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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to get picking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Apple blossoms, Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A little overnight moisture dampens the apple blossoms at Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

THE BLOSSOMS are peaking now at many New England orchards, and close up or from a distance, it is a spectacular sight.

After a slow start, the bloom has advanced quickly in the recent stretch of summer-like weather — at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts, for examples, the blossoms were at “match-tip” stage May 9, and many trees were in peak bloom just five days later on May 13. A little further north, McDougal Orchards in Springvale, Maine, reports that bloom is expected to peak there this weekend.

The orchard in bloom is a beautiful sight, but the time for viewing it is short, especially in southern New England locations. If you have a chance to get out to see bloom in person, now is the time.

To learn more about bloom and pollination, view the short video below, in which Frank Carlson of Carlson Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts, explains why apple growers depend on honeybees during this critical stage.

Cortland apples, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Even as a new season begins, crisp New England apples like these Cortlands from Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont, are still available throughout the region.

While the blossoms on the trees now will eventually develop into the 2015 apple crop, the good news for consumers is that there are still plenty of New England apples available from the 2014 crop. Fresh from sealed rooms in controlled-atmosphere (“CA”) storage, the apples are nearly as crisp and just as flavorful as the day they were picked.

New England McIntosh, Cortland, and other varieties should be widely available for at least another month.

Photographs by Russell Steven Powell.

Apple blossoms, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Alyson’s Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Alyson’s Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire, May 13, 2015.

Homer Dunn, Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Orchard Manager Homer Dunn takes a brief break from mowing at Alyson’s Orchard, Walpole, New Hampshire.

 

Apple blossoms, match-tip stage, Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Blossoms were till at the “match-tip” stage at Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts, May 9, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Just five days later, the blossoms had rapidly unfurled at Pine Hill Orchards, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Pine Hill Orchards, Colrain, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bloom was already peaking on some trees at Pine Hill Orchards, May 13, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A sea of apple blossoms at Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015.

Apple blossoms, Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Atkins Farms, Amherst, Massachusetts, May 12, 2015

 

 

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The apple pie evaluators took their job seriously at White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The apple pie evaluators took their job seriously at White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

AFTER TWO MONTHS of intensive research, we are forced to admit failure — once again — in our perennial quest to definitively answer a question that has plagued civilization since the discovery of the cooking fire: what is the best pie apple?

Our failure was not due to a lack of effort, and we had the help of prodigious pie-makers from across the region. We began by baking, inhaling, and serving more than 2,000 five-inch, single-serving apple pies at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) for 17 days in September, and tasted not a few of them.

We talked pies with Kim Harrison, one of a team of volunteers that made the pies to raise funds for The Preservation Society in Granby, Massachusetts. We spoke with dozens of customers about the merits of one variety over another.

The Big E pies have a flaky top crust covering a filling of several varieties lightly spiced. Many people topped off their pie with vanilla ice cream, a few with thin slices of cheddar. The apples were supplied by five Massachusetts orchards: Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Nestrovich Fruit Farm in Granville, Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, and Red Apple Farm in Phillipston.

The apple pies at the Big E featured a mix of varieties. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The apple pies at the Big E featured a mix of varieties. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Most of the pies included McIntosh, a perennial contender for the gold standard since its discovery on an Ontario farm more than two centuries ago. (McIntosh was introduced  to New England in 1868 by Vermont’s Dr. Thomas H. Hoskins.)

Its flavor and aroma are so good that most people forgive McIntosh’s tendency to break down when baked, and add at least some to any varietal mix.

Akane, an early season apple developed in Japan in 1937 and introduced in the United States in 1970, was also noteworthy in this year’s pies for its lightly tangy flavor and texture.

In our informal survey of visitors, opinions about the best pie apple ran the gamut, from heirlooms like Baldwin (Wilmington, Massachusetts, 1740) to recent entries such as Pink Lady (Australia, 1989). Northern Spy (East Bloomfield, New York, in 1840, from seeds from Salisbury, Connecticut) has a particularly loyal fan base.

The closest we came to discovery, though, was the radiance of a woman purchasing 14 Gravenstein apples, an early season heirloom from Europe that dates back to at least the 1600s. The now hard-to-find Gravs were popular in New England until the bitterly cold winter of 1933-34, when many of the trees perished (along with more than one million Baldwin trees). It has never recovered as a commercial apple, but can still be found at some orchards.

