its sweet flavor and storage qualities), and Mother (discovered in Worcester in 1848 and prized for its appearance and flavor), are now found in just a few places, or preserved in heritage orchards like the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

The reasons an apple variety can fade from view are many. It may be difficult to grow or susceptible to disease. Its fruit may be small or misshapen, or the trees may bear crops only every other year. The apple’s core may be too big, the skin too tough, or the flesh too dry. The apple may bruise easily, fall prematurely off the tree, or store and ship poorly — critical factors for commercial success. A variety may simply become unfashionable, its desirability influenced by such superficial factors as color or name.

In some instances, the qualities that made an apple variety exceptional where it was discovered simply do not translate well to other climates or soils. A great apple in southeastern Vermont may be bland when grown in northern Connecticut. Even the flavor of successful commercial varieties like McIntosh and Honeycrisp can vary slightly according to where it is grown, the time of year, and the particular weather conditions of a season.

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

YET McINTOSH is remarkably consistent in flavor and texture, and its attributes well known. In addition to its distinctive, sweet-tart flavor, McIntosh is one of the most aromatic apples. Its juicy flesh is crisp but not dense. Few apples bring as much pleasure as the distinctive crunch of a fresh McIntosh straight from the tree — and they are now ripe for picking in New England orchards, and available at farm stands and grocery stores.

But McIntosh are also great for cooking, and apple crisp is one of the many desserts in which McIntosh excel. We recently made apple crisp using the last of the early season varieties, plus a couple of Granny Smiths that were given to us at the beginning of the summer and that had languished in the refrigerator.

The crisp had good flavor, but it was dry, as the early season apples and Grannies were past their prime, lacking in juice. When this happens, the crisp can be salvaged by adding half a cup or more of liquid, ideally fresh cider, and cooked for 15 more minutes. Water will work if you do not have any cider, or in our case, an eight-ounce bottle of apple juice we had on hand. The result was very good.

Had we used McIntosh, though, there would have been no such problem. Its natural juiciness ensures that apple crisp made with McIntosh will never be dry or lacking in texture, and its rich flavor and fragrance are simply sublime.

We will feature apple crisp made with Macs (and maybe a few Cortlands) at the New England Apple Association booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) in West Springfield, Massachusetts, for 17 consecutive days beginning this Friday, September 13. Customers will have the option of topping off their warm crisp (or apple pie) with vanilla ice cream.

A brief shower Sunday left traces of rain on McIntosh apples at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A brief shower Sunday left traces of rain on McIntosh apples at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

We will also be selling fresh apples at The Big E from a number of orchards, including Brookfield Orchards, Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Cold Spring Orchard, Nestrovich Fruit Farm, Pine Hill Orchard, Red Apple Farm, and Tougas Family Farm, plus single-serving apple pies, cider donuts from Atkins Farm, and fresh cider from Carlson Orchards, and have informational items like recipe cards and our 2014 New England Apples wall calendar.

The fair is a great place to sample and learn about apples, including many of the varieties that populate New England orchards today. We cannot guarantee that all of them will be flourishing a century from now, but it is a good bet that McIntosh is here to stay.

The apple crisp recipe we use comes from Lois Castell Browns, grandmother of Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks.

Apple Crisp

6 McIntosh or other New England apples

1 T lemon juice

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1/2 t salt

Topping

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/4 c old-fashioned oats

1/4 c brown sugar or maple syrup

5 T butter

Preheat oven to 350˚. Core and slice apples into a buttered 8” square pan. Sprinkle lemon juice and spices over the apples. Combine topping ingredients to cover the apples. Bake for 45 minutes or until apples have softened.

***

For more information about New England orchards, what they grow, and where to find them, click here.

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Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Pristine apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Pristine apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

MOLLIE’S DELICIOUS and Pristine, two of the best early season apples, are relatively new varieties, both developed at Rutgers University in New Jersey (Rutgers has one of the few remaining apple breeding programs in the United States, part of a cooperative with Purdue University and the University of Illinois).

Pristine has a lemon-yellow skin with a pink blush. A crisp, juicy apple, it has a sweet-tart flavor with hints of citrus. Pristine is unusually crisp for an early apple, and stores well compared to many early varieties.

