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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.

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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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Young Macoun apples at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, Massachusetts, in early July. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Young Macoun apples at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, Massachusetts, in early July. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Vista Bella apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Vista Bella apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

APPLE SEASON is upon us! Our eyes spied a roadside stand with the word “Apples” while driving through western Vermont July 27, and sure enough, there were tote bags mounded with red fruit among the vegetables of the season.

The apples, a relatively new variety called Vista Bella, came from Apple Hill Orchard in North Clarendon. Developed at Rutgers University in 1956, Vista Bella, so named because the apple grew well in the Guatemalan highlands, was released commercially in 1974. Its heritage includes Julyred, Melba, Sonora, Starr, and Williams.

Vista Bella is a medium to small-sized, round apple, red with a green blush. Its white flesh is moderately juicy, with a flavor that is mildly tart. Some have described it as having hints of raspberry flavor. Like most early season apples, Vista Bella is best eaten soon after being picked, and does not store well. But their relatively brief appearance is a good way to introduce the 2013 fresh apple harvest, a crispy, crunchy taste of things to come.

Barring a late summer weather incident, it is shaping up to be an outstanding New England apple crop. Most of the region’s orchards experienced good weather during spring bloom, and there were few reports of frost. While the possibility of hurricanes or hail is not yet past, so far damage has been scattered and light across the six-state region.

That means that there should be plenty of apples this fall, and now that Vista Bella have arrived, there will be a steady flow of early season varieties like Ginger Gold, Jersey Mac, and PaulaRed between now and September. Check out what local orchards have available at New England apples, and call ahead to see when farm stands open or pick-your-own begins.

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Opalescent apples ripening at Blue Hills Orchard in Wallingford, Connecticut, in early July. An heirloom dating back to the 1880s, it is beautiful to behold and has a mild, sweet flavor and dense yellow flesh. Opalescents turn red as they mature, ready to harvest in early September. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Opalescent apples ripening at Blue Hills Orchard in Wallingford, Connecticut, in early July. An heirloom dating back to the 1880s, it is beautiful to behold and has a mild, sweet flavor and dense yellow flesh. Opalescents turn red as they mature, ready to harvest in early September. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

THIS RECIPE for Green Tomato and Apple Pie was submitted to us last fall by Ruth Griggs of Northampton, Massachusetts, and we offer it now that both apples and green tomatoes are in season. Here is what Ruth wrote:

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

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

Green Tomato and Apple Pie

Brush bottom and sides of a pastry-lined pie with unbeaten egg white and cover with a layer of small green tomatoes, thinly sliced. Sprinkle with a little salt mixed with a little cinnamon and nutmeg and dot with 1 T butter creamed with 1 T brown sugar. Cover with a layer of thinly sliced, tart apples and repeat the seasoning and sugar. Add another layer of green tomatoes and two of apples, each layer seasoned and sugared. Round the filling in the center and pour in 1/3 cup apple cider.

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

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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

milk

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.

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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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The apple orchard makes a distinctive contribution to fall foliage at Wellwood Orchards, Springfield, Vermont. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The apple orchard makes a distinctive contribution to fall foliage at Wellwood Orchards, Springfield, Vermont. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

JONAGOLD is a bit of a mystery, more popular around the globe than here in the United States, where it was developed. Jonagold is an exceptional apple in flavor, texture, and appearance, but Americans have not yet embraced it in on a large scale. A relatively new variety (1968) named for its parents, perhaps Jonagold is compromised by an unexciting brand identity compared to such new entries as Honeycrisp (1991), Jazz (2004), and SweeTango (2009).

Whatever the reason, Jonagold ranks just 15th in popularity among varieties grown in the United States, sandwiched between Cortland at number 14 and Cameo at 16. Jonagold is much more popular in Canada, Japan, and Europe than in America, especially Belgium, where — like McIntosh in New England — Jonagold accounts for about two-thirds of the apple crop. It is the third most popular variety in Canada. Worldwide (excluding China), Jonagolds rank sixth in production.