Pie preferences are often passed down from generation to generation. The woman purchasing 14 Gravensteins put six in her bag at first, and as we talked she kept adding to her total until she got to 14. She planned to make two pies with them, just the way her mother did.

It was not the first time during our years at The Big E that the sight of Gravensteins has inspired such passion, and we suspect it will not be the last. I have not made a pie using just Gravenstein, but if it is as good baked as it is eaten fresh, the woman may be on to something. The apples were special, bursting with juice, with a lightly crisp, lemony tart flavor.

The flavor of nearly all of the varieties cited at The Big E, we noted, is more tart than sweet. That’s not to say that you can’t make a great pie using sweet apples, but a hint of tartness lends a pie complexity and zest.

Bakers pose with their entries prior to judging at the 2014 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Bakers pose with their entries prior to judging at the 2014 Great New England Apple Pie Contest. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

NEXT WE TRIED immersion, serving as judges in the 5th Annual Great New England Apple Pie Contest October 18 at Wachusett Mountain’s annual AppleFest in Princeton, Massachusetts. We dutifully sampled 30 pies in less than two hours, using the two-bite method: an introduction to the pie, and a second impression. It is the only way to do justice to this many pies.

There were some incredible-looking pies — entries are judged on appearance and presentation as well as flavor and texture — in two categories, Apple Only and Apple And Other. Several had latticed or elaborately sculpted crusts, including the winner of Apple Only, Theresa Matthews of Gardner, Massachusetts.

Theresa Matthews' winning 2014 Great New England Apple Pie Contest pie is in the foreground. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Theresa Matthews’ winning 2014 Great New England Apple Pie Contest pie is in the foreground. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The judges, in addition to me, were Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, for the third year; local businessman Burt Gendron, a veteran pie taster; Julia Grimaldi, representing the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources; and radio personalities Chris Zito of WSRS and Ginny Sears of WTAG, both in Worcester.

We did not know the varieties used in any pie, although we were able to identify McIntosh flavor and texture in some, and make good guesses about Cortland, an 1898 cross of McIntosh with Ben David, similar in flavor to McIntosh but larger and firmer.

Most of the entries were good to very good, with several reaching exalted status. The few low-scoring pies suffered more from lackluster crusts than poor apple flavor.

One pie pairing pears with apples tasted mostly of apples — finding a balance that allows the milder pear flavor to come through can be tricky. But apples and pears is a proven combination, well worth the effort to get it right.

Green grapes and apples, on the other hand, may go well together fresh in a fruit salad, but made an undistinguished pie filling. While there are many flavorful ways to serve apples with bacon or peanut butter, the pies that combined them did justice to neither apple nor “other.”

Other ingredients in Apple and Other were caramel, cranberries, cream cheese, raisins, walnuts, and Jack Daniels. They all worked well with this versatile fruit.

Apples in a number of pies had been sliced by a mandolin slicer, and generally this did not improve the pie’s texture. The thin, uniform slices often stick together in a stack, which can lead to uneven cooking and consistency.

Theresa Matthews used only Cortland apples in her winning Apple Only pie. Both contest winners in 2012 also used just Cortland. Could this make Cortland the undisputed champ?

Chef Gerri Griswold, rear right, looks on as people sample her pies at White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Chef Gerri Griswold, rear right, looks on as people sample her pies at White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

FROM THERE we conducted another experiment, at the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Connecticut. Chef Gerri Griswold baked a dozen pies for our October 25 apple talk and tasting event, two each using single varieties: Cortland; Empire, a 1945 offspring of McIntosh, crossed with Red Delicious, released in 1966; Gala (New Zealand, 1934, 1970), Honeycrisp (Minnesota, 1961, released in 1991), Macoun, a 1909 cross of McIntosh with Jersey Black in New York, released in 1923); and McIntosh.

Gerri scrupulously followed the Joy of Cooking apple pie recipe for all 12 of her creations, using the same prepared Pillsbury crust. We sampled each pie several times, as did the 20 or so people of all ages in attendance. A sheet of paper nearby for our scores and comments went mostly untouched, as most people were content to savor the experience.

There was plenty of excellent pie, but no clear-cut winner. Cortland had the most support in an informal poll, but the Empire, Macoun, and McIntosh pies all had champions. The McIntosh pie had surprisingly firm texture, soft but not mushy, and holding together.

