Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Introducing the new logo of the New England Apple Association.

Introducing the new logo of the New England Apple Association.

TODAY MARKS the official kickoff of the 2015 New England apple harvest.

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan will bite into an apple at Mack’s Orchard in Londonderry Wednesday, September 2, at 3 p.m. Among those attending will be New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill, Jim Bair, president of USApple, and Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association.

Thursday morning at 9, Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux will join Bair, Weeks, and other officials at J. P. Sullivan Co. in Ayer for a tour of the company’s new packing line, followed by a visit to nearby Fairview Orchards. J. P. Sullivan is the largest packer and shipper of apples in the region.

Events celebrating the new season will be held in the other New England states throughout the month. While a number of early season apple varieties were picked in August, September is when many of New England’s leading varieties ripen.

McIntosh, New England’s most popular apple, is already being picked in some orchards, and should be widely available over the next seven to 10 days. Cortland, Gala, Honeycrisp, and others will soon follow, with late-season apples available for picking through much of October.

As always, call ahead to make sure that the variety you are looking for is available.

*          *          *

TODAY ALSO BEGINS the nonprofit New England Apple Association’s 80th year. Founded by a group of growers from New England and New York in 1935, the organization became known as the Northeast McIntosh Growers Association in 1993. The name eventually was shortened to New England Apple Association.

The Association promotes the New England apple industry through educational and promotional events and projects. Its website introduces visitors to the wide variety of New England apples and orchards, the nutritional value of apples, and how apples are grown and prepared.

In recognition of its anniversary year, the Association today introduces a new logo, designed by Christopher Rob Weeks.

Tomorrow we will post photos from today’s events and launch the association’s new website!

*          *          *

TWO RECENT BOOKS by Russell Steven Powell, senior writer, and Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association, explore the history of apple growing in the region and look at the nation’s apple industry.

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellApples of New England (Countryman Press) is an indispensable resource for anyone searching for apples in New England orchards, farm stands, or grocery stores — or trying to identify an apple tree in their own backyard.

The book contains color photographs by Weeks and descriptions of more than 200 apples discovered, grown, or sold in New England, accompanied by notes about flavor and texture, history, ripening time, storage quality, and best use. Apples of New England offers practical advice about rare heirlooms and newly discovered apples.

Apples of New England includes chapters on the rich tradition of apple growing in New England, and on the “fathers” of American apples, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thoreau. Apples of New England presents the apple in all its splendor: as a biological wonder, as a super food, as a work of art, and as a cultural icon.

America's AppleAmerica’s Apple (Brook Hollow Press) tells a rich and detailed story about apple growing in America, from horticulture to history to culinary uses. Powell writes about the best ways to eat, drink, and cook with apples. He describes the orchard’s beauty and introduces readers to some of the family farms where apples are grown today, many of them spanning generations.

America’s Apple looks at how America’s orchards are changing as a result of the trend toward intensive planting and the trademarking of new varieties, and what that means to consumers. Powell also writes about the fragile underpinnings of modern agriculture: the honeybees needed to pollinate the crop and the labor required to pick it, plus new and exotic pests and increasingly volatile weather.

Apples of New England and America’s Apple are available in hardcover at fine bookstores and orchards and online. America’s Apple is also available in paperback.

For more information, write to newenglandapples@verizon.net.

Read Full Post »

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

The trees are loaded at New England’s apple orchards, like this one at Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE FIRST early season New England apples are already being picked!

To learn more, and to find out what we have planned this fall for the 80th anniversary of the nonprofit New England Apple Association, click on this link for the Summer 2015 McIntosh News.

Read Full Post »

Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Green-tipped apple leaf buds beginning to emerge April 23 at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE LONG WINTER and cool spring may be frustrating to heat-starved New Englanders, but it is good news for the region’s apple growers. An early spring — as occurred in 2010 and 2012 — forces a premature bloom in the apple orchard, putting the delicate flowers and nascent apples at risk of frost damage for an extended period.

This year is more normal, from an apple perspective. You can see the dramatic difference in our Spring 2015 McIntosh News, the quarterly newsletter of the New England Apple Association. A photograph taken at Belltown Hill Orchards in South Glastonbury, Connecticut, on April 5, 2012 (page 7), shows smudge pots beneath green grass and budded trees, a strategy for limiting frost damage.

This spring, photographs from Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts, (page 1) nearly three weeks later on April 23, shows green-tip buds just emerging. Bloom is expected around May 10 or later at most of the region’s apple orchards.

There is plenty more in McIntosh News, including:

  • A recipe for Birdie’s Favorite Apple Brownies from Sentinel Pine Orchards, Shoreham, Vermont, on page 7; and
  • Links to our three-part video series on integrated pest management (IPM), an entertaining and educational look at how New England apple growers deal with bugs, bacteria, and other orchard threats (pages 2-4).

If you haven’t seen the series already, it is well worth it, and if you have already viewed them, they are well worth watching again at this critical time of year, when many orchard pests are re-emerging after a winter of dormancy.

The engaging and informative programs star apple growers John and Pete Rogers and Greg Parzych of Rogers Orchards in Southington, Connecticut, and Chuck Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire.

We hope you enjoy the videos and newsletter, and we welcome your feedback and comments.

