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The McIntosh are plentiful and showing good color this fall at New England's apple orchards, including Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, where this photo was taken last week. The dull finish on the apples, incidentally, is a naturally occurring bloom that helps the apple retain moisture. They shine right up when you rub them. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apples are plentiful and showing good color this fall at New England’s apple orchards, including Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, where this photo was taken last week. The dull finish on the apples, incidentally, is a naturally occurring bloom that helps the apple retain moisture. They shine right up when you rub them. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

MANY PEOPLE, and some orchards and supermarkets we have visited, want to stick an “a” between the capital “M” and small “c” of McIntosh. It does not exist.

A macintosh (or more commonly, mackintosh) is a raincoat, or the brand name of a personal computer.

A McIntosh is an apple.

Outside of the region, a Mac might evoke images of a computer or a hamburger.

In New England, a Mac is an iconic fruit.

The apple named for its founder, Canadian farmer John McIntosh, has flourished in New England for the past century. McIntosh is the region’s leading apple, accounting for about two-thirds of the New England crop.

McIntosh is particularly well-suited to New England’s rocky soils and cool summer nights. It cannot be grown successfully in the South or West, requiring not just the right soil but the cool nights that help the apple develop its distinctive flavor and color.

The round, red-and-green apple with a heady aroma, plenty of juice, and outstanding sweet-tart taste, has other qualities that limit its spread beyond New England. McIntosh does not travel as well as many of the hard apples imported here from other parts of the country, due to its thin skin.

More problematic for some is McIntosh’s color. While most New Englanders admire the apple’s random splashes of red and green, the marketplace demands purer color. Apple breeders are continually trying to develop redder and redder strains of McIntosh.

Among the many newer versions of the apple featuring greater red color are Marshall McIntosh, discovered on a farm in Fitchburg, Massachusetts; Pioneer McIntosh, and RubyMac. Apart from these redder versions of the original, McIntosh’s influence can be felt throughout the apple world, as a parent of such varieties as Cortland, Empire, and Macoun.

Although John McIntosh discovered the apple in 1801 as a chance seedling, its parents are generally accepted to be Fameuse, or Snow apple, and the heirloom Detroit Red. It took nearly 70 years for McIntosh’s son to introduce the apple commercially. Vermonter Dr. Thomas H. Hopkins is credited with planting the first Mac in the United States, in 1868.

McIntosh’s popularity grew steadily over the next half century, and it was being planted extensively in New England by 1910. Its ascendancy as the region’s leading apple was hastened by the extreme winter of 1933-34, which wiped out most of New England’s Baldwin trees, plus many Gravensteins, among others. The hardy apple from Canada not only survived, it thrived in New England.

The hardiness of its trees, though, fails to account for McIntosh’s enduring popularity. It has become an iconic symbol of the New England fall, a way to usher in the season with a ritual first bite. As a fresh eating apple, McIntosh has a distinctive crunch to go with its rich perfume and strong flavor, and it is excellent in cider and for baking.

McIntosh tend to break down when cooked, making it an outstanding choice in applesauce. Most bakers are willing to sacrifice a little firmness in their apple pies in order to include some of McIntosh’s flavor and aroma, mixing them with firmer varieties like Cortland or Mutsu. Many people are so in love with McIntosh’s flavor that they are willing to risk a softer pie.

But the days of the soft fresh McIntosh are long gone, or should be. The advent of controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, a method of arresting apples’ respiration by placing them in a sealed room with most of the oxygen removed and carbon dioxide added, keeps McIntosh crisp months after they are harvested.

All apples should be kept cold to retain their crispness, and this is particularly true of Macs, which can soften if left at room temperatures for too long. If you get a soft McIntosh these days, chances are that it was not kept cold somewhere along the chain from orchard to consumer.

It is high season for McIntosh. Most of the region’s orchards will be picking, packing, and selling them this weekend.

If you haven’t had your first one yet, it is time to get started. If you are one of those rare individuals who has yet to try McIntosh, be prepared for a richly complex experience.

Just don’t spell it with an “a.”

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BROOKFIELD ORCHARD’S Annual Harvest Craft Fair will be Saturday, September 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine. The orchard will have pick-your-own apples, apple dumplings, cider donuts, and a snack bar.

There will be handmade items by artisans and crafters in many media, wagon rides, and a playground. The fair will have music by Bad Tickers and craft beer by Rapscallion Brewery.

The orchard is located at 12 Lincoln Road, North Brookfield, Massachusetts. For details, call 508-867-6858 or email brookfieldo@aol.com.

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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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McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

FEW THINGS are more quintessentially New England than a McIntosh apple. Its abundant, red-and-green fruit has been filling our orchards and beguiling our senses with a heady fragrance and explosive, sweet-tart flavor for more than a century now. McIntosh today account for about two-thirds of the New England crop.

McIntosh apples are known for their “strawberry or even elderflower flavor and sweet, glistening, melting, juicy, white flesh,” write John Morgan and Alison Richards in The New Book of Apples (Ebury Press, revised edition, 2002).

“Snap a rosy McIntosh from the tree and it’s like walking with Thoreau past Walden Pond in the 1840s, as the complex play of honeyed, tart, and spicy juices trickle down your throat,” add Frank Browning and Sharon Silva in An Apple Harvest (Ten Speed Press, 1999). They describe McIntosh as “juicy, lightly crisp,” with a “blush of strawberry-raspberry aroma.”

It’s not just the McIntosh’s outstanding fragrance and distinctive flavor that we value; they have had a far-reaching effect on the nation’s apple crop. “McIntosh has lent its good genes to several well-known varieties, including Cortland, Empire, Macoun and Spartan,” writes Roger Yepsen in his beautiful book, Apples (W. W. Norton and Co., 1994).