Gerri had tried a similar experiment during our first appearance at White Memorial two years ago, baking four pies using single varieties. On that day, Mutsu, a large yellow apple discovered in Japan in 1930 (also known as Crispin), was the favorite pie apple.

The pies made with the sweet Gala and Honeycrisp apples did not fare as well as the others. For most of us, they were a little too sweet and their flavor lacked character. Gerri acknowledged that were it not for the taste test she would have reduced the sugar in the pies made with these varieties.

WE CONTINUED our study this past Sunday, November 2, during Franklin County CiderDays. Sue Chadwick, who grows a wide range of rare heirloom apples at her Second Chance Farm in Greenfield, Massachusetts, kindly donated a pie for our research, one of just three left from the 20 she baked to sell at the event the day before.

Sue uses a mix of apples in her pies, and the varieties could be different every time. Even if she could tell exactly what went into each pie, it would be hard for most people to find the apples to replicate it. The pie she gave us had rich apple flavor, as good or better than any made with a single variety.

Having made such little progress, we are going back to view Andrea Darrow’s three-part video series about apple pie-making, below. Andrea, of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, bakes hundreds of apple pies every fall, peeling every apple by hand. She uses several varieties, including Cortland and McIntosh, and piles them high.

Theresa Matthews with all that was left of her winning 2014 Great New England Apple Pie Contest pie after the judging. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Theresa Matthews with all that was left of her winning 2014 Great New England Apple Pie Contest pie after the judging. The Apple Rose Tarts on top were long gone. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THERESA MATTHEWS has been working on her apple pies since she was a teenager. “My Mum was the reason behind that. She never measured for her pie crusts and I could never, ever get it right.”

Theresa’s preference for Cortland goes back at least a generation. “I’ve tried other apples, but I always go back to Cortland. I got that from my Mum as well.”

She did get it right. Here is the recipe for Theresa Matthews’ first-place pie.

Mum’s Apple Pie

Crust

3 c all purpose flour

1 t sea salt

1 T granulated sugar

1-½ sticks unsalted butter (cold)

⅓ c shortening (cold)

½ c ice cold water

one egg white

In a food processor bowl place flour, salt, sugar, butter, and shortening. Cover and pulse until blended about the size of peas. While running the processor, pour cold water in a steady stream until pastry ball forms. Divide into two balls, chilling for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out one crust on lightly floured parchment paper 1” larger than pie tin. Carefully transfer pastry to pie tin, and try not to stretch to avoid shrinking. Take egg white and brush onto entire bottom crust and refrigerate for 15 minutes or until filling is set.

Filling

6 thinly sliced Cortland apples

½ c unsalted butter

3 T all purpose flour

¼ c water

½ c granulated sugar

½ c packed light brown sugar

1½ t cinnamon

½ t nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a smooth paste. Add in water, sugars, and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to a simmer. In a large mixing bowl place sliced apples. Pour sauce over apple slices and mix carefully to keep apple slices whole.

Carefully spoon coated apple slices into bottom crust, mounding slightly. Take care not to pour too much liquid to run out, reserving 2 T sauce. Brush bottom crust edge with egg whites and cover mounded apples with top crust, trim and press to seal. Cut slits for steam to release during cooking and brush glaze onto top of pie.

Cut pie dough scraps into the shapes of leaves and arrange them on the pie where the rose tarts will be placed. Brush glaze over leaves. Save remaining pie dough for Apple Rose Tarts (recipe below).

Place in preheated oven and lay a sheet of aluminum foil over pie to prevent burning. Bake 60-75 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool. Serve as is or with ice cream. Makes one 9” pie.

Apple Rose Tarts

Preheat oven to 350°.

Inspiration from diy-enthusiasts.com/food-fun/easy-apple-desserts-apple-roses/

2 Cortland apples sliced thinly

3 c water with 1 c sugar dissolved to make a simple syrup

1 T lemon juice (to help prevent browning)

Cinnamon sugar

Pie crust dough (left over from Mum’s Apple Pie, above)

Add apple slices to a pan of sweet syrup, making sure to cover all apples. Cook over medium-low heat until apples are pliable.

Roll out remaining pie dough in a rectangle about 8 to 10 inches wide and 10-12 inches long. Cut 8-10 one-inch wide strips along dough’s length.

