Posts Tagged ‘Atkins Farm’

A bin of fresh-picked Gala apples at Fairview Orchards in Groton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A bin of fresh-picked Gala apples at Fairview Orchards in Groton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

NO MATTER how you pronounce it, Gala is among the very best sweet apples. It has more character and nuance than most sweet varieties, with outstanding apple and pear flavor. Gala is juicy, and it is good for both fresh eating and cooking.

Gala’s skin changes color from harvest to storage, often beginning with streaks of yellow on a red background, gradually intensifying to a deeper red, with hints of orange, as the season wears on.

Gala has complex parentage. It conical shape and some of its sweetness comes from Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. Golden Delicious also supplies some of its early season color. Two other Gala parents have orange in their name: the English heirloom Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Kidd’s Orange Red, an apple from New Zealand.

Even the name fits the apple, compact, short and sweet. Biting into a Gala is, as Merriam-Webster defines the word, a festive celebration. Both pronunciations, incidentally, with either a long or short first “a,” are considered correct.

Gala was discovered in New Zealand in 1934, and introduced commercially in 1970. It was one of seven major commercial apple varieties released in the United States between 1962 and 1970, the others with similarly succinct names: Fuji (1962) and Akane (1970) from Japan, Empire (1966) and Jonagold (1968) from New York, PaulaRed from Michigan (1968), and Ginger Gold from West Virginia (1969).

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THIS FRIDAY, September 18, marks the opening of the 2015 Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”), the region’s largest fair, which draws about 1.5 million people during its 17-day run. The New England Apple Association booth, in the rear of the Massachusetts Building, will once again feature a variety of fresh apples, baked goods, fresh cider, and literature about the region’s orchards.

The fair runs daily through Sunday, October 4. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

We will have fresh cider from Carlson Orchards in Harvard, cider donuts from Atkins Farm in Amherst, and fresh apples this weekend from Carlson Orchards, Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, and Nestrovich Fruit Farm, 561 Main Rd., Granville. We will also have apple crisp and apple pie!

If you are not out visiting an orchard, please stop by!

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THIS SHORT VIDEO has tips about how to prepare for your visit to a pick-your-own orchard:



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Golden Delicious, from Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, is an outstanding all-purpose apple. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Golden Delicious, from Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, is an outstanding all-purpose apple. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

NEXT TO “What is the best pie apple?” the question I am asked the most — and which I frequently ask others — is “What is your favorite apple?” It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not something you can even ask about a strawberry or a banana, and there are many ways to slice it.

These are things I consider:

  • Flavor – sweet to tart
  • Juiciness
  • Texture – tender, crisp, or dense
  • Physical beauty – striking color, distinctive shape
  • Storage quality
  • Character – some apples gain complexity and sweetness over time
  • Early, mid-, or late-season
  • Availability – some apples for only a few weeks
  • Quality – according to season and region
  • Heirlooms or new apples

No other fruit locates us in place and time as apples do, or has the power to remind us of important people in our lives. On a macro scale, apple myths and stories serve as historical milestones across cultures and centuries. From this fruit we glean attitudes toward commerce, cooking, diet, and landscape, as well as religion and science, from Adam and Eve to the Golden Apple, from Sir Isaac Newton to Johnny Appleseed, each with its particular context and meaning.

Apples continue to leave cultural footprints today, in New York City, otherwise known as “The Big Apple” since the 1920s, and in commerce: the Beatles’ Apple Record label in 1968, and the Apple computer company in 1976. Apple Computer carries its apple imagery one step further, naming its iconic personal computer after New England’s iconic apple: McIntosh, or simply Mac.

On a micro level, many people have strong personal and emotional ties to apples, a grandfather or uncle who owned an orchard, perhaps, or a youthful job sorting, picking, or selling apples at a neighbor’s. Apples are uniquely tangible legacies of our mothers and grandmothers through the knowledge of a favorite pie apple and hand-scrawled recipes on ancient index cards stained with egg white threads and traces of cinnamon.

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Apples have many associations for us, culturally and as individuals, and my personal experience influences my favorites. I grew up with McIntosh and Cortland, and Northern Spy is my mother’s favorite pie apple. My friend uses nothing but Cortland in his pies for 25 years. I’m sure his daughter has taken notice.

