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Posts Tagged ‘McIntosh apple’

A bin of Macoun apples. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A bin of Macoun apples. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

READERS, PLEASE NOTE: THIS WILL BE THE FINAL POST AT THIS ADDRESS. BEGINNING SEPTEMBER 30, 2015, VISIT THE WEBLOG AT New England Apples weblog. THANK YOU.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

PEOPLE MAY DIFFER on how to pronounce it, but there is nearly universal agreement that Macoun is one of the best tasting apples. Whether you say “Mac-cow-n” or “Mac-coo-n,” the apple named for Canadian pomologist W. T. Macoun is renowned for its crispness and sweet-tart flavor.

Macoun is a cross of McIntosh with the heirloom apple Jersey Black. Also called Black Apple because of its deep color, Jersey Black supplies Macoun’s rich, wine-red tones, with occasional green patches or stripes.

Macoun is a tactile pleasure, as pleasing to hold as it is to behold. Its irregular, boxy shape — another feature of Jersey Black — fits easily into the hand. Its light green flesh is crisp and juicy.

McIntosh supplies much of Macoun’s juiciness and flavor, which is more tart than sweet. But Macoun’s texture is firmer than McIntosh, and it has a distinctive, complex spiciness, with a hint of strawberry.

New England Macouns are ripe now at most orchards, and they should be available at farm stands and in stores for several months, while supplies last. For a long time Macoun was considered strictly a fall apple, which heightened anticipation of its arrival. Much of that anticipation remains today, and despite improvements in storage, demand for fresh Macouns remains strong.

Macoun is such a great fresh-eating apple that it is often overlooked for cooking. It can get a little juicy when cooked, but its flavor and firmness work well in pies, crisp, and sauce, especially in combination with other varieties.

As for pronunciation, there is no definitive answer. Descendants of W. T. Macoun pronounced the family name “Mac-cow-n,” but some dictionaries assert that it is “Mac-coo-n,” instead. The disparity over pronunciation undoubtedly has its origins among clans in the United Kingdom, long before the discovery of the Macoun apple in New York in 1909. It was released commercially in 1923.

Over time, both pronunciations generally have been accepted, and their usage now varies some from region to region, even orchard to orchard.

Named in honor of the apple scientist William Tyrell Macoun, in our opinion the “Mac-cow-n” affirmed by his descendants seems like the obvious name for this stellar treat.

But once you sink your teeth into a fresh Macoun, what you call it is irrelevant.

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TWO  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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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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Carlson Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

A full crop of apples will soon be ripe at Carlson Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts, but first comes the peaches. The orchard holds its 13th Annual Peach Festival this weekend. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Frank Carlson of Carlson Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Frank Carlson inspects Honeycrisp apples, which are still developing size and color. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

THERE IS NOTHING like a day of orchard hopping to get the juices going about the 2015 apple crop. We arrived at Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Massachusetts, around noon on a beautiful August day. Frank Carlson, who runs the orchard with his two brothers, Bruce and Bobby, had Greek salads waiting for us at a picnic table, but he had to excuse himself several times to take phone calls or fill orders for peaches. At 72, Frank is always on the move, yet in between interruptions he patiently offers a steady stream of information and observations about apples and tree fruit.

The big news of the day was about dreaded hail. A series of vicious storms had swept across much of the region the day before, and growers were now looking for news of their neighbors, comparing notes, and looking for damage.

Just a few seconds of hail can injure an apple crop, shredding the leaves and nicking the fruit. A bad storm can wipe out an entire orchard in less than a minute. Fortunately Carlson Orchards was not hit, but there were scattered reports of hail in central Massachusetts.

It has been a good spring and summer growing season so far, but there are still several critical weeks before the main harvest begins in September. The growers can only hope that they get through this period without getting hit by heavy winds, which can knock apples off the tree, or hail.

But Carlson Orchards, like most of New England’s orchards, has an outstanding crop. We drove through the orchard and stopped to inspect Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp, and Macoun trees, all loaded with developing fruit. We followed the shrill note of a red-tailed hawk and watched it soar above the orchard. The raptor is welcome here, as it helps keep down the rodent population. Every living creature wants a bite of these apples, it seems, from deer and turkeys to mice, bugs, and bacteria.