Whatever the reasons Jonagold has lagged behind in the land in which it was developed, it is such a flavorful apple that it seems only a matter of time before Americans catch up with the rest of the world. Jonagold is an aromatic apple, sweet with a hint of tartness. It is very juicy, with a crisp, clean crunch reminiscent of Honeycrisp.

Jonagold’s color is variable, but at its best it is a stunning combination of its parents, the rich, red Jonathan, and Golden Delicious. Its flesh is light yellow. A good all-purpose apple, Jonagold’s exceptional juiciness and flavor make it well-regarded for both fresh and hard cider.

Jonagold was developed at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, in 1943, and introduced commercially in 1968. Both of Jonagold’s parents have been prolific: Jonathan is the parent of more than 70 named offspring, Golden Delicious 25.

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Bishop's Orchard, Guilford, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bishop’s Orchard, Guilford, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

COUNT WINTER SQUASH among the many vegetables that pair well with apples. The apple’s versatility is further featured in a stuffing that can be used with eggplant, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, or zucchini as well as with poultry and seafood.

Both recipes come from Janet M. Christensen’s and Betty Bergman Levin’s Apple Orchard Cookbook, Second Edition (Countryman Press, 2010).

Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 acorn squash

3 Jonagold or other New England apple, unpeeled

3/4 c nut meats (optional)

1/4 c melted butter

1/2 c maple syrup or honey

Cut squash in halves and scoop out seeds. Dice apples and combine with nuts.

Place squash in a baking pan. Divide apple-nut mixture among the six squash halves. Drizzle butter and syrup or honey over each.

Add hot water to 1/2-inch depth. Cover pan loosely with foil. Bake at 400°F for 45 minutes, or until squash is tender.

All-Purpose Apple Stuffing

1 c Italian-flavored breadcrumbs

1 Jonagold or other New England apple, chopped

1 c hot water

2 T olive oil

Mix together breadcrumbs, apple, hot water, and olive oil.

Brush vegetables with 2 T olive oil before stuffing.

Eggplant or zucchini: Halve and scoop out centers, chop the remains and add to stuffing mixture.

Mushrooms: Break off and chop stems, and add to stuffing mixture.

Onions: Halve large onions and remove their centers; set onion shells aside. Chop onion centers and add to stuffing mixture.

Tomatoes: Remove inner part of tomato, chop, and add to stuffing mixture.

Baked stuffed vegetables at 350°F for about 40 minutes. Bake poultry or seafood according to your usual procedure.

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Chapin Orchard, Essex Junction, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Chapin Orchard, Essex Junction, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THIS WEEKEND is the 18th Annual CiderDays in Franklin County, Massachusetts. The two-day event Saturday, November 3, and Sunday, November 4, draws hard cider-makers and aficionados from around the country.

Many of CiderDays’ events are already sold out, but there is still time to join the festivities.

Visit CiderDays for more information and a schedule.

*         *         *

America's Apple by Russell Steven PowellAPPLE DRINKS merit an entire chapter in America’s Apple, a new book by Russell Steven Powell with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks.

Several of the makers of fresh, hard, and ice cider from last year’s CiderDays are featured, including Boston’s Harpoon Brewery, makers of a commercial hard cider, and the artisanal Eden Ice Cider of West Charleston, Vermont.

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Late-season apples at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Late-season apples at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE DAY BEGAN damp and dreary, but Bolton Orchards in Bolton, Massachusetts, was beautiful nonetheless on Sunday, with a few late-season apples providing stark contrast in a landscape being slowly drained of green. Beneath the clouds and mist, the distant backdrop of fall foliage looked brighter than if the sun had been out.

View from Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

View from Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The clouds dispersed by mid-afternoon, slowly exposing the long views afforded by the orchard’s hilltop location.

Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

***

AS WITH the parentage of many heirloom apples, the origin of this antique recipe for Hermits is a little cloudy. Most likely the Hermit cookie dates back to 1880 from two sources: Plattsburgh, New York, in the Champlain Valley, and Boston.

The main difference in the two recipes is the New York recipe was made with brown sugar and no eggs, while the New England recipe called for white sugar and 3 eggs. Our version uses 2 eggs and molasses.

The origin of the cookie name “Hermit” is also unclear. Some believe the oblong hermit looks like the brown robe of an ascetic hermit. Others say the cookie’s flavor improves after they are “secluded” for a few days.

Late-season apple at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Late-season apple at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple Hermit Cookies

1/2 c butter

3/4 c brown sugar

1/4 c molasses

2 eggs

1-3/4 c flour (half whole-grain wheat flour)

1/2 c old-fashioned oats

1/2 t baking soda

Apple tree trunk at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple tree trunk at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1/8 t cloves

1/8 t ginger

1/4 t salt

1 c New England apples, chopped

1 c dates, chopped (or try dried cranberries, currants, or raisins)

1/2 c walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream together butter and brown sugar, then beat in molasses and eggs. Combine and stir in dry ingredients. Add fruit and nuts.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when lightly touched. Careful not to overbake!

Late afternoon sun on apples at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Late afternoon sun on apples at Bolton Orchards, Bolton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

***

America's Apple coverAMERICA’S APPLE, a new book about apple growing in the United States by Russell Steven Powell, looks at apples as horticulture, food, cultural icons, and agricultural commodity. Powell, who has worked in the apple industry for the past 16 years, visited more than 50 orchards across the country gathering information for the book, and interviewed some of the nation’s leading apple researchers.

The hard-cover volume features nearly 50 full-color photographs by Bar Lois Weeks, plus a photographic index of 120 apple varieties grown in the United States. A paperback version, identical except for the photographic index, is available for $19.95.

To learn more, including how to order, visit America’s Apple.

Upcoming events

THIS WEEKEND the 28th Annual AppleFest will be held at Mount Wachusett in Princeton, Massachusetts. Red Apple Farm, as always, will have apples, fresh cider, cider donuts, and other baked goods from its Phillipston store and orchard. On Saturday, October 20, Russell and Bar will sign books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m. they will serve as judges in the 3rd Annual New England Apple Pie Contest.

Russell will give a talk about apples at the Goodwin Memorial Library in Hadley, Massachusetts, next Wednesday, October 24, at 6 p.m., and at the Merrick Public Library in Brookfield, Massachusetts, Tuesday, November 13 at 7 p.m.

One of the more imaginative entries from last year's 2nd Annual New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

One of the more imaginative entries from last year’s 2nd Annual New England Apple Pie Contest. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

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Some New England orchards had outstanding crops in 2012, like Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Some New England orchards had outstanding crops in 2012, like Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

IT’S DIFFICULT to draw a single conclusion about this year’s New England apple crop. While the region’s diverse geography and microclimates ensure some variability from year to year, the 2012 season has been more volatile than most. It began with a freak March heat wave that was followed, predictably, by sub-freezing temperatures in April, killing many of the premature blossoms and nascent (young) fruit. Orchards and blocks of trees in low-lying areas with poor air circulation sustained the greatest loss.

Some of the orchards that survived this catastrophe were then hit by hail in June and July, further reducing the size of the region’s crop. Even a brief hailstorm can devastate an orchard, leaving small nicks or pockmarks in the fruit’s skin. Hail makes an apple less pleasing to the eye and compromises its storage ability. But if eaten soon after it is picked the apple’s flavor and texture are unaffected.

Spring and summer were hot, and, while overall the apple crop received plenty of water, there were several long stretches between rains early in the season. This, combined with the early bloom, sped up the ripening process, resulting in a harvest that began one or more weeks sooner than usual, depending on location.