These associations help explain why every apple has its fans: an apple may evoke warm memories of places as well as people, adding depth to its eating appeal.

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonathan, a beautiful red heirloom from New York, is a favorite of a friend from the Midwest, where it has long been popular, and much to his chagrin it is not widely grown in New England. Black Oxford, despite its distinctive color and good eating qualities, is rarely found outside of its native Maine.

It may be that a variety has superior flavor only when grown in certain soils and climates. Wolf River is a favorite of many Wisconsin natives, where the apple is also native; in New England it is typically valued more for its exceptionally large size than its mild flavor.

Propagated through grafting, apples are direct descendants of the original tree of the variety, sometimes centuries old; eating one is like ingesting a bit of history, a living reminder of the rural, agrarian roots of now-urban settings like Roxbury, Dedham, and Wilmington, Massachusetts, or Hartford, Connecticut.

With names like Tinmouth, Bethel, and Boxford, apples continue to celebrate small towns in New England’s rural countryside, too, or else perpetuate the memory of a farmer, landowner, or statesman, such as the Massachusetts apple Baldwin, named for a distinguished war veteran, public servant, and civil engineer, Col. Loammi Baldwin.

An apple’s history, no matter how illustrious, does not make it taste any better. Still, knowing its unusual or local story can influence my choice. 

THIS LONG PREAMBLE to my list of favorites is necessary to explain why I can only narrow it down to eight apples.

I could happily survive on dozens of other varieties:

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Akane apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Akane and Sansa are two of the best of the early season apples. I’ve rarely met a russeted apple I didn’t like, such as Roxbury Russet, America’s oldest named variety (1635).

It is hard to imagine a better all-purpose apple than Cortland or the sweeter Golden Delicious, or a more interesting apple than the orange russet, Ashmead’s Kernel.

Some apples have vintage years, like fine wines. Two years ago, Ginger Gold from Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, were the best I ever had; last year it was Shamrock from the University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown.

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

This year, two relatively hard-to-find apples were particularly noteworthy: Gravenstein, from Atkins Farms in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Suncrisp, from Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine.

Suncrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Suncrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Both were exceptionally crisp and juicy with a tantalizing, lemony tart flavor and looks to match. Gravenstein’s red and green blend like a watercolor, Suncrisp’s rich yellow has beautiful pink cheeks or stripes.

But none of these fine apples make my list.

Cox's Orange Pippin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cox’s Orange Pippin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

MY THREE FAVORITE heirlooms are Cox’s Orange Pippin (England, 1825), Baldwin (Massachusetts, 1740), and Northern Spy (Connecticut, 1840).

Cox’s Orange Pippin’s complex flavor is the best of any apple I have tasted. Cox’s Orange Pippin is hard to find, and orchards sell out by December.

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

After dominating apple production in the Northeast for more than a century, Baldwin and Northern Spy were surpassed in the 1930s by McIntosh and Cortland, which are easier to grow. Fortunately, you can still find these heirlooms at many orchards, and because they store so well, supplies often last through December.

Baldwin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Baldwin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

From an eating standpoint, both Baldwin and Northern Spy are superior apples, and they are especially good in baking: large, firm, and they hold their shape. Northern Spy in particular has been a favorite pie apple for generations of bakers. Baldwin and Northern Spy are good eaten fresh, too, lively, spicy, with some tartness.

In general I like my apple to have a little bite, some tang, a degree of tartness. It goes with being a New Englander, the complex flavors analogous to living with the four seasons. An apple with some spiciness or tartness broadens my experience of flavor.

I like a sweet apple now and then, though, and there are some good choices, like the russeted, pear-flavored Hudson’s Golden Gem (Oregon, 1931). But I put Honeycrisp (Minnesota, 1991) at the top of my sweet apple list, followed by Gala (New Zealand, 1934).

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp has a distinctive, light-crisp texture that explodes with more juice than any other apple. It is the biggest new variety to hit the apple industry in the past 50 years, and its success has apple breeders around the globe scrambling to develop the next pomological superstar.