Russell Steven Powell


Read Full Post »

UNFAMILIAR APPLES WITH UN-APPLE LIKE NAMES have been appearing in my grocery store lately. Junami. Ambrosia. Envy. Kiku. Lady Alice. Pacific Rose. Now the latest, Autumn Glory.

These new apples have several things in common:

Their flavor ranges from sweet to very sweet.

Their flesh is firm to dense, ideal for shipping and storage.

They are rolled out strategically for a few brief months or weeks in late winter to compete with the better-known staple varieties available continuously since the fall harvest.

They have sophisticated marketing programs to promote them.

They are trademarked.

New England’s apple growers are not licensed to grow them.

These new apples are examples of a recent trend in apple breeding triggered by the wild success of Honeycrisp since its introduction in 1991. Developers of these trademarked varieties are hoping to replicate Honeycrisp’s meteoric rise, and forestall the potential weakening of the apple through overproduction.

A good Honeycrisp is an extraordinary apple, sweet with a little tang and an explosive, juicy crunch, justifying the premium price it commands in the marketplace. Its popularity has compelled growers everywhere to begin planting Honeycrisp, despite the fact that it can be a challenging apple to grow.

Honeycrisp does not store as well as some varieties, either. Its color is highly variable (from a solid reddish-pink to nearly all-yellow), and if not grown and harvested properly, its flavor can be watery or bland rather than crisp and explosive. There are many people in the industry who fear that the apple’s distinctiveness will eventually be compromised as too many Honeycrisp of uneven quality flood the market, and the premium price will suffer.

The financial stakes are high. Honeycrisp produced more than $10 million in revenue for its developer, the University of Minnesota, during its 20-year patent period, making it the university’s third most successful “invention” in its history. Honeycrisp today earns growers twice as much or more than some varieties. Who can blame growers for wanting to jump on the Honeycrisp bandwagon, or the developers hoping to find the next apple superstar?

TRADEMARKING NEW APPLES is seen as a way to maintain quality and avoid overproduction, and to return more money to the people and institutions that develop the fruit. The trademarked varieties are “managed” in selective “clubs,” requiring growers to pay licensing fees to grow the trademarked apple.

Some of the funds collected are earmarked for marketing, and each new “brand” comes with a carefully vetted name (as you see from the above list, often having little or nothing to do with apples), and is promoted through elaborate websites, advertising, and in-store promotions.

It may be sound in theory to manage supply to ensure high quality and prices, and the licensing fees are an innovative way to ensure that the varieties are given a fair chance in the marketplace. But the trend toward trademarking penalizes New England’s medium to small orchards, which to date have been excluded from joining the clubs or cannot afford them.

In some cases the trademark is owned by a single company, such as Rainier Fruit Company in Washington state for Lady Alice, or controlled by a region or state, such as New York, where a growers cooperative this year released two new commercial varieties, SnapDragon and RubyFrost. None of these apples currently can be grown in New England.

THE JURY IS OUT on the value of the trademarking trend, but ultimately its success will depend on the quality of the apple. To date, that means New England growers have little to worry about — these new apples add little besides novelty to the experience of eating an apple. Give me a tangy McIntosh or Cortland at any time of year over any of these new, overly sweet apples.

Most of these new, trademarked varieties seem destined for the same fate as the many now rare or extinct apples discovered in New England in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, for similar reasons. Most of the early heirlooms disappeared from the marketplace due to their mild, bland flavor. Perfectly good apples, they simply lacked distinction. Many of these varieties were esteemed more because they stored well rather than due to their flavor, and they gradually lost popularity or disappeared altogether with the advent of refrigeration.

The new trademarked varieties to date have similarly undistinguished flavors (although too sweet rather than mild), and their repetitive firm textures, valuable for shipping and handling, adds little to their bland, sugary taste.

I have nothing against a sweet apple (although I usually prefer one that’s got some tang or bite). But the sweet apples commonly grown in New England, like Honeycrisp, Gala, or Jonagold, retain some character, and still taste like apples. Many of the new, trademarked varieties are nothing but sweetness, generic as bubble gum or cotton candy.

These apples are a novel choice to satisfy a sweet tooth, and healthier than a candy bar, of course, or a slice of cake. The best ones are not overly cloying, and some are at least juicy. But anyone looking for apple flavor is likely to be disappointed by most of these new entries. And they can’t be grown on New England soil.

*          *          *

TWO OTHER NEW APPLES appearing in New England grocery stores for the first time this winter are the first U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved genetically modified (GMO) apples, Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden. Like the trademarked apples above, Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden apples are not grown in New England.

The two varieties, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., of Summerland, British Columbia, Canada, were developed to be “nonbrowning” to increase a sliced apple’s visual appeal when exposed to air, making them more attractive in uncooked foods like salads. The Arctic apples achieve this through the insertion in the apple’s DNA of polyphenol oxidase, a gene found in potatoes.

The subject of GMOs remains controversial, and the USDA in 2013 and 2014 received thousands of responses during the public comment period on the petition to regulate Arctic apples. Baby food manufacturer Gerber announced in 2013 that it had no plans to use Arctic apples, and the fast-food restaurant chain McDonald’s soon followed suit.