Mid-season varieties like McIntosh were being picked in some orchards as early as Labor Day Weekend, and many pick-your-owns have already closed for the season. The larger orchards growing for the wholesale market are finishing up their harvest earlier than usual as well.

Some New England orchards lost their entire 2012 crop to frost or hail damage, or both. Yet the news was not all bad. Many orchards had beautiful, full crops. Most fell somewhere in between: they had apples, but only 60 percent to 80 percent of a normal crop. When all of the apples are picked, New England in 2012 expects to harvest about 75 percent of a normal crop.

Despite this, New England did well and its growers feel fortunate compared to their peers in New York and Michigan, the country’s second and third largest apple-growing states, respectively, after Washington. New York lost half its crop, Michigan a staggering 85 percent, historic losses resulting from the same weather pattern experienced in New England: premature bloom from a March heat wave followed by a killing April frost.

What should consumers expect due to the earlier and smaller crop in New England and the Northeast?

A shorter season. If you want the orchard experience this fall, you should get there over the next few weekends. Visit our website, New England Apples, to find information about many of the region’s orchards. Call the orchard ahead of time to find out what varieties are ready and to see if pick-your-own is still available.

Dings and dents. With fewer fresh apples around this fall, growers are hoping consumers will accept an occasional blemish or flaw in exchange for an otherwise perfect apple.

Higher fresh cider prices. There simply are not enough juice apples this year, and there is no going to New York or Michigan to supplement the New England crop. The price of juice apples is up accordingly, and is likely to take cider prices with it.

An early end. The wholesale season will likely end early next spring. While there are plenty of fresh apples to go around now and through the holidays, the 2012 New England crop will be sold well before the 2013 crop is ready for harvest next August. In a good year, New England can supply its supermarkets with apples year-round. Many times there is a gap of a month or so between seasons, but the 2012 crop may be gone earlier than usual.

In the meantime, there are plenty of outstanding New England apples ripe for the picking and eating. Enjoy them while you can!

Like many growers, Roy Marks of Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont, will have apples at his country store through October, despite having just 60 percent of a normal crop. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Like many growers, Roy Marks of Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont, will have apples at his country store through October, despite having just 60 percent of a normal crop. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

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IF YOU ARE LOOKING for variety in your apples and can’t get to the orchard, two good options in western New England are River Valley Market in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Brattleboro Co-op in Vermont. Both have extensive apple displays with many hard-to-find heirlooms like Knobby Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Pitmaston Pineapple.

The best place to find an heirloom apple, naturally, is at the orchard, and you can find out who grows what by visiting Finding New England Apples by Variety. If you know of additional sources for heirlooms in New England, please add them as comments at the end of this post.

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THIS RECIPE for apple muffins was provided by Diane Brzozowski of Hatfield, who made them for runners at the end of Saturday’s Hatfield Harvest 5K Road Race, where they were quickly gobbled up. The original 1996 recipe came from the Healthy Eating for Life Program (HELP), Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

2 c whole wheat flour

1 T baking powder

1/2 t salt

1-1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1 egg

3/4 c milk

1/4 c oil

1/4 c honey

1 large McIntosh, Shamrock, or other tart New England apples, cored and chopped

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease tins for 12 muffins.

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Mix together egg, milk, oil, and honey, and add them to the dry ingredients. Stir until batter is moist but lumpy.

Fill the muffin tins two-thirds full. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

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WEATHER IS just one of the challenges growers face as they guide their crop from spring bloom through harvest in America’s Apple, a new book about apple growing in the United States by Russell Steven Powell.Powell, who has worked in the apple industry for the past 16 years, visited more than 50 orchards across the country gathering information for the book, and interviewed some of the nation’s leading apple researchers.
The hard-cover volume features nearly 50 full-color photographs by Bar Lois Weeks, plus a photographic index of 120 apple varieties grown in the United States (a paperback version, identical except for the photographic index, is available for $19.95).
To learn more, including how to order, visit America’s Apple.

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