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala is the Golden Retriever of apples, ubiquitous, not the most complex creature but irresistibly sweet, and beautiful to behold. With its pear-like taste, Gala is a more flavorful alternative to the sweet, bland Red Delicious. Both apples have a distinctive conical shape, but Gala’s color is more complex than the monochromatic Red Delicious, turning gradually deeper shades of yellow, red, and orange in storage.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Two fresh-eating apples on my favorites list are Macoun (New York, 1923), and Jonagold (New York, 1968). Macoun has some of the pleasing tartness of its McIntosh parent but a crisper texture, and a complex, spicy flavor with hints of strawberry. I love its wine-red color and boxy shape.

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold has a light-crisp, juicy flesh similar to Honeycrisp but not as sweet, with just enough tartness to give it depth. Jonagold happens to be beautiful as well, a fiery blend of gold and red from its Golden Delicious and Jonathan parents. Popular at orchards and at farm stands — and especially in Europe — Jonagold curiously has not yet caught on in most of New England’s supermarkets.

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I must include McIntosh (Canada, 1801), available throughout the year. McIntosh is the standard, the staple, so consistently good and widely available that I sometimes take it for granted. But there are good reasons that this durable heirloom, is New England’s most popular apple.

McIntosh has great flavor and aroma, refreshingly crisp and tart when first picked and mellowing over time, a little sweeter and juicier in storage. It’s great for fresh eating.

McIntosh adds exceptional flavor to almost any baked good. Some people don’t like the fact that its tender flesh tends to break down when baked, but this is not always the case, and it can be ameliorated by mixing in a few firmer varieties. The ingredients for Peg’s New England Apple Squares include cornflakes in the filling, which soak up excess juice and contributes to the pastry’s firmness.

Those are my choices, a favorite apple for all purposes, and for all seasons.

And you? What is your favorite apple?


'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven Powell

APPLES 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.

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' cover

AMERICA’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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The view from Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The view from Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, Connecticut. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

IF McINTOSH were its sole contribution, Canada would occupy a special place among producers of New England apples. McIntosh has thrived in New England’s soil and climate ever since Dr. Thomas H. Hoskins of Newport, Vermont, planted the first McIntosh sapling in the United States, purchased from the John McIntosh family nursery in Dundela, Ontario, in 1868.

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macs rapidly gained in popularity due to their unbeatable combination of outstanding flavor and hardiness. McIntosh has been New England’s leading apple variety since the 1940s, and still account for about two-thirds of the region’s crop.

A round, medium-sized apple with splashes of green and red on a thin skin, McIntosh is ready for picking in most locations soon after Labor Day. It has white, juicy flesh, is highly aromatic, and more tart than sweet in flavor. It is outstanding for both fresh eating and cooking. Its flavor is superb in pies and other baked goods, and it is often mixed with varieties with denser flesh for a firmer texture, as its tender flesh breaks down when cooked.

McIntosh needs New England’s cool nights of late summer and early fall to produce apples with the greatest color and flavor, accounting for its success here.

McIntosh’s influence can be tasted throughout the season, as a parent to such popular New England varieties as Cortland, Empire, and Macoun, and redder strains like Marshall McIntosh, Rogers Red McIntosh, and RubyMac.

While no other apple can come close to matching McIntosh’s far-reaching influence, Canada has produced a number of other varieties that have developed a niche in New England. These include the heirloom Melba (1898), and newer varieties like Chinook (2000) and Nova (1986).

Silken apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Silken apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Silken is an early season apple, medium-sized, conical in shape, pale yellow in color with an occasional pink blush or light russeting around the stem. Its tender, cream-colored flesh is aromatic and juicy, and it has mild, sweet flavor. Like many early season apples, it is best eaten fresh, as it has a short storage life.

Silken is a cross between another Canadian apple, Sunrise, and Honeygold, a variety from Minnesota. Both of Silken’s parent apples include Golden Delicious in their lineage, accounting for Silken’s sweetness and color (Sunrise’s other parent, incidentally, is McIntosh).

Silken was developed in 1982 by W.D. Lane and R.A. MacDonald at Canada’s Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, British Columbia, and released commercially in 1998.