While Arctic apples “are unlikely” to pose a plant risk to agriculture and other plants, according to the USDA’s February 13 announcement of their approval, apple industry leaders have been concerned about the Arctic’s potential to harm consumer perception of their fruit.

“We have been anticipating this decision and preparing to answer consumer questions about what their choices will be — now and down the road,” says Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the United States Apple Association in Vienna, Virginia. “We want to make clear that all other apples currently in stores are non-GMO and will remain available for consumers to continue buying, including non-GMO varieties that are naturally low browning.”

“The New England Apple Association supports science-based biotechnology that protects consumer health, the environment, and the marketplace,” according to a statement by the nonprofit’s board of directors. “At this time, there is no demand for GMO apples, and no consensus about GMO produce. No New England growers are planting GMO apples to our knowledge.”

Consumer demand will determine the future of GMO apples in the marketplace, says Brannen. “We see our job in the meantime being to quell people’s concerns and continue encouraging them to eat all U.S.-grown apples as part as a healthy, nutritious lifestyle.”

*          *          *

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellTO LEARN MORE about the history of apple growing in New England — including how to identify a trademarked from a locally grown apple — with photographs and descriptions of more than 200 varieties discovered, grown, or sold in the region, check out Apples Of New England (Countryman Press, 2014), by Russell Steven Powell, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks.

Read Full Post »

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

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

HERE IS a link to our special winter edition of McIntosh News, the quarterly newsletter of the New England Apple Association:

winter 2015 McIntosh News

The issue features a photo essay of the New England apples booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) by Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks. The 17-day fair attracted more than 1.5 million visitors this year in the middle of the fresh harvest, from September 12 through September 28.

Check it out — you might recognize yourself or someone you know. In addition to people, the photographs show stellar examples of the fall apple crop, and serve as a reminder to ask for New England grown apples in your supermarket. They should be available in most places until late spring, at least.

Read Full Post »

Fresh apples for sampling at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, during Franklin County CiderDays. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fresh apples for sampling at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, during Franklin County CiderDays  (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

TWICE A DAY at least I reach into a paper bag in my refrigerator and pull out an apple. It could be any color, size, or shape — I like to be surprised. I take an apple on my morning and afternoon walks, where it can be savored in its natural environment, without distraction.

An apple is perfect for walking, clean and compact, fitting neatly in my pocket, giving me a sweet energy boost and fresh juice along the way. Apples work on all the senses, beautiful to behold (especially in contrast with November’s muted landscape) and lightly perfuming the air, their smooth, round or conical shape weighing comfortably in my hand.

While the last New England apples have been picked, the bounty of the harvest will last until late spring, at least. During the fresh harvest I was able to amass a wide variety of my favorite apples from around New England, which will supply my walks at least through Thanksgiving.

From my orchard visits in October I picked up small bags of Baldwin, Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, plus Honeycrisp, Jonagold, and McIntosh. I had some Gala, Empire, Macoun, and a few Silken left over from our booth at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) in September.

One bag is filled with heirloom varieties like Esopus Spitzenburg, Ribston Pippin, and Roxbury Russet. There are a few loose stragglers on the refrigerator’s shelves, a Golden Delicious one day, Suncrisp the next. I never know what I will retrieve when I reach in.

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold apple            (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Monday I ate a Jonagold in the morning, and a Macoun in the afternoon — two of my favorite fresh eating apples. There are mixed reports about the storage qualities of Jonagold, a 1968 cross of Golden Delicious and Jonathan, but this one, purchased a month ago, held up beautifully, crisp and loaded with juice, with its characteristic flavor, sweet with a little tartness.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple                  (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

After a similar time in storage, the Macoun, the offspring of McIntosh and Jersey Black parents introduced in 1923, remained crisp, and its flavor was rich and complex, with its spicy, strawberry notes more pronounced than ever.

Tuesday I ate two heirlooms, McIntosh from Canada (1801), and Northern Spy (1840 New York, from seeds from Connecticut).

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple             (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Mac was outstanding, early in its flavor “arc” that sees the apple gradually sweeten and soften over several months. It had been two months since this McIntosh was harvested, and much of the apple’s tartness remained intact, giving it a rich flavor as beguiling as fresh-picked and spicier, more complex.

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Northern Spy apple         (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The pink Northern Spy was huge, firm, and juicy, its initial tartness gradually transforming into something broader and deeper. It is easy to see why this apple was a favorite for nearly a century despite being somewhat unreliable and difficult to grow, as it stores well, and is equally good for fresh eating and baking.

I began Wednesday with a giant Honeycrisp that had been sitting in the crisper drawer for about two months.

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple             (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

While still juicy, its flavor was unexceptional, certainly nothing like what the apple has become famous for since it hit the marketplace in 1991, from a 1961 cross of Keepsake and an unnamed seedling at the University of Minnesota.

Some Honeycrisp store better than others, depending on where they were grown and when they were picked, but it is an apple that is appreciably better eaten fresh. A good Honeycrisp can also be almost solid pink-red in color, much like Northern Spy.