Dry off 6 apple slices on a paper towel before arranging on a strip of pie dough. Lay out Overlap slices on strips so when rolled they will form the apple rose petals. Take care to leave about 1/2” of dough to seal the tart once rolled. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before rolling up tart into a rose. (Photo references available on aforementioned website)

Place tarts on parchment paper about 2 inches apart and bake for 25 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Once tarts are cool, remove from parchment and using toothpicks insert into place on baked and cooled apple pie.

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'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.

Available in bookstores everywhere.

'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.

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Honeycrisp apples, Boothby's Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

This will probably be the last weekend for picking late-season varieties like these Honeycrisp apples at Boothby’s Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks)

THE LIST OF APPLES grown in New England that originated in Australia and New Zealand is short, with just two major varieties each from each country. But they are among the most well-known apples in the world. Three of the four are late-season apples, one of which, Granny Smith, is sparsely grown in New England due to its long growing season.

Find these and other mid- to late-season varieties at your favorite New England orchard. Visit New England Apples and choose “Find an Apple Orchard” to search by map, state, zip code, or variety.

Braeburn apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Braeburn apple (Bar Lois Weeks)

Braeburn is a slightly conical, late-season apple, crimson red overlaid on thin, yellow skin. Its yellow flesh is dense, aromatic, and juicy, and it flavor is nicely balanced between sweet and tart, with hints of citrus. Braeburn is good for both fresh eating and cooking, and it has three to four times as much Vitamin C as the average apple. It keeps well in storage.

Though it was widely planted through the 1990s, its popularity appears to have peaked. Braeburn was discovered on the farm of O. Moran in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1952 and named for the apple’s first commercial distributor, Braeburn Orchard. It is probably a seedling of Lady Hamilton; by some accounts, it is a cross of Lady Hamilton with Granny Smith.

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala is a medium-to-large, conical, mid-season apple, red-orange in color with yellow highlights. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp and juicy. It is a sweet apple with hints of pear, and it is outstanding for all uses, especially for fresh eating.

It tends to have yellowish color early in the season and becomes a darker red-orange as the harvest progresses and in storage.

Gala was discovered in New Zealand in 1934, and introduced in the United States in the 1980s. It has since become one of the most widely grown apples in the world. Its complex parentage includes Cox’s Orange Pippin, Kidd’s Orange Red, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious.

Royal Gala, a sport variety of Gala resulting from a mutant limb discovered at the New Zealand orchard of W. M. McKenzie, has deeper color than its parent.

Granny Smith apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Granny Smith apple                     (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Granny Smith has been the most popular green apple in the world since its arrival in the United States in the 1970s. Medium-sized, round, and slightly oblate, it has solid green color with an occasional pink blush (New England-grown Granny Smith apples are especially apt to have a pink or sometimes red blush).

Its white flesh is crisp and juicy, and its flavor is tart with hints of citrus. It is good for both fresh eating and cooking, and it stores well.

Maria Ann Smith, who emigrated from England to Australia, discovered the first Granny Smith seedling in the 1860s in a marsh on her property in Sydney. Its parentage is unknown, but it may be from the seed of a French Crab. It was first exported to England in the 1930s.

Granny Smith has reached its commercial peak but remains popular around the world. Only a few New England orchards have had success with Grannies, but as the climate warms, that number may increase.

Pink Lady apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Pink Lady apple (Bar Lois Weeks)

Pink Lady, also known as Cripps Pink, has a lot going for it: distinctive color, intense flavor, a beautiful shape, and a glamorous, campy name evoking the grenadine-laced cocktail of the same name, stirred by Della Street, perhaps, in a 1960s Perry Mason mystery.

Pink Lady is large, conical, late-season apple with a deep pink blush over green skin. Its cream-colored flesh is dense, and its flavor, more tart than sweet, is citrusy. It is good for both fresh eating and cooking. It holds its shape when cooked, and it stores well.

Originally named Cripps Pink, Pink Lady in 1989 became the first variety to be sold and marketed under a trademarked name. It was developed in the 1970s by John Cripps at the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia. Lady Williams, an Australian apple from the 1930s, gives Pink Lady its characteristic shade. Its other parent, Golden Delicious, supplies its conical shape.

