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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

Editor

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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.

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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.”

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'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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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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.

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'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.

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

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