Baldwin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Baldwin apple                 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I ended the day with a Baldwin, one of New England’s oldest varieties, dating back to 1740 in Wilmington, Massachusetts. Baldwin was the region’s most popular apple for nearly a century before McIntosh’s ascendancy in the early 1900s.

The Baldwin I ate was the crispest and tartest of the six apples I tasted during the three days (it may have been the last of these varieties to be picked). Beneath its round, nearly solid vermillion skin, freckled with cream-colored pores, or lenticels, the Baldwin’s crisp, juicy flesh was pleasingly tart at first but finished sweeter, ending in sublime flavors of pineapple and melon.

*          *          *

The view from Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, early November. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The view from Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Deerfield, Massachusetts, early November           (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

HERE ARE A FEW ways to get the most from your fresh apples:

When trying a new variety, always purchase at least four apples. Eat two of the apples a few days apart, within a week of purchase. No two apples are exactly alike. Subtle flavors like vanilla, nuts, or mango can vary in intensity from apple to apple, and sometimes can be hard to detect. By trying two fresh apples, you are more likely to experience the variety’s full range of flavors.

Place the other two apples in your refrigerator, and mark the date they were purchased or picked. Ideally, seal the apples in plastic bags and store them in your crisper drawer. As long as they are kept cold, though, most apples keep pretty well in a paper bag. Either bag helps them retain moisture, and keeps them from absorbing odors from foods around them.

Wait a month before tasting the first of these stored apples. Note if there is an appreciable difference in flavor and texture, good or bad. Some apples peak in flavor around this time.

Many varieties follow a similar ripening arc, albeit it at different rates, gradually losing some of their initial tartness and becoming sweeter, more complex, and juicier over time. The same variety can be appreciated in different seasons for different reasons.

From a crisp, tart green apple in late September, Shamrock gets progressively spicier and juicier for about a month before it begins to break down. The flesh of the Connecticut heirloom Sheep’s Nose is dry at harvest, but becomes mellower and juicier after a month or more in storage.

Idared’s best flavor will not emerge until the new year, when it excels in pies and in cider. The flavor of Suncrisp is said to improve in storage, but I wouldn’t know — I enjoy their sweet-tart, citrusy taste so much eaten fresh that I cannot seem to make one last long enough to find out. I have one left in my refrigerator this year, and I am determined to make it last to December, at least.

If your apple has held up well for 30 days, leave the remaining one in the refrigerator for another month (or more) before tasting it. Fuji is famous for its storage qualities. Russeted-covered apples like Ashmead’s Kernel and Roxbury Russet are well known for developing richer, more complex flavors in storage, sometimes months after they have been harvested.

Obviously, the apples available now in grocery stores, farmers markets, orchards, and farm stands, were picked weeks ago. But they have been maintained in either regular, or controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, retarding their ripening process.

Stored properly — meaning kept cold — the apples may be slightly less crisp than the day they were picked, but not much. You can test an apple’s ripening qualities any time you make your purchase.

Don’t reject perfectly good fruit. You can’t always judge an apple by its skin. Most surface blemishes on an apple are harmless and easily removed, such as a patch of apple scab, a dent from hail, or spot russeting. An otherwise fine apple can be misshapen because it rested on a branch as it grew. The apple’s flavor is in no way impaired.

All apples bruise if treated roughly, and some varieties are more susceptible than others. A thin-skinned apple like Silken or a tender-fleshed one like McIntosh require special care in handling. But a bruise here and there on an apple’s surface can easily be ignored, avoided, or removed.

A perfectly good apple often awaits beneath that less-than-perfect exterior. The Galas from The Big E are looking a little wrinkly on the outside, but their flesh remains firm and their flavor is as good as ever. The color of Galas changes in storage, too. It typically has patches of yellow at harvest, and gradually deepens to a rich red-orange.

Rub the apple, eat the skin. While apples leave the orchard and packinghouse clean, like all produce it is best to wash them off before eating, mostly because of the possibility of contamination by human handlers. You never know who may have previously picked up that apple in the bin.

The natural film or “bloom” on an apple, sometimes mistaken for pesticide residue, helps the apple retain moisture. Some of the bloom gets washed off in the packinghouse, and in some cases a drop of wax is applied to replenish it and give the apples a shine. Both the natural bloom and the cosmetic wax are harmless.

The majority of the chemicals used to treat apple pests and disease are applied in the spring and early summer, some before the fruit is even formed. Most residual traces of chemicals are washed off by rain over the summer, and apples entering the packinghouse are first dunked in a tank of water where they float for ten feet or more before entering the packing line, where they will be further buffed and brushed along the way.

But it’s always a good idea to clean your fruit before you eat it. The beauty of the apple is that you don’t need water to wash it— just rub it on your shirt, especially convenient when outdoors.

The peel and the flesh just beneath it contain much of the apple’s nutrients, so there are compelling reasons to eat it. That’s automatic for most people eating a fresh apple, but requires some rethinking on the part of many bakers and cooks. Prepared properly, though, apple skins can add color as well as nutrients to any dish.

Make sure your apples are ripe. It’s good to know what you are getting. The best way to tell if an apple is ripe is by examining its seeds. The apple should not be picked until the seeds are dark brown, almost black, in color.