Shamrock apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Shamrock apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Shamrock is another new apple developed at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre. It is a round, green apple, medium to large in size, mostly solid green in color with an occasional pink blush. A mid-season apple, its tender, cream-colored flesh is more tart than sweet when first picked, with a finish hinting of honey or butterscotch.

Like many apples, Shamrock’s flavor improves in storage, becoming progressively sweeter, spicier, and juicier for several weeks, but its storage life is relatively short. It is a 1992 cross of a Spur McIntosh and Spur Golden Delicious (a spur variety results when an apple branch develops outstanding characteristics that differ in some significant way from its parent tree).

Due to its green color and initial tartness, Shamrock has been promoted as an East Coast alternative to Granny Smith, which requires a longer growing season, or the heirloom Rhode Island Greening, which is difficult to grow. But it has yet to develop a strong following in New England.

Creston apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Creston apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Creston is even newer than Shamrock, released in 1998. It is a large, conical apple, yellow with a red blush or stripes. Its yellow flesh is crisp, juicy, and more sweet than tart. It is a late-season apple that has been compared to Jonagold in flavor, texture, and appearance. But while some say it stores better than Jonagold, others contend that it can become greasy or soft in storage.

A cross between Golden Delicious and an unnamed seedling, Creston was developed at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre.

In addition to these recent entries, Canada’s apple-breeding program has been developing varieties that have been grown in New England for nearly a century.

Spartan apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Spartan apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Spartan was discovered in 1926 and released a decade later. It has dark, plum-red color, and tender, aromatic white flesh beneath a somewhat tough skin. Its flavor is more sweet than tart, with hints of strawberry and spice. A late-season apple, it is moderately juicy. It is best as a fresh-eating apple, and it stores well.

Spartan was developed by R. C. Palmer at the Pacific Agri-food Research Centre, then known as the Federal Agriculture Research Station. For years it was described as a cross between McIntosh and the American heirloom Newtown Pippin, but as a result of recent genetic testing, the latter has been ruled out, leaving Spartan’s second parent a mystery.

Spencer apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Spencer apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Ripening in mid- to late September, Spencer is a conical apple, nearly solid red-pink in color, with green highlights. Its flesh is crisp, juicy, and more sweet than tart, though less sweet than its Golden Delicious parent (Spencer’s other parent — surprise! — is McIntosh). Spencer is an all-purpose apple, especially good in pies and sauce. It does not have a lengthy storage life.

Spencer was also discovered by R. C. Palmer in 1926 — the same year as Spartan — but it took considerably longer, until 1959, for it to reach the marketplace.

Before it had an apple-breeding program, Canada produced several heirloom varieties of note besides McIntosh — including one of McIntosh’s parents, Snow apple.

Snow apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Snow apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Snow, also known as Fameuse (French for famous or excellent), is small to medium sized, red with green and pink striping. Its name is derived from its white flesh, which is sometimes stained red just beneath the skin. A late-season apple, Snow is crisp, juicy, and aromatic, more tart than sweet, with a slight strawberry flavor. Snow is best for fresh eating and in cider, and it does not store well.

Snow contributes to McIntosh’s thin skin, white flesh, and sweet-tart flavor, and to the trees’ hardiness. Snow’s origins are unclear, but dates to at least 1730. Some accounts hint that it may be much older, and originated in France rather than Canada. An apple named Snow was reported growing in Vermont’s Champlain Valley as far back as the early 1600s.

Pomme Grise apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Pomme Grise apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Pomme Grise, or Gray Apple, is a small, round apple with chewy, yellow-green skin covered with coarse brown russet. Its pale yellow flesh is firm, crisp, and aromatic, more sweet than tart, with a distinctive nutty, spicy flavor. It is good for fresh eating, and especially valued for cider.

Pomme Grise was cited growing near Montreal in the early 1800s, eventually making its way south to New York’s St. Lawrence Valley, and from there to New England. It may be related or identical to a 16th-century French apple called Reinette Grise.