If the apple has too much of the green base coloring, Pink Lady reverts to Cripps Pink — the apple must be two-thirds pink to qualify for the premium name. To heighten pink color, some growers remove leaves from the tops of the trees to admit more light, or place reflective strips on the ground beneath the rows of trees to increase sunlight to fruit on lower branches.

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'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellAUTHOR RUSSELL STEVEN POWELL, senior writer for the New England Apple Association, will talk about apples and read from his new book, Apples of New England, at four sites in the next five days.

Photographer Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, will appear with Powell on Friday, October 24, at Lyman’s Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut, and will co-present with Powell at the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Connecticut on Saturday, October 25.

Here is the lineup:

Wednesday, October 22, 7 p.m.

Goodwin Memorial Library

50 Middle St., Hadley, Massachusetts

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Friday, October 24, 1 p.m.

Lyman Orchards

32 Reeds Gap Rd., Middlefield, Connecticut

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Saturday, October 25, 2 p.m.

White Memorial Conservation Center

80 Whitehall Rd., Litchfield, Connecticut

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Sunday, October 26, 2 p.m.

River Valley Market

330 North King St., Northampton, Massachusetts

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North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE ORCHARD is a beautiful place in all seasons. October is an especially good time to visit — there are late-season apples on the trees at most orchards, and the surrounding fall foliage is at its peak.

In addition to apples, many orchards and farm stands sell pumpkins, fresh and hard cider, pies and cider donuts, cheeses, honey, maple syrup, and other locally made products long after the last fresh apple is picked. Some orchard stores remain open through the holidays, some are open all year.

To find apple varieties, products, contact information, and directions to New England’s finest orchards, visit Find An Apple Orchard.

Here are some recent images from a few of them.

Spencer apples, Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Spencer apples, Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Lapsley Orchard, Pomfret Center, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Late afternoon in Lapsley Orchard, Pomfret Center, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Rainbow, Lapsley Orchard, Pomfret Center, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

A sudden cloudburst, then a rainbow, Lapsley Orchard, Pomfret Center, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Lapsley Orchard, Pomfret Center, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Last blast of sun glow, Lapsley Orchard, Pomfret Center, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks)

North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Golden Delicious apples, Lanni Orchards, Lunenburg, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Golden Delicious triplets, Lanni Orchards, Lunenburg, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks)

Golden Delicious apples, Lanni Orchards, Lunenburg, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Golden Delicious apples, Lanni Orchards, Lunenburg, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks)

Gala apples, Boothby's Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Gala apples, Boothby’s Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine         (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Cortland apples, Boothby's Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland apples, Boothby’s Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine      (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple, Boothby's Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple, Boothby’s Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apples, Boothby's Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apples, Boothby’s Orchard and Farm, Livermore, Maine      (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Suncrisp apples, Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Better than Honeycrisp! Suncrisp apples, Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine               (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Wallingford's Fruit House, Auburn, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Wallingford’s Fruit House, Auburn, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Stukas Farms, Lewiston, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Stukas Farms, Lewiston, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Stukas Farms, Lewiston, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Stukas Farms, Lewiston, Maine (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Crabapples, planted primarily for pollination purposes, Ragged Hill Orchard, West Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Crab apples, planted primarily for pollination purposes, Ragged Hill Orchard, West Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Ragged Hill Orchard, West Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Ragged Hill Orchard, West Brookfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

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Jonagold apples are labeled "Better than Honeycrisp" at Tougas Family Farm, Northborough, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Jonagold apples are labeled “Better than Honeycrisp” at Tougas Family Farm, Northborough, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE 2014 NEW ENGLAND APPLE crop is decidedly uneven. Some orchards have plenty of fruit, some just miles away have been forced to close early after running out of fresh apples.

The region avoided major outbreaks of frost damage in the spring, hail in summer, or a fall hurricane, any of which can shrink the crop. But the 2014 New England harvest is smaller than usual for several reasons, including last year’s harsh winter, which damaged or killed trees in some orchards; spotty pollination during spring bloom, impacting whole orchards or certain varieties; and a larger-than-usual outbreak of the bacterial infection fire blight in all of the New England states except Maine.

Some orchards are down as much as 60 percent to 70 percent from a normal year. But many New England orchards have outstanding crops. Region-wide, there are plenty of beautiful, delicious apples of all varieties and sizes, a few of which are shown here.

So if you don’t find your favorite apple at your favorite orchard, don’t despair. Simply branch out to another New England orchard, or check your supermarket for local apples. Chances are you will not have to look far.