Frank points out a sun spot on one apple, the fruit’s equivalent of sunburn. There are tiny nicks from hail on just a few apples, not enough to worry about. He cuts a third apple open to reveal some discoloring inside. These are minor flaws. All things considered, it appears to be an excellent crop.

Other than the threat of hail, the big unknowns now are size and color, for which the next month’s weather will play a critical role. Timely rain in the next few weeks will help the apples size properly. Cool nights are needed to draw the apple’s sugars closer to its skin, and to develop red color.

The trees are brimming with apples at Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The trees are brimming with apples at Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts, above and below left. (Bar Lois Weeks photos)

It is early August, but the earliest apples have already come and gone, starting with two rare ancient apples of Russian descent, Red Astrachan and Yellow Transparent. Their age and parentage are unknown, but they are believed to go back to at least the 17th century. Both apples ripen in late July, and they are gone in a few short weeks.

Red Astrachan’s mild, tart flavor is considered especially good in sauce and pies. Yellow Transparent is sweet with a hint of tartness. Both heirlooms can satisfy a craving for fresh apples if eaten soon after they are picked, but their flesh softens almost as quickly as a blueberry or peach.

A newer short-season apple called Vista Bella was being picked in late July at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts. Developed at Rutgers University in 1956 from a mix of five rare apples (July Red, Melba, Sonora, Starr, and Williams), Vista Bella was not released commercially until 1974. Its flavor is mild, with a hint of raspberry.

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Massachusetts (Bar Lois Weeks photo)Almost as rare as the Russian apples are Lodi, a tart, yellow-green apple with soft flesh, developed from a cross of Montgomery and Yellow Transparent in New York state in 1924, and Quinte, a Canadian apple from 1964 resulting from a Red Melba-Crimson Beauty cross. Quinte is mostly red, firmer than Lodi, with a nicely balanced flavor.

Brookfield Orchards in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, has a small supply of both apples, and Diana Nydam, a member of the fifth generation of the farm started by Arthur Lincoln in 1918, saved a few of each for us to sample and photograph. Brookfield Orchards, too, was spared from hail and is looking at a better-than-average crop.

Two of the next apples to arrive on the scene, Jersey Mac and PaulaRed, are more widely available and keep better than the other varieties in this early season group. Despite its name, Jersey Mac does not have McIntosh heritage; its parentage includes Melba, Wealthy, Starr, and Red Rome.

Like Vista Bella, Jersey Mac was developed at Rutgers University in 1956, and released commercially in 1971. Jersey Mac has a mild, sweet flavor, with hints of strawberry. While it does not store well compared to later apples, it lasts longer than the first apples to appear, especially if kept cold.

PaulaRed is of similar vintage as Jersey Mac, discovered in Michigan in 1960 and released commercially in 1968. It is a chance seedling discovered near an orchard of McIntosh trees, and its sweet-tart flavor and red color with green highlights suggest that its parentage may include McIntosh.

The real Macs are just a few short weeks away.

*

IN BETWEEN visits to Carlson and Brookfield Orchards, we made a brief stop at J. P. Sullivan and Co. in Ayer, the biggest apple packing and shipping facility in New England. Big things are happening at J. P. Sullivan this summer, including a major solar installation and a brand new packing line that is scheduled to go online August 20.

This once-in-a-generation investment speaks volumes about the company’s confidence in the apple industry, and will give apples an even smoother, safer ride as they are cleaned, sorted, and packed for shipping to the region’s grocery stores.

*

If you are considering orchard hopping this weekend, here are two events of note:

THE OPENING RECEPTION for the third Art In The Orchard, a biennial outdoor sculptural exhibit at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton, Massachusetts, is this Saturday, August 15, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. This walking orchard tour features the works of more than 20 artists from around the region, whose sculptures are nestled in and among the apple trees. The sculptures will remain on view through October 15.

Carlson Orchards celebrates its 13th Annual Peach Festival Saturday, August 15, and Sunday, August 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine. There will be live music, hay rides to the peach orchards, product sampling, and a cookout. For more information, call 978-456-3916.

