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Posts Tagged ‘Gravenstein apple’

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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"Truth #1," by Peter Dellert, one of nearly 30 sculptures nestled among fields and apple trees at "Art in the Orchard," at Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Truth #1,” by Peter Dellert, one of nearly 30 sculptures nestled among fields and apple trees at “Art in the Orchard,” at Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

"Orchard Pig,"  by Susan Halls, 2015 "Art in the Orchard," Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Sculptor Susan Halls says of her fired clay “Orchard Pig,” “In my native UK, it was common in the autumn to let pigs forage on wind-fallen fruit in the orchard. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to pay homage to that tradition with my version of fruit-fattened sow.” (Russell Steven Powell photo)

MANY HEIRLOOM APPLES have one or more flaws that keep them from mass cultivation. It may be that the variety is biennial, producing crops every other year, or is otherwise an unreliable “cropper.” The apples may be small or misshapen.

Some otherwise fine apples do not make it to the marketplace because they do not store or ship well. Some apples simply fall out of fashion, notably the once popular russets, with their brown and copper colored skin and rough, sandpaper-like skin.

The flavor of some heirloom varieties is too bland to compete with today’s commercial apples. The virtues of some apples do not translate well from their native climate, geography, and soil, losing distinctiveness when grown on a mass scale.

Some apples pose horticultural challenges, susceptible to certain pests and disease, dropping fruit before it is ripe, or vulnerable to extremes of weather.

The owner of a commercial orchard cannot afford large plantings of rare or obscure apples that may be difficult to grow, fail to produce, lack distinction, or cannot compete in the marketplace. Yet on a small scale and in the right circumstances, many heirloom apples continue to flourish, broadening our experience of this incredibly diverse fruit.

The apple is ancient, but constantly reinventing itself. Heirlooms are unique, edible relics from earlier times, exact replicas of the fruit from their original tree. The best of these are not just historically significant, they add a range distinctive colors, shapes, flavors, and textures to the eye and palette.

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

It is safe to say that if an apple has been cultivated for 400 years, it must have something going for it. Such is the case with Gravenstein. Its limitations as a commercial apple are mostly horticultural, especially its vulnerability to extreme cold. Its obscure, old-fashioned name is a liability in today’s marketplace, and it does not store or ship as well as some varieties due to its thin skin.

Yet Gravenstein is beautiful to behold and excellent for both cooking and fresh eating. It is a medium-sized apple with a blunt, conical shape, more barrel-like than the taller, slender Red Delicious. Gravenstein’s mix of reds and light greens blend together in an unusual watercolor wash. Its white flesh is crisp and juicy, and its flavor is lemony tart.

Gravenstein inspires an almost cult-like devotion in some people, who consider it to be the best single variety for an apple pie. They will drive miles to get their hands on Gravensteins when they learn of a supply. It is fruitless to argue with these enthusiasts, especially early in the season, since Gravensteins ripen before such leading pie-apple contenders as Cortland and McIntosh, Mutsu and Northern Spy.

Gravenstein’s parentage and origin are unknown, but it is believed to have come from Germany or Italy, dating back to at least the 1600s. It has been popular in Denmark since it first arrived in the southern town of Gråsten in 1669, and it was named Denmark’s national apple in 2005. Gravenstein is the German name for Gråsten.

Gravenstein migrated to England in 1819, and to the United States in the 1820s, possibly as one of several apples imported here by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Gravenstein became popular in New England in the late 1800s, and it was the fifth most widely planted apple in the region as recently as 1930, trailing only Baldwin, McIntosh, Red Delicious, and Wealthy.

Gravenstein’s decline was hastened by the same harsh winter in 1933-34 that wiped out most of New England’s Baldwin crop. Gravenstein remains a hard-to-find heirloom in New England today, but it is still grown widely in parts of Europe and the United States, especially in California.

Red Gravenstein is a sport variety of Gravenstein, meaning that it resulted from a mutant limb rather than seed. As its name suggests, it is redder in color than its parents, and a little less tart. It was first cited in 1873.

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"Feed Me Apples," driftwood sculpture by Lindsey Molyneux, 2015 "Art in the Orchard," Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Feed Me Apples,” driftwood sculpture by Lindsey Molyneux. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

"Jacob's Dream," by Fletcher Smith, 2015 "Art in the Orchard," Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

“Jacob’s Dream,” by Fletcher Smith. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

About 1,000 people attended the opening of the third Art In The Orchard, a biennial outdoor sculptural exhibit at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton, Massachusetts, Saturday, August 15. The walking orchard tour features the works of nearly 30 artists from around New England, whose sculptures are nestled throughout the farm, in and among the apple trees. The sculptures will remain on view through October 15.