If you find that some of your apples were not fully ripe when picked, you can eat them without harm. They are likely to be more tart than usual, though, may not store as well, and may have inferior flavor.

I purchased some Ginger Golds in August, and when I cut several of them open, their seeds were white, not brown. The apples tasted alright, but nowhere near as good as Ginger Golds I have had in the past.

Today, two-and-a-half months later, the apples have slowly ripened in my refrigerator, and the seeds are now medium brown. But the ripening has been uneven; the flavor is not much improved, the flesh is beginning to go soft, and they are not very juicy. Reluctantly, I’ll have to throw them out.

*          *          *

For more information about New England apples, including where to find them, visit New England Apples.

*          *          *

'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.

Read Full Post »

An atmospheric fire adds to the view at March Farm, Bethlehem, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

An atmospheric fire adds to the view at March Farm, Bethlehem, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

A RENEWED INTEREST IN APPLE CIDER, fresh and hard, is evident wherever it is sold. Visitors to the New England Apples booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) bought more than 300 gallons of Carlson Orchards fresh cider in seven-ounce cups over 17 days in September — and fresh cider was sold at a dozen other places at the fair.

Beginning this Friday, October 31, cider aficionados from not just New England, but across the country and around the globe, will gather in western Massachusetts, to celebrate the 20th Annual Franklin County CiderDays. The event continues through Sunday, November 2, with a wide range of tastings, panels, orchard tours, and more at orchards across the county (click on the link above for a full schedule of events).

Next month comes Vermont Cider Week, actually a 10-day affair beginning Friday, November 14, through Sunday, November 23, with tastings at a number of venues.

Why this renewed interest in what was once America’s favorite drink?

Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts, will have several blends of fresh cider on hand during CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts, will have several blends of fresh cider on hand during CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

IT STARTS with the incomparable flavors produced by squeezing the juice out of apples. Even the most sour or bitter apple is transformed into something special when pressed into juice, and the blends made by expert cider makers add richness and body to the experience.

Slightly fizzy, lightly alcoholic hard cider, once consumed year-round by young and old alike, expands the range of flavors even further, from sweet to dry.

New England cider typically is made from locally grown fruit. Drinking it connects us to the land, and to our past. To press, ferment, and drink cider is to partake in a tradition that dates back to the 1620s, less than a decade after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.

For more than two centuries, nearly all New Englanders drank cider, and lots of it. Middlesex County, Massachusetts, to cite just one example, produced 33,436 barrels of cider in 1764, “or seven per family, well over a barrel for every man, woman, and child.”

Cider’s dominance ended in the mid-1800s, squeezed by temperance movements that targeted hard cider at the beginning and end of the 19th century. Rural New Englanders flocked to its cities during the Industrial Revolution, where immigrant populations, especially from Germany, demonstrated a talent for brewing beer, an inexpensive alternative to hard cider.

Passage of the Volstead Act in 1919 led to Prohibition, further reducing demand for hard cider, and the market never recovered even after Prohibition was lifted in 1933.

People still thirsted for fresh cider, though, and almost every orchard, large or small, pressed its own until 1996, when an isolated tragedy in the Pacific Northwest permanently changed the landscape for producers.

The incident involved Escherichia coli (E. coli) contamination traced to a single source, the Odwalla Juice Company in Washington state. One child died and more than 60 people became ill after drinking Odwalla fresh apple juice.

Odwalla immediately recalled all its products containing apple or carrot juice, and in 1998 pleaded guilty to 16 misdemeanor charges of selling adulterated food products, paying a $1.5 million fine. Odwalla made improvements to its production line in an effort to avoid future outbreaks, and began to flash pasteurize its juices.

Alyson's Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire, one of the many small New England orchards that sell unpasteurized cider at the farm. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire, one of the many small New England orchards that sell unpasteurized cider at the farm. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

AS ITS LONG AND ILLUSTRIOUS history suggests, New England cider has always been safe to drink. In all of my research for Apples of New England, I did not encounter a single report of illness traced to New England cider, and I am not aware of any in my lifetime — including nearly 20 years working with the New England apple industry. Yet the Odwalla incident resulted in new regulations for how apples and other crops are harvested and processed.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eventually required that all fresh cider be pasteurized, with the exception of small producers who sell at their orchard or farm stand (they must attach a warning label). Many small orchards chose not to invest in the expensive equipment needed to pasteurize and simply stopped pressing cider.

Common sense, tradition, and its irresistible flavor appear to be overcoming this latest taint on cider, judging by the demand for fresh ciders like Carlson’s, the popularity of festivals like CiderDays, and the proliferation of artisanal hard ciders and commercial brands like Angry Orchard, Harpoon, and Woodchuck.

It is not just fresh and hard cider, either, that appeals to the apple-loving palate. A new generation of vintners is coming up with distinctive dry and semi-dry apple wines in addition to the traditional sweet dessert ones, and niche products like ice cider are capturing the apple’s essence and showing its remarkable versatility in new and exciting ways.

Here are a few things to know about cider as you prepare to visit CiderDays, an orchard, or grocery store, or as you simply sit back to sip your favorite apple drink:

The term “apple juice” applies to the clear, amber liquid sold in bottles in grocery stores.