The Massachusetts photographs were taken Sunday, October 5, the Rhode Island orchards Monday, October 6.

Visit our website, New England Apples, for a list of the region’s orchards and to learn about New England apple varieties and where they are grown.

Topaz apples, Tougas Family Farm, Northborough, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A heavy crop of late-season Topaz apples is among the varieties available at Tougas Family Farm, Northborough, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Tougas Family Farm, Northborough, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Tougas Family Farm, Northborough, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

TOPAZ is a disease-resistant variety from the Czech Republic that made its commercial debut in 1990. The small but active Czech Republic apple industry has been in the forefront of developing new disease-resistant varieties, including the scab-resistant Topaz and its parents, Rubin and Vanda.

Topaz is a medium to large apple with a red blush over a yellow skin. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp, and its flavor, initially more tart than sweet, mellows some in storage. There is a redder strain known as Crimson Topaz or Red Topaz.

Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

PEOPLE SWARMED to New England’s orchards Sunday like bees to nectar after Saturday’s rain. Massachusetts orchards Red Apple Farm in Phillipston and Tougas Family Farm in Northborough are among the many orchards that have outstanding crops this fall.

Owner James Steere, Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Owner James Steere, Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Macoun apples are just coming in at Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Macoun apples are just coming in at Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Macoun apples, Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Macoun apples, Steere Orchard, Greenville, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

STEERE ORCHARD in Greenville, Rhode Island, is just now harvesting Macouns, more than a week later than usual.

Steere Orchard will celebrate its 10th annual “Applefest” this weekend, Sunday, October 12, and Columbus Day, Monday, October 13, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition to sampling and picking apples, there will be hayrides, a farmers market, live music, and baked goods.

Macoun apples, Hill Orchards, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Macoun apples, Hill Orchards, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Asian pears, Hill Orchards, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Asian pears, Hill Orchards, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THERE ARE MORE apples remaining on the trees at Hill Orchards than neighboring Dame Farm and Orchard, both of Johnston, Rhode Island. The Macouns are nearly gone at Dame Farm and Orchard, which expects to be all picked out of all varieties by this weekend (there are plenty of fresh apples and other produce for sale in their farm store).

Macoun apple, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Macoun apple, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apples, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apples, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

 

Cortland apples, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Cortland apples, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Gala apples, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Gala apples, Dame Farm and Orchard, Johnston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Mutsu apples, Pippin Orchard, Cranston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Mutsu apples, Pippin Orchard, Cranston, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

PIPPIN ORCHARD in Cranston, Rhode Island, still has some pick-your-own as well as fresh apples in its roadside store, but it is close to being picked out. Its cold storage room, usually full by now, is half full; even the orchard floor is unusually clean.

Phantom Farms apple tree, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Phantom Farms apple tree, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Pick-your-own apples are already gone at Phantom Farms in Cumberland, Rhode Island, but there are fresh apples and other goods for sale in their farm store and bakery.

Stripped of fruit, the orchard is still beautiful, fragrant, and peaceful, as Phantom Farms gradually transitions from standard-sized to dwarf and semi-dwarf trees.

Apple tree, Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple tree, Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A standard-sized apple tree towers over amid dwarf saplings at Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A standard-sized apple tree towers over dwarf saplings at Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple tree, Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple tree, Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple tree, Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Apple tree, Phantom Farms, Cumberland, Rhode Island (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Buell’s Orchard

Eastford, Connecticut

Moon rising over Buell's Orchard, Eastford, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Moon rising over Buell’s Orchard, Eastford, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Buell’s Orchard in Eastford, Connecticut, has a good supply of apples.

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellRUSSELL STEVEN POWELL will discuss apples and read from his new book, Apples of New England (Countryman Press), at several sites over the Columbus Day Weekend.

Photographer Bar Lois Weeks will make a joint appearance with him at Boothby’s Orchard and Farm Monday, October 13:

Saturday, October 11, 2 p.m.

Historic Deerfield

80 Old Main St., Deerfield, Massachusetts

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Monday, October 13, 11 a.m.

Boothby’s Orchard and Farm

366 Boothby Rd., Livermore, Maine

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Tuesday, October 14, 7:30 p.m.

Williamsburg Historical Society

4 North Main St., Williamsburg, Massachusetts

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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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