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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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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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mum’s Apple Pie

Crust

3 c all purpose flour

1 t sea salt

1 T granulated sugar

1-½ sticks unsalted butter (cold)

⅓ c shortening (cold)

½ c ice cold water

one egg white

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

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

Filling

6 thinly sliced Cortland apples

½ c unsalted butter

3 T all purpose flour

¼ c water

½ c granulated sugar

½ c packed light brown sugar

1½ t cinnamon

½ t nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°.

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

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

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

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

Apple Rose Tarts

Preheat oven to 350°.

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

2 Cortland apples sliced thinly

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

1 T lemon juice (to help prevent browning)

Cinnamon sugar

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

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

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

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

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

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'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellAPPLES OF NEW ENGLAND (Countryman Press, 2014), a history of apple growing in New England, includes photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties discovered, grown, or sold in the region. Separate chapters feature the “fathers” of American wild apple, Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thorea; the contemporary orchard of the early 21st century; and rare apples, many of them photographed from the preservation orchard at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

Author Russell Steven Powell is senior writer for the nonprofit New England Apple Association after serving as its executive director from 1998 to 2011. Photographer Bar Lois Weeks is the Association’s current executive director.

Available in bookstores everywhere.

'America's Apple' coverAMERICA’S APPLE, (Brook Hollow Press, 2012) Powell’s and Weeks’s first book, provides an in-depth look at how apples are grown, eaten, and marketed in America, with chapter on horticulture, John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), heirloom apples, apples as food, apple drinks, food safety insects and disease, labor, current trends, and apple futures, with nearly 50 photographs from orchards around the country.

The hardcover version lists for $45.95 and includes a photographic index of 120 apple varieties cultivated in the United States. America’s Apple is also available in paperback, minus the photograph index, for $19.95, and as an ebook.

Available at numerous bookstores and orchards, and Silver Street MediaAmazon.comBarnes and Noble, and other online sources. For quantity discounts, email newenglandapples@verizon.net.

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There is plenty of good picking at New England orchards like Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

There is plenty of good picking at New England orchards like Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

EUROPEAN COUNTRIES have produced only a few new apples in recent years. But several venerable heirlooms still grown in New England originated in France, Germany, and The Netherlands. Many of the apples are so old and the records so incomplete that their country of origin cannot be completely certain.

AMONG THE BEST New England apples generally credited to France are three of the oldest named varieties: Ananas Reinette, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, and Lady.

Ananas Reinette apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Ananas Reinette apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Ananas Reinette (ô-nô-ńas rĭ-ńĕt) is a small, late-season apple, round or slightly oblate, with rich yellow color over green skin, and prominent green or brown lenticels (the dots on an apple’s skin through which it “breathes”). Ananas Reinette has crisp, juicy, white flesh, and a balanced, sweet-tart flavor with hints of pineapple (“ananas” is French for pineapple). Its distinctive flavor intensifies in storage.

Although it was first cited in 1821 in Germany, it may have originated in The Netherlands or France in the 1500s. It received scant mention in American reference works before 1950.

Calville Blanc d'Hiver apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Calville Blanc d’Hiver apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Calville Blanc d’Hiver (kal-vəl bläŋk dē-ver), or simply White Calville, is another late-season apple with yellow-green skin. It is medium to large, with a distinctive ribbed shape and an occasional pink blush. Its aromatic, cream-colored flesh is spicy, more tart than sweet, and its flavor intensifies in storage. It is high in Vitamin C. One of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apples, it is mostly used in cooking and in cider, and it stores well.

Its age and origin are unknown, but it was first recorded in 1598 France (some accounts attribute it to Germany).

Lady apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Lady apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Another late season apple, Lady, also known as Api or Christmas Apple, is small in size but intense in flavor. Its red-and-green color varies according to the amount of sunlight it gets; the green areas can lighten to yellow. Its bright white flesh is crisp, juicy, and tart, with hints of citrus.

Lady is best in salads, eaten fresh, and pickled, sweet or sour, and sometimes served with a hot sauce. Due to its small size, festive coloring, and ability to withstand a freeze, Lady is often featured in Christmas wreaths.

Lady has been cultivated in France at least since the reign of Louis XIII in the 1600s. But it may be even older, dating back to ancient Rome. It was one of the first European apples to be brought to America.

Calville Blanc d’Hiver and Lady apples appear to be the subjects of Claude Monet’s oil painting, “Still Life with Apples and Grapes” from 1880.