“Fresh cider” is the name for the brown, unfiltered apple drink sold at farm stands, farmers’ markets, and orchards, and in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, usually in the produce aisles.

“Hard cider” is the alcoholic drink fermented from fresh cider, roughly as strong as beer.

Bottled apple juice is fresh cider that has been heated above 175°F for 15 minutes to 30 minutes, then filtered to a clear liquid. Commercial apple juice is also made from concentrate and water. With the help of stabilizers and preservatives, bottled apple juice stores indefinitely.

Fresh cider, the sweet, thick drink found at most orchards, contains nothing but apples. If sugar or any other ingredients have been added, it is not the same drink.

Unpasteurized fresh cider will keep approximately 10 days to two weeks, several weeks if pasteurized, and up to several months with preservatives like potassium sorbate, added by some of the largest producers and grocery stores. Fresh cider may be frozen for up to six months.

Any apple can be used in fresh or hard cider, even an unnamed chance seedling, and each variety contributes distinct sweet, acid, or astringent properties. All-purpose heirlooms like Ashmead’s Kernel, Golden Russet, and Roxbury Russet are particularly prized for cider, while varieties like Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Tremlett’s Bitter, and Yarlington Mill are cultivated exclusively for fresh and hard cider.

Large-scale makers of fresh cider necessarily rely on varieties planted in sufficient quantities to meet their high demand, which rules out most heirlooms. Varieties like Cortland, Gala, McIntosh, Idared, PaulaRed, and other New England staples are used according to season. An early season batch may differ slightly in taste from one made later in the year.

*          *          *

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellAUTHOR RUSSELL STEVEN POWELL, senior writer for the New England Apple Association, and Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks will discuss apples, answer questions, and sign their new book, Apples of New England, at at three western Massachusetts orchards during CiderDays weekend.

As part of CiderDays, Powell and Weeks will appear at Pine Hill Orchards, 248 Greenfield Rd., Colrain, Saturday, November 1, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, and at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, 303 Upper Rd., Deerfield, Sunday, November 2, also from 10 a.m. to noon.

Powell and Weeks will also appear at Atkins Farm, 1150 West St., Amherst, Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

*          *          *

TO LEARN MORE about how commercial fresh cider is made, view this short video:

Read Full Post »

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

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

THE LIST of apples developed in Japan that have thrived in New England is short and sweet yet spans the growing season. The five apples profiled here are relatively new, none older than 1930.

Fuji apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fuji apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fuji has become one of the best-known apples in the world since its commercial release a half-century ago. It is a medium to large, yellow-green apple covered with a heavy pink blush. A late-season apple with dense, juicy white flesh, its sweet flavor owes primarily to its Red Delicious parent.

Fuji’s other parent, the Virginia heirloom Ralls Janet, is a good eating apple known for its late bloom, making Fuji less susceptible to frost damage than many varieties. Fuji stores exceptionally well, maintaining its quality for several weeks left in a fruit bowl or for up to one year refrigerated.

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

Mutsu apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Mutsu apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Mutsu, or Crispin, is a large, slightly conical apple ranging in color from green to yellow, often with an orange blush. Its crisp, pale yellow flesh is aromatic, sweeter than tart, and juicy. It is more tart than either its Golden Delicious or Indo parents.

Mutsu is an all-purpose apple, especially good in salads as its flesh browns slowly. It is a good pie apple due to its flavor and size, and because it holds it shape when cooked. It stores extremely well.

Originally named for a province in Japan, Mutsu was discovered in 1930 and released in 1948. It was renamed Crispin in England in 1968, but more often is sold as Mutsu in New England.

Shizuka apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Shizuka apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Shizuka is a large, round or conical, green-yellow apple with a red-orange blush. A late-season apple, Shizuka has the same parentage as Mutsu: Golden Delicious crossed with Indo, a sweet Japanese apple from the 1930s. But Shizuka’s flavor and texture are very different. Shizuka has distinctive light crisp flesh similar to Honeycrisp and Jonagold, and it is sweeter than Mutsu.

It is excellent eaten fresh or in a salad, as it is slow to brown when cut. It stores well.

Shizuka was developed by Tsuneo Murakami in Aomori prefecture in 1969, and released commercially in 1986. Like Jonagold and Karmijn de Sonnaville, Shizuka’s popularity has lagged behind its virtues in the United States, in part, perhaps, as a result of its unremarkable name.

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

In contrast to these late-season apples are two early season varieties, Akane and Sansa.

Akane (ah ‘kah neh) is known as Tokyo Rose and Prime Red in its native Japan, and Primrouge in France for its striking red color. It has sweet-tart flavor with hints of strawberry, crisp white flesh, and lots of juice. One of the best early season apples, it is good for baking as well as for fresh eating, as it holds its shape well.

Akane is the result of a cross between the English heirloom Worcester Pearmain, known for its strawberry flavor, and Jonathan, an American heirloom with outstanding flavor and distinctive red color. Akane was discovered in 1937 and released in 1970.

Sansa apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Sansa apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Sansa is medium sized, round, and typically red in color (it can also appear with a deep pink blush on a yellow skin). It is sweet and juicy, with crisp, light-green flesh. Considered best for fresh eating, it is one of the better early season apples.