Pristine was developed from a numbered, unnamed seedling planted in 1975, crossed with Camuzat, a little-known apple from Spain. Pristine was introduced commercially in 1994.

Mollie's Delicious apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Mollie’s Delicious apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Mollie’s Delicious is a crisp, sweet, juicy apple with coarse, greenish or cream-colored flesh. It is large, ribbed, and conical in shape, with red coloring over a yellow skin. Mollies must be handled with care, as they tend to bruise easily, but they can be stored for several months.

Mollie’s Delicious was developed in 1948 at the Rutgers University Agricultural Experiment Station. It is a cross of two crosses: Golden Delicious and Edgewood, and Red Gravenstein and Close. Mollie’s Delicious was introduced in 1966 and named after an admirer of the apple, Mollie Whatley.

***

THE FOLLOWING RECIPE for Chunky Apple Bars was adapted from Healthy To The Core, a new book of “all-natural, low sugar/no sugar apple recipes for kids,” by Lee Jackson.

“Fruit has the unique ability to sweeten without the unnaturally sugary sweet taste that characterizes many desserts,” writes Jackson. “If other sweetening needs to be added, this is done through natural sweeteners that are less refined than table sugar such as unrefined organic cane sugar, honey, or maple syrup. There are no artificial sweeteners used in the cookbook.”

We did not have unrefined cane sugar on hand, so substituted regular white sugar. But the quantity — just 2 tablespoons — was unusually low, and combined with the tablespoon of honey in the filling was plenty to augment the apples’ natural sweetness.

The oatmeal, cinnamon, and apple flavor was good but the bars were best eaten with a fork, as they did not hold together. In fairness, we substituted half whole wheat flour, while Jackson’s recipe called for all white flour. For the recipe below, we reduced the whole wheat flour by 1/2 cup. When we make the bars again, we might also add one or two more tablespoons of oil or butter.

Chunky Apple Bars

Filling

4 c apples, cored and coarsely chopped (about 2 large apples)

1/4 c water

1 T honey

1 t cinnamon

Crust

3/4 c butter, softened

2 T cane sugar

2 c oatmeal (regular or quick cooking)

1-1/2 c white flour

1/2 c whole wheat flour

1 t baking powder

1 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 9×13 pan.

To make filling, combine apples, water, honey, and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes, until apples are slightly soft. Remove from heat.

For crust, in large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add oatmeal, flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Mix well.

Reserve 2 cups for topping. Press remaining oat mixture in bottom of prepared pan, and bake for 12 minutes.

Spread cooked apple filling over baked crust. Sprinkle reserved oat mixture over top.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until top is nicely browned. Cool. Cut into bars.

***

2015 New England Apples wall calendar

2015 New England Apples wall calendar

THE 2015 NEW ENGLAND APPLES wall calendar is now available for order. The 12”x12”, four-color calendar features photographs by Russell Steven Powell and Bar Lois Weeks from orchards throughout the six-state region, plus photos and descriptions of a dozen apple varieties.

The calendar price of $12.95 includes shipping. To order, send a check to New England Apples, PO Box 41, Hatfield, MA 01038, or email info@newenglandapples.org.

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"Garden Man," by Bob Turan, at Art in the Orchard, Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Garden Man,” by Bob Turan, at Art in the Orchard, Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE APPLE’S unparalleled versatility as a food is well documented. Apples are good eaten fresh or cooked, can be served at any course of any meal, and pair well with most any food, sweet or savory. But apples are also cultural icons cherished for their beauty and history, the subject of a number of our most enduring stories and myths.

"Walking Man," by Lee Hutt, at Art in the Orchard, Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell Photo)

“Walking Man,” by Lee Hutt, at Art in the Orchard, Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell Photo)

A web search for “images of apples in art” reveals hundreds, if not thousands, of pictorial renditions of this worldly fruit, including several by such noted painters as Claude Monet (Apples and Grapes), and especially Paul Cézanne, for whom the apple held great fascination (Dish of Apples, Still Life with Apples and Pears, Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples, and Still Life with Apples and Oranges).

The orchard can be a beautiful setting for sculpture, too. Art in the Orchard is an installation of 20 sculptures nestled in among the apple trees and gardens at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton, Massachusetts, with a gorgeous backdrop of the Holyoke Range. The artwork ranges from large to small, realist to abstract, serious to whimsical, reflecting materials as diverse as the artists’ interpretations. It is an innovative way to heighten the already powerful sensory experience of the orchard, combining food for the body with food for the soul.

***

BEFORE REFRIGERATION, most apple growers planted many varieties to extend the season, some that ripened early or late, others because they stored well over the winter. As people have become more interested in learning about and tasting unusual apples from the past, some of these long-forgotten varieties are experiencing a revival. Three examples are Red Astrachan, Melba, and Yellow Transparent.

Red Astrachan apples can be an almost solid red. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Red Astrachan apples can be an almost solid red. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Red Astrachan is one of the earliest varieties to ripen; in parts of New England its season has already passed. A medium-sized apple, it has a thin, yellow skin streaked with shades of red, covered with a bluish bloom.

Red Astrachan is moderately juicy, with a tart flavor that makes it more attractive for cooking than fresh eating. It is considered especially good for pies and applesauce. It does not store well, and its crisp flesh can become mealy soon after they are ripe (they are even known for breaking their skin when over-ripe).

A Russian apple, Red Astrachan migrated westward, first to Sweden, on to England in 1816, and arriving in America in 1835, one of four Russian apples (with Alexander, Duchess of Oldenburg, and Tetofsky) received by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society from the London Horticultural Society.

Red Astrachan’s popularity peaked around 1900, when it was widely grown around the world. It was especially popular in the American south. Its parentage is unknown.

Melba apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Melba apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Melba’s path to New England was southward; it was developed in 1898 by the Central Experiment Farm in Ottawa, Canada, and introduced commercially in 1909. Lightly sweet with a hint of tartness, Melba’s fine, white flesh and thin skin give it a pleasing crispness, and it is good for both fresh eating and cooking. Its skin is yellow to lime in color, with streaks and blushes of pink and red.

Melba’s parents are McIntosh and Liveland Raspberry. Also known as Lowland Raspberry or Red Cheek, Liveland Raspberry is an early season apple that originated in the Lithuanian province of Lievland. Now rare, it was introduced into the United States in 1883. While McIntosh contributes to Melba’s fragrant, sweet-tart flavor, Liveland Raspberry influences its early ripeness, and supplies its tender flesh and thin skin.

Yellow Transparent apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Yellow Transparent apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Yellow Transparent, like Red Astrachan, has Russian roots, imported to the United States in 1870. It made an early impression in New England; S. A. Beach in The Apples of New York, Volume II, writes that Yellow Transparent’s merits “were first brought to notice in this country by Dr. T. H. Hoskins, of Newport, Vermont.”

The reason for Yellow Transparent’s name is evident when sunlight strikes a ripe apple on the tree, seeming to illuminate the fruit as it passes through. But the variety has endured for more than this unusual quality. Beach describes Yellow Transparent as “one of the best of the extra early apples, being excellent for culinary use and acceptable for dessert.”

Yellow Transparent apple on the tree. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Yellow Transparent apple on the tree. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Moderately crisp and juicy, Yellow Transparent has white flesh and a light, sweet flavor with just a hint of tartness. Yellow Transparent should be used soon after they are harvested, as they do not store well. Their parentage is unknown.

***

THE RECIPE for this eggless Molasses Apple Cake was adapted from From A Monastery Kitchen (Ligouri/Triumph), a natural foods cookbook by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, a resident monk at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in upstate New York.

The cake has a rich, dense flavor and texture, and it goes nicely served with a little vanilla ice cream, Greek yogurt, or whipped cream.

I used one Red Astrachan and one Melba apple. For their nutritive value, I almost always leave the peels on.

Molasses Apple Cake

1-1/2 c to 2 c apples (about 2 medium to small apples), thinly sliced

3/4 c molasses

1/4 c butter

1/2 c hot water

1-1/2 c white flour

1 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c sugar (or 1/4 c sugar, 1/8 c stevia)

1 T baking powder

1 t cinnamon

1/2 t cloves

1/4 t nutmeg

1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 8×12 pan.

In saucepan, cook apples in molasses on medium heat until tender, stirring occasionally.

Melt butter in hot water in large mixing bowl. Sift dry ingredients and gradually stir in to liquid (the mixture will be fairly dry). Stir in molasses and apples until dry ingredients are blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

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