Orleans Reinette apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Orleans Reinette apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Orleans Reinette (ôr- lēnz rĭ-ńĕt), or Winter Ribston, is also a late-season French apple. Medium to large, round and oblate, it is strikingly beautiful, with random patches of russet and bronze blush on a rosy red skin. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp and juicy, and its complex flavor is more sweet than tart, with hints of nuts and orange. The late food writer Edward Bunyan called Orleans Reinette “the best tasting apple in the world.”

First cited in 1776, it is one of several varieties with “reinette” in its name, a French term for russeting. Most reinette apples are very old, dating back to at least the 1700s.

GERMANY’S CONTRIBUTIONS to New England are similarly old, with one exception: Corail.

Corail apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Corail apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Corail is a late-season apple with a conical shape and streaks of bright red over a yellow-orange skin. Its white flesh is crisp and juicy, and it resists browning when sliced. Corail’s flavor is more tart than sweet, with hints of pineapple or citrus.

Corail was developed in 2000 from Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Duchess of Oldenburg parents. It is now marketed under the trademarked name Piñata, and Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Washington, holds exclusive rights to grow, market, and sell it in the United States. Some New England growers had already purchased Corail, though, and they are allowed to continue to grow and sell the apple using that name. It is also known as Pinova or Sonata.

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gravenstein is an early season apple, medium-sized, slightly blunt and conical, with blurry red streaks on a thin green skin. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp and juicy, with flavor that is more tart than sweet. It is especially good in pies, sauce, and cider, and it stores better than most early varieties.

Dating back to at least the 1600s, Gravenstein was popular in New England from the late 1800s until the 1930s. It migrated across Europe, probably originating in Germany, although it may have been discovered in Italy. It first appeared in Denmark about 1669 and England in 1819.

Gravenstein, German for the southern Denmark town of Gråsten, is strongly identified with Denmark — it was declared Denmark’s national apple in 2005. It may be one of several European apples imported to the United States by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in the 1800s.

Red Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Red Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Red Gravenstein is an early season sport variety (resulting from a mutating branch) of Gravenstein. Medium-sized, slightly blunt and conical, it is redder and sweeter than its parent. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp and juicy, with a nicely balanced, sweet-tart flavor.

Red Gravenstein was first cited in 1873.

Holstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Holstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Holstein is a medium, round, mid-season apple, yellow in color with red streaks. Its cream-colored flesh is coarse-textured, moderately crisp, and juicy. Its flavor is balanced between sweet and tart, and it stores well.

Holstein was discovered by a teacher named Vahldik in Eutin, Holstein, in 1918. Its parentage includes Cox’s Orange Pippin.

Zabergäu Reinette apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Zabergäu Reinette apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Zabergäu Reinette (źab-ər-gau̇ rĭ-ńĕt) is a medium to large, mid-season apple, with light, copper-colored russeting over yellow skin. Its crisp, cream-colored flesh is moderately juicy, and its spicy, nutty flavor, more sweet than tart, intensifies in storage. It is good for fresh eating and in cooking, and it keeps well.

Zabergäu Reinette was first grown in 1885 in Württemberg, on the Zaber River in southwestern Germany, but was not widely distributed until 1926.

THE NETHERLANDS has produced three apples of note that can be found in New England orchards.

Elstar apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Elstar apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Elstar is a medium to large, late-season apple, yellow with red streaking. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp, and its flavor, more tart than sweet, has been compared to Jonagold. It is a good fresh eating and cooking apple. Its flavor mellows some in storage.

A cross between Golden Delicious and Ingrid Marie, a variety from Denmark dating back to 1910, Elstar was first grown in the Netherlands in the 1950s and released commercially in 1972. While it prefers a cooler climate, it is not yet widely grown in New England.

Karmijn de Sonnaville apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Karmijn de Sonnaville apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Karmijn de Sonnaville is a medium-sized, mid-season apple with complex coloring, with shades of red, orange, yellow, and green. Its crisp, juicy flesh has a rich, spicy flavor balanced between tart and sweet. It is outstanding for fresh eating and excellent in cider.

It was raised by Piet de Sonnaville in 1949 on his family orchard in central Netherlands from Cox’s Orange Pippin and Jonathan or Belle de Boskoop parents, and introduced in 1971. Like Jonagold, Karmijn de Sonnaville’s exceptional flavor and beauty have not resulted in commercial success in the United States, as it is challenging to grow and difficult to name.

Belle de Boskoop apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Belle de Boskoop apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Belle de Boskoop is a medium to large, late-season apple with a round, boxy shape. It has russeting around its stem and in a netting pattern over much of its distinctive orange-red skin. Its crisp, light-green flesh is aromatic, moderately juicy, and more tart than sweet, with hints of lemon. Its flavor becomes sweeter in storage, and it keeps well.