Sansa is the result of a collaboration between researchers in Japan and New Zealand. The apple’s parents are Japan’s Akane and New Zealand’s Gala, which gives Sansa its characteristic sweetness.

In 1969, Japanese apple breeder Dr. Yoshio Yoshida sent pollen harvested from Akane blossoms to Dr. Donald McKenzie in New Zealand, to cross-pollinate with Gala. Gala was not grown in Japan at the time, and Akane was not available in New Zealand.

McKenzie returned seeds from this cross to Yoshida, and the resulting trees were evaluated for nearly 20 years before the variety’s 1988 release. McKenzie did not live to see the result of their joint effort, though, as he was killed in a car accident that same year.

*     *     *

'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 during and after the Columbus Day Weekend.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2 p.m.

Historic Deerfield

80 Old Main St., Deerfield, Massachusetts


Monday, October 13, 11 a.m.

Boothby’s Orchard and Farm

366 Boothby Rd., Livermore, Maine


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

Williamsburg Historical Society

4 North Main St., Williamsburg, Massachusetts

Read Full Post »

The University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown features more than 100 apple varieties, including many New England natives. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown features more than 100 apple varieties, including many New England natives. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

IT SEEMS ONLY FITTING to celebrate native New England apples on New England Apple Day Wednesday, September 3. The New England state commissioners of agriculture will be visiting orchards today to mark the official launch of the 2014 fresh harvest. While some early season varieties are picked in August, most of the region’s apple crop ripens in September and October, with New England’s favorite apple, McIntosh, traditionally available soon after Labor Day.

Although less than 2 percent of the national apple crop is now grown here, New England continues to have a strong apple industry and an even richer apple-growing heritage. Dozens of apple varieties have been discovered or developed on New England soils, and many flourish today. A number of them have had illustrious histories and were once among the most widely planted in the Northeast.

Baldwin (Massachusetts, 1740), Northern Spy (Connecticut, 1800), and Rhode Island Greening (Rhode Island, 1600s) were the nation’s most popular and well-known apples a century ago. They eventually were surpassed by newer varieties that were more marketable and easier to grow, but they still can be found at many New England orchards.

In the 19th century, two varieties whose names combine superlatives with the Massachusetts towns in which they were discovered, Hubbardston Nonesuch (early 1800s) and Westfield Seek-No-Further (1700s), were popular well beyond the New England region.

Hubbardston Nonesuch apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hubbardston Nonesuch apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hubbardston Nonesuch, also known as American Blush, is a large, late-season apple with heavy red streaking on yellow-green skin, with occasional russeting. Its dense, yellow flesh is juicy, and it has an exceptionally small core. Its complex flavor, more sweet than tart, is ideal for cider and fresh eating, although its flavor tends to fade in storage.

References to Hubbardston begin in the early 1830s, and it was popular throughout the Northeast for much of the 19th century. As late as 1905, S. A. Beach in the classic work, Apples of New York, recommended Hubbardston for commercial orchards. But it is a difficult apple to grow, and only survives as a rare heirloom despite its rich flavor.

Porter apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Porter apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Porter is another Massachusetts native that once enjoyed widespread popularity. A medium, round, early season apple, apple, it has a yellow-green skin with a peach-colored blush. Its cream-colored flesh is tender, aromatic, and juicy. Its flavor is sweeter than tart, and it retains its shape and flavor when cooked.

It was discovered by the Rev. Samuel Porter in Sherburne around 1800, and was grown locally until about 1850, when its popularity spread to Boston and it began to be cultivated in other parts of the country. Despite its virtues as an eating and cooking apple, though, it, too, proved too difficult to grow for sustained success.

In his 1922 book Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruits, Ulysses P. Hedrick wrote, “A generation ago Porter took rank as one of the best of all yellow fall apples. If the fruits be judged by quality, the variety would still rank as one of the best of its season, but the apples are too tender in flesh to ship, the season of ripening is long and variable, and the crop drops badly.

“Porter must remain, then, an apple for the connoisseur, who will delight in its crisp, tender, juicy, perfumed flesh, richly flavored and sufficiently acidulous to make it one of the most refreshing of all apples.” It is also known as Summer Pearmain and Yellow Summer Pearmain.

Tolman Sweet apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Tolman Sweet apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Tolman Sweet is a late-season apple, medium-sized, pale-yellow in color with a red or green blush. It sometimes has patches of russet, or a line running from top to bottom. Its white flesh is crisp and moderately juicy, and its unusual flavor is sweet and pear-like, but with some tartness. It is considered especially good in cooking and in cider.

Tolman Sweet may be a cross of Sweet Greening and Old Russet discovered in Dorchester, Massachusetts, but its origin is unclear. It was first cited in 1822, and it remained popular well into the 20th century. Its trees are exceptionally hardy, making it a good choice in Northern climes, but Tolman Sweet bruise easily, limiting its commercial appeal.

Sheep's Nose apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Sheep’s Nose apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Another old New England favorite is Sheep’s Nose, from Connecticut. Also known as Black Gilliflower or Red Gilliflower, its names refer to its pronounced conical shape and deep ruby color, respectively. Often a striking solid red in color, it can have patches of green. Opinions about its mild, sweet-tart flavor are mixed. While aromatic, its dense flesh lacks much juice, and it becomes dryer in storage. It is good in cooking, though, especially in applesauce.