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WORKING ORCHARD MANAGER: Seeking a passionate, hardworking manager and farmer for a family owned and operated fruit orchard in central Connecticut that has been in business for more than 38 years. We grow apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and plums for pick-your-own and wholesale on 33 acres with a country store, which is managed separately.

The position will lead and oversee the property, farming, and management of staff, as well as hands-on work that includes, but is not limited to, pruning, fertilizing, spraying, herbiciding, harvesting, grading, and running wholesale and pick-your-own business.

Experience in fruit growing is preferred but not necessary. On-site training from the owner of the orchard will be a large part of the on-boarding process to help you learn the details of the property and business. The owner will be your partner in management to ensure success, as we see this as a long-term career opportunity for you.

Thank you for your interest. Please call 203-213-8833 to learn more about this new position.

*

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.

*

WITH THE 2015 pick-your-own season upon us, now is a good time to review our four-minute video about how to prepare for your orchard visit:

Happy picking!

 

 

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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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The view from North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine, in mid-October. Like many New England orchards, North Star's farm store will remain open until Christmas. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The view from North Star Orchards, Madison, Maine, in mid-October. Like many New England orchards, North Star’s farm store will remain open until Christmas. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scandinavian Apple Cake (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scandinavian Apple Cake (Russell Steven Powell photo)

VERSATILE as apples are, I have not come across many recipes that combine them with the sweet spice cardamom. Though native to India, Guatemala is now the leading producer of cardamom, an unusual spice that is often featured in Scandinavian baked goods.

My fondness for cardamom dates back to childhood, when my mother made a braided Scandinavian coffee bread every Christmas flavored with this distinctive spice. She always made breads to give away in addition to the loaves inhaled by our family of six, to family, friends, even the postman and milkman some years.

The coffee bread was highly aromatic, moist, and chewy, and it came served with butter topped by a thin layer of almond extract-tinged icing decorated with candied cherries and finely chopped walnut pieces. But it was the cardamom that gave the bread its distinctive bite.

In making the recipe below I followed my mother’s method of peeling whole cardamom seeds from their whitish husks, and grinding them by hand with mortar and pestle to the consistency of coarse pepper. This worked to great effect in her bread — you could see little shards of cardamom bursting with intense cardamom flavor — and whole seeds kept in glass jars keep their flavor longer.

But the cardamom flavor in the cake I made was too mild using this technique, overshadowed by the pecans. I subsequently read that finely ground cardamom is the preferred consistency for most baked goods, infusing them with stronger cardamom flavor than the rougher mortar-and-pestle-crushed seeds.

This Scandinavian Apple Cake recipe was adapted from one given to my mother by Trish Leipold of Wolfeboro Falls, New Hampshire, years ago; my mother only recently passed it along to me.

I made a few mistakes in my first attempt, corrected here. Further chopping of the cubed apples will improve the cake’s texture and make it moister by releasing more of the apples’ juice. The apple’s skin, incidentally, included for nutritional purposes, adds flavor and color to the cake.

I used three McIntosh and two Golden Delicious apples. The cake is delicious, and definitely merits another try.

Scandinavian Apple Cake

1 c white flour

1 c whole wheat flour

2 t cinnamon

1 t baking powder

1 t baking soda

⅔ t ground allspice

¼ t ground cardamom

pinch of salt

 

5 medium-sized New England apples, cored and chopped

½ c sugar

1 c chopped pecans or walnuts

⅔ c butter, melted

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 t vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9”x13” baking dish.

In large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.

In another large bowl, mix together apples, sugar, nuts, and butter. Using a food chopper or processor, make apple pieces about the size of peas. Stir in eggs and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to apple mixture, stirring just until combined. Spread into prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until the apples are soft and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes clean.

***

THIS SUNDAY, November 23, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. author Russell Steven Powell will sample apples, answer questions, and sign copies of his new book, Apples of New England, at Tags Hardware in the Porter Square Shopping Center, 29 White St., Cambridge, Massachusetts.

'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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonagold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonagold apple            (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple                  (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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

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

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple             (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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

Northern Spy apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Northern Spy apple         (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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

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

Honeycrisp apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Honeycrisp apple             (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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

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

Baldwin apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Baldwin apple                 (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

*          *          *

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

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

Available in bookstores everywhere.

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

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

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

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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.

*          *          *

'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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