Yepsen’s volume is small in size (5”x6-1/2”) but long on information, with descriptions of more than 90 varieties with accompanying illustrations by the author, and a wealth of background on this amazingly diverse fruit.

The McIntosh is a cross between a Fameuse (also known as a Snow apple because of its bright, white flesh) and a Detroit Red by the Canadian farmer who gave the variety its name. It was discovered around 1800, but it was not until 1870 that the son of John McIntosh introduced the apple commercially.

The main knock against Macs is that they break down in cooking, making them ideal for applesauce but mushy in a pie. Some people prefer it that way, but if you like a firmer texture in your pie without sacrificing the superior McIntosh flavor, combine several Macs with two or three varieties that hold their shape better, such as Cortland, Ida Red, Northern Spy.

McIntosh apples also require careful handling, as they bruise easily and lose their crispness more quickly than some varieties, if not kept cold. At their peak flavor fresh off the tree, properly handled McIntosh in controlled atmosphere (“CA”) storage and then home in your refrigerator can be enjoyed throughout the year.

If you want fresh Macs, don’t delay this autumn; with the earlier-than-usual crop McIntosh may be done being harvested by mid-October rather than at the end of the month. As always, call your orchard ahead of time to see what varieties are available for sale or for picking.

Here’s a fabulous recipe featuring McIntosh for Apple Squares, passed down three generations by Margaret Richardson of Holden, Massachusetts. Two ingredients make it stand out: cornflakes, which are added to the filling to retain the McIntosh’s juices and give the squares texture, and a few drops of almond extract, in the icing.

For a healthier version, use half whole wheat flour, reduce sugar to ¾ cup, reduce butter to 3/8 cup and add ½ cup canola oil.

New England Apple Squares  

2-1/2 c flour

1 c butter

1 egg yolk

Milk

4-6 McIntosh or other New England apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 c cornflakes

1 c sugar

1 t cinnamon

1 c. confectioner’s sugar

dash of almond extract

Beat egg yolk in measuring cup and add enough milk to make 2/3 c liquid. Cut butter into flour and salt. Mix wet and dry ingredients together into a dough.

Roll out half the dough so that it fills the bottom and sides of a 15-1/2” cook sheet. Sprinkle with cornflakes. Top with apples. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.

Roll out other half of dough and place on top of apples. Seal edges. Cut holes in top to let steam escape. Bake at 375° for 50-60 minutes, until crust is nicely browned.

Mix confectioner’s sugar with 3-4 t milk and almond extract. Drizzle over warm squares.

For additional apple recipes or to learn more about New England varieties, visit http://www.newenglandapples.org/.

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ALTHOUGH APPLES HAVE BEEN PICKED for the past few weeks, the official kickoff of the 2010 New England Fresh Apple Harvest will be celebrated this Friday, September 10, at several orchards and the region’s largest packing house.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Scott Soares and members of his senior staff, together with Russell Powell, executive director of the New England Apple Association, will be among the people visiting these apple orchards and apple processing facilities:

  • 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., J. P. Sullivan and Company, packing house, 50 Barnum Road, Ayer
  • 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Carlson Orchards, with cider-making, 115 Oak Hill Road, Harvard
  • 1:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., Red Apple Farm, 455 Highland Avenue, Phillipston

Friday is expected to be a beautiful day in New England’s orchards, with an early taste of fall: sunny, with temperatures in the 60s.

Saturday also should be ideal for picking apples, with sun and temperatures in the 70s, and while there may be some unsettled weather in parts of the region Sunday, either weekend day should be fine for getting out to visit your favorite orchard or farmstand.

Beginning 5 p.m. Friday and through the weekend, the New England Apple Association and Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) will sample apples and hand out its 2010 brochure/poster, New England Apples, at a booth at the Sterling Fair.

The fair will be open Friday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Bring a sweater, learn about New England’s apple varieties and take home a brochure. It has photographs and descriptions of 15 favorite varieties on one side, and storage tips, health information, a usage chart and recipes on the other side.

If you are back from the orchard, Saturday’s fair hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.sterlingfair.org.

Powell and Mary Jordan, the DAR’s director of agricultural development, will give a presentation about several New England apple varieties Sunday morning at 11, including McIntosh, Royal Cortland, Gala, Honeycrisp, Rambo and Snow.

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gala is a sweet, crunchy and juicy apple, with red-orange skin and yellow stripes. Slightly conical in shape, it is well suited for snacking, salads and baking.

Galas were developed in New Zealand and introduced in the United States in 1934. Its genetic heritage comprises Cox’s Orange Pippin and both Red and Golden Delicious.

Honeycrisp is a relatively new star on the New England scene, esteemed for its exceptional juiciness and crunch. It has a bright red skin, often with patches of pale green. The inner flesh is cream-colored. The Honeycrisp is a sweet apple but retains a slightly tart flavor. It is excellent for salads or for eating as a snack.

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp was produced from a cross of Keepsake and an unnamed seedling. The original seedling was planted in 1961 at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center. They were introduced commercially in 1991.

Snow (also known as Fameuse) is red with pink highlights. It gets its name from its snow-white flesh, which has occasional crimson stains. A crisp, juicy apple with a slight strawberry flavor, the Snow hails from Canada around 1730.

Snow apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Snow apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Snows are one of the oldest and most desirable dessert apples, a parent of the aromatic McIntosh. They are delicious fresh or in cooking, and are a good cider apple.

To learn more about New England’s apple varieties, visit www.newenglandapples.org and click on “Apple varieties.”

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