Belle de Boskoop was discovered by K. J. W. Ottolander in 1856 in his nursery in Boskoop, near Gouda. It was introduced in North America in Canada around 1880.

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'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellRUSSELL STEVEN POWELL will read from and sign his new book, Apples of New England (Countryman Press) at two central Massachusetts locations this weekend, including the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which maintains one of the largest preservation orchards in New England, with 119 pre-1900 varieties.

A number of extremely rare apples from Tower Hill are described in Apples of New England and photographed by Bar Lois Weeks.

Saturday, October 4, 1 p.m.

Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary

Wales Rd., Monson, Massachusetts

 *

Sunday, October 5, 12:30 p.m.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

11 French Dr., Boylston, Massachusetts

 

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Galas in late summer sun, Blue Hills Orchard, Wallingford, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Galas in late summer sun, Blue Hills Orchard, Wallingford, Connecticut (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

THERE WILL BE PLENTY of apples in New England’s orchards this fall, despite a smaller-than-normal crop. The region as a whole experienced scattered frost and hail damage, but avoided the devastating crop losses from an early freeze in Michigan and New York state. The New England apple crop is early, though, by as much as one or two weeks in some areas, so consumers should begin to look for fresh apples now.

Some early varieties are already being picked, and the 2012 fresh harvest will be officially launched with New England Apple Day Wednesday, September 5. The commissioners of agriculture of all six New England states will be visiting orchards that day to sample the new crop and meet with growers.

A March heat wave produced early blossoms in much of the Northeast, and several cold nights followed in April with temperatures in the low 20s. Apple blossoms can withstand temperatures in the upper 20s, but anything lower will kill the flowers before they can bear fruit. The result of the freeze was a historic loss in Michigan, which expects just 15 percent of a normal crop, and in New York state, which will have only about half of its usual fresh harvest.

In New England, some orchards were affected, but the damage was nowhere near as widespread. Scattered hail damage further reduced the New England crop in July. Still, many orchards are reporting outstanding crops, and it is shaping up as a good season for fresh-picked despite the lower numbers over all.

The main impact for consumers is expected to be in the price of fresh cider, since there will be far fewer apples available for processing.

The 2012 New England apple crop is estimated at 2.76 million 42-pound boxes, a decrease of about 25 percent over 2011. Here is the state-by-state forecast:

(in units of 42-lb boxes)
2012 crop estimate % down from 2011 2011 crop 5-year average % down from 5-year average
CT 429 K 18% 524 K 510 K     16%
ME 571 K 17% 690 K 571 K      —
MA 738 K 19% 917 K 945 K     22%
NH 335 K 22% 429 K 667 K     50%
RI   57 K   5%   60 K   60 K       5%
VT 638 K 20% 798 K 919 K     30%

The 2012 United States apple crop is expected to be about 10 percent smaller than the 2011 harvest, according to USApple’s annual forecast. The 202,114,000 boxes forecast for 2012 is about 10 percent below the five-year U. S. average of 224,284,000 boxes.

New York’s predicted crop of 14,000,000 boxes in 2012 is down 52 percent from a year ago and 54 percent below the state’s five-year average. Michigan, at 3,500,000 boxes, will be down 85 percent from 2011’s crop, and 82 percent below its five-year average. Washington, the nation’s largest apple-growing state, estimates a record 2012 crop of 145,000,000 boxes, 13 percent above its five-year average.

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Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

GRAVENSTEIN IS AN HEIRLOOM apple with a thin skin and a juicy, sweet-tart flavor. It is prized for its culinary use, especially in pies, sauces, and ciders. Harvest is early, beginning in August, and like many early varieties, they should be eaten soon as they do not store well.

Gravenstein’s origin is not certain, but it dates back to 1797, and is strongly identified with Denmark (it was declared Denmark’s national apple in 2005). Gravenstein may be one of four European apples imported to the United States by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in the 1800s. Despite its outstanding flavor, Gravenstein has never achieved great popularity, probably because it can be difficult to grow. It prefers a mild climate and is prone to several diseases.

Red Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Red Gravenstein apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Red Gravenstein, an offshoot of Gravenstein, is redder in color than Gravenstein, with pink and orange hues. Red Gravenstein is highly acclaimed for its distinct sweet-sharp flavor, similar to Gravenstein but less tart. Red Gravensteins are picked in September.

Red Gravenstein may also have its origin in Denmark. In the 1820s the London Horticultural Society distributed it to Massachusetts.

This recipe, adapted from one that appeared in 2000, in Gourmet Magazine, features Gravensteins, and it has all the makings of a classic: easy to make with great apple flavor.

Apple Upside-Down Biscuit Cake

Topping

3 T butter

1/2 c packed brown sugar

1 lb Gravenstein or other New England apples, cored and cut into thin slices

Cake

1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 c whole wheat flour

1/4 c sugar

1 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

1/2 t cinnamon

5 T cold butter, cut into pieces

1/2 c buttermilk (or substitute with 1/2 c milk + 1-1/2 t lemon juice or white vinegar)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Topping: In a cast iron or other ovenproof 10-inch skillet, heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides. Stir in brown sugar and remove from heat. Spread mixture evenly in skillet and arrange apples, overlapping, in a single layer.

Cake: Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry knife until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring just until mixture is moistened.

Spread batter over apples, leaving a one-inch border to allow cake to expand. Bake in middle of oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool cake in skillet on a rack for three minutes, then invert onto cake platter.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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America's AppleALMOST ANYTHING you want to know about apples can be found in America’s Apple, a new book by Russell Steven Powell. The book has chapters on such topics as how apples are grown and the people who grow them, Johnny Appleseed, culinary uses and apple drinks, food safety, and more.

America’s Apple features nearly 50 full-color photographs by Powell and Bar Lois Weeks, plus a photographic index of 120 apple varieties grown in the United States.

To learn more, visit America’s Apple.

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Clockwise, L to R: Gravenstein, Sansa, Duchess of Oldenburg apples (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Clockwise, L to R: Gravenstein, Sansa, Duchess of Oldenburg apples (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

DUCHESS OF OLDENBURG was one of four pioneers among Russian apples in America, along with Alexander, Tetofsky and Red Astrachan. All four were imported by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society around 1835. In European nurseries, the Oldenburg was propagated under the names Charlamowsky and Borowitsky. An extremely hardy variety, Oldenburgs “kept up the hope of prairie orchardists in times of great discouragement,” according to The Apples of New York, Volume II, by S. A. Beach (J. B. Lyon Co., 1905).

The Duchess of Oldenburg is a stunning apple, with beautiful, yellow-and-red striped skin. Its flesh is yellowish, firm, crisp and juicy. A highly aromatic apple, it has excellent culinary qualities.

A relative of the Duchess of Oldenburg is another heirloom, Gravenstein. Beach’s classic apple encyclopedia calls the Gravenstein “perhaps unexcelled by any variety of its season” for culinary purposes. Its origin is unclear, he writes, although “it is undoubtedly of similar origin with the Red Astrachan and Duchess of Oldenburg.” Gravensteins, like the Oldenburg, were imported to the United States by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in the late 1820s.

A newer apple variety is also ready for picking where it is grown in New England orchards. Sansa was developed in New Zealand in 1969 and introduced in the United States in 1986. A cross between Gala and Akane, it is a red, medium large apple. Sansas are sweet apples, with  a deep pink blush on a yellow skin. Its firm flesh is light green in color, and tender and  juicy.

Try this moist and low-fat loaf cake that uses applesauce as a substitute for the oil (or butter or shortening). Old-fashioned oats are best to give this cake an even chewier texture and flavor. If available, try using white whole wheat flour in place of the denser whole wheat variety.

Mix early season varieties like Duchess of Oldenburg, Gravenstein, Sansa and PaulaRed to make your own applesauce. Simply quarter the apples and cook in a saucepan with cider or water until soft, and strain through a food mill. Use several apple varieties to give your sauce and cake a distinctive flavor.

Oatmeal Applesauce Cake

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Pour 1-1/4 c hot water over 1 c oats. Cover and let stand 15 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, cream:

2 eggs
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c sugar or sucralose
1/2 c applesauce
2 t vanilla

Combine and add:

1-1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg

Stir in the oat mixture and 1 c raisins.

Pour into a greased and floured 8” x 8” square pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.

2010 New England Apple Harvest Kickoff September 10

The 2010 New England fresh apple harvest will be celebrated Friday, September 10, in a daylong event around the region.

In Massachusetts, Commissioner of Agriculture Scott Soares, Russell Powell, executive director of the New England Apple Association, will visit these apple orchards and apple processing facilities:

10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. J. P. Sullivan, packing house, Ayer

11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Carlson Orchards, with cider-making, Harvard

1:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. Red Apple Farm, Phillipston

Beginning that evening through the weekend, the New England Apple Association and Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources will sample apples and give away recipes, brochures and other educational materials at a booth at the Sterling Fair.

The fair’s hours are Friday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Commissioner Soares and Powell will give a presentation on New England apple varieties Sunday at 11 a.m.

Details about events in the other New England states to follow!

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