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

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NEW ENGLAND APPLES will have an expanded presence in the Massachusetts State Building during the 17-day Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”), which opens this Friday, September 12, continuing daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Sunday, September 28. The Association is renovating a larger booth this summer to boost sales of fresh apples, fresh cider, cider donuts, apple pies, and other baked goods.

Fresh apples will be supplied by Massachusetts orchards: Atkins Farms in Amherst, The Big Apple in Wrentham, Brookfield Orchards in North Brookfield, Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, Nestrovich Fruit Farm in Granville, Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, and Tougas Family Farm in Northborough.

The booth will feature award-winning cider donuts made by Atkins Farms in Amherst, fresh, crisp apple cider from Carlson Orchards in Harvard; and fresh-baked apple pies and apple crisp made with apples supplied by Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown.

Executive Director Bar Weeks and Senior Writer Russell Powell will be on hand every day to meet with people and answer questions about apples. Their new book, Apples of New England, will be available for sale and signing, along with their first book, America’s Apple.

The 2015 New England Apples full-color wall calendar, the revised New England Apples brochure/poster, and brochures from member Massachusetts orchards will be available to visitors during the fair, the largest in New England. Last year’s fair attracted 1.4 million visitors.

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Phyllis Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, with a fresh tray of cider donuts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Phyllis Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, with a fresh tray of cider donuts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE QUESTION of who makes the best cider donut inspires considerable debate and some controversy. These humble, cake-like orbs are nearly as high in demand as the freshly picked apples filling the bins or hanging from the trees at many orchards. Why do these apple-infused donuts provoke such fierce devotion, and what is the secret of their success?

We have sampled cider donuts from dozens of orchards around New England and can vouch for their nearly universal appeal, although no two are alike. They are all made with cider and very little shortening and come in two varieties: plain and sugar-coated. The latter are often mixed with cinnamon, as is the batter, giving the donuts their distinctive, lightly spiced flavor. That flavor is equally influenced by other spices added to the batter, notably nutmeg, but we can offer no further insight, as orchards guard their ingredients and proportions like state secrets.

Their texture is what further separates the very good from the truly exalted cider donut. Some are heavier, some a little lighter, but beauty, in this case, is in the taste buds of the consumer. Cider donuts inspire great loyalty: the best ones invariably are those made at one’s local orchard. For many, it is love at first bite.

Cider donuts are known primarily in the Northeast, and their popularity is staggering. Many orchards have trouble keeping up with demand, especially on fall weekends, and people will endure long lines to satisfy their appetite for this subtly sweet treat. The cider donuts made by Atkins Farms in Amherst, Massachusetts, were once named one of the top ten donuts in America by a national food magazine, and on fall weekends they make upwards of 10,000 per day.

We will have Atkins Farms cider donuts at our booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) daily starting this Friday, September 14, through Sunday, September 30, but you can find great cider donuts at your local orchard as well. After all, that’s where they’re the best.

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THIS RECIPE comes from Stephanie Waite of Westward Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts. We’ve tried their cider donuts — it’s in our job description — and they’re outstanding, too.

Cider Donut Pudding

12-14 cider donuts, dried and broken apart

4 eggs beaten

2 T butter, melted

1/4 c sugar

1/4 c brown sugar

2 c milk

1 c apple cider

1 t vanilla

1 t cinnamon

1 t nutmeg

1 large Cortland or other New England apple

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, place donut pieces. In a separate bowl combine remaining ingredients except apple. Pour mixture over donuts and let sit 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, core and chop the apple and add to donut mixture. After 20 minutes, pour this into 9″ x 13″ baking dish and bake for one hour or until set.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

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 America's AppleIN ADDITION to cider donuts, we will have fresh apples from a number of Massachusetts orchards at our booth at the Big E, plus apple crisp and pies made by Marge Cook of Cook’s Farm Orchard in Brimfield, fresh cider from Carlson Orchards of Harvard, apple butter and preserves from Bear Meadow Farm in Colrain, and the book America’s Apple, by Russell Steven Powell, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks. Both Powell and Weeks will be staffing the booth and available to sign books and talk about apples.

We will also have recipe cards and brochures about New England orchards and apples. Stop by and say hello, grab a bite, and learn more about America’s most famous fruit.

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