Posts Tagged ‘pruning apple trees’

Scott's Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scott’s Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

I HAVE COOKED with apples for many years and written about them almost as long. Still, it felt a little audacious for me to bring apple squares to a professional chef, Luca Paris, to share live on his radio show on WKBK in Keene, New Hampshire, last Thursday. The recipe is an old favorite, but I had not made it for some time. What if the squares were just average, or worse?

Like many recipes, the ingredients list a range of apples (in this case, four to six). While this accounts for different-sized fruit, I always use the higher number; the low end of the range strikes me as the bare minimum, if you are low on apples. Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, in her three-part video series on how to make an apple pie, says she likes to “pile them high” with fruit, and I feel the same. I used good-sized apples, two each of Cortland, Empire, and McIntosh (nearly any variety can be used in making this recipe).

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I kept the skins on, for reasons practical (the nutrients are concentrated on or just beneath the apple’s surface) and aesthetic (color). The two Empires were a deep, deep red, almost burgundy, and they gave the squares a rich hue.

To avoid stringy threads of peel I cut the apples in small, irregular chunks from the outside in until I reached the core, rather than coring and slicing them. Placing the chunks in a bowl, I chopped the skins into even smaller pieces with the aid of a biscuit cutter.

There is very little spice in these squares, just a little cinnamon. This allows the full range of naturally sweet apple flavors to come through. The different varieties impart subtly different tastes and textures to the squares; too much sugar or