Whatever its flaws, Sheep’s Nose has had a small but steady following for more than two centuries, having been cited in New England as early as the Revolutionary War.

Granite Beauty apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Granite Beauty apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Granite Beauty is a large, late-season apple, round, ribbed, with red patches and stripes over a yellow skin. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp and juicy, and it has a rich flavor, more tart than sweet, with hints of coriander or cardamom.

Zephaniah Breed, who named Granite Beauty, wrote in the late 1850s, “no orchard is considered complete here unless it contains a good share of these trees. A good fruit grower here says he would sooner do without the Baldwin than the Granite Beauty.”

Breed published this account of the apple in the New Hampshire Journal of Agriculture:

“Years ago, soon after the first settlers located upon the farm we now occupy, they paid a visit to their friends in Kittery (now Elliott), Maine, on horseback, that being the only means of conveyance then in vogue.”

When ready to return home, Dorcas Dow “needing a riding whip, she was supplied by pulling from the earth, by the side of the road, a little apple tree. With this she hurried her patient and sure-footed horse toward her wild-woods home” in Weare, New Hampshire, then known as Halestown.

“An orchard being in ‘order’ about that time, the little tree was carefully set and tended, and when it produced its first fruit it was found to be excellent, and Dorcas claimed it as her tree. When nephews and nieces grew up around her, the apple was called the Aunt Dorcas apple.”

As Dorcas grew older, her grandchildren gave the apple the name of Grandmother. In another part of the town it was called the Clothesyard apple.

Maine’s contribution to the apple world includes the heirloom Black Oxford and a newer discovery, Brock.

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Black Oxford is Maine’s most famous apple, but like Brock it is little known or grown outside the state. Black Oxford is named for its distinctive dark, purple-red skin, with occasional green highlights and prominent white lenticels.

It is medium-sized and round, and its dense, white flesh has a tinge of green, and is moderately juicy. An all-purpose, late-season apple, its flavor is balanced between sweet and tart, and it is considered especially good in pies and cider. Its keeps exceptionally well, and its flavor becomes sweeter and more complex in storage.

According to George Stilphen, author of The Apples of Maine (1993), Black Oxford “was found as a seedling by Nathaniel Haskell on the farm of one Valentine, a nail maker and farmer of Paris in Oxford County, about 1790 and the original tree was still standing in 1907, the farm being then owned by John Swett.”

Brock apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Brock apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Brock, like Black Oxford, is a late-season apple. It is large, round or with a boxy shape, mostly red in color with a green or yellow blush. Its crisp, juicy, cream-colored flesh is mostly sweet, with a little tartness.

Brock is a cross between Golden Delicious and McIntosh, developed in 1934 by Russell Bailey, a longtime plant breeder at the University of Maine, and introduced commercially in 1966. It was named for grower Henry Brock of Alfred, Maine, one of the apple’s trial growers. The only variety developed at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Brock has the same parentage as the Canadian apple Spencer, with distinctly different results.

Two recent New England apples that have enjoyed greater commercial success are Hampshire and Marshall McIntosh.

Hampshire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hampshire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hampshire is a large, late-season apple, nearly solid red in color, with crisp, juicy, cream-colored flesh. Although its flavor is less intense, Hampshire resembles McIntosh: more tart than sweet, tender flesh and a thin skin, and a rich aroma. It is a good all-purpose apple, and it stores well.

Hampshire is a chance seedling discovered in 1978 by Erick Leadbeater, then owner of Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire. Its parentage is unknown, but it was found in a block of trees containing several varieties, including Cortland, McIntosh, and Red Delicious. It was released commercially in 1990.

Marshall McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Marshall McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Marshall McIntosh is a medium, round, early season apple with red skin and green highlights. It, too, resembles its McIntosh parent (its other parent is unknown) for its tender flesh, juiciness, aroma, and sweet-tart flavor. It ripens before McIntosh, though, and it has more red color

Marshall McIntosh was discovered in 1967 at Marshall Farms in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and originally propagated by Roaring Brook Nurseries of Wales, Maine.

Find orchards that grow these native apples – visit New England Apples and follow the link “Find an Apple Orchard” to search by state or variety.

*          *          *

'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellMORE INFORMATION about these and other apple varieties discovered in New England — such as America’s oldest named variety, Roxbury Russet (1635), and Davey (1928) from Massachusetts, and Vermont Gold (1980s) from Vermont — can be found in Apples of New England: A User’s Guide (The Countryman Press).

A new book by Russell Steven Powell, Apples of New England, includes photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties grown, sold, or discovered here, 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.

America's Apple coverPowell 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 as well as hard cover ($45.95). Visit Silver Street Media or Amazon.com to order online, or look for it at your favorite orchard or bookstore.

*          *          *

Powell will read from and sign copies of Apples of New England in a presentation at the Keep Homestead Museum, 110 Main St., Monson, Massachusetts, this Sunday, September 7, at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.


Read Full Post »



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.

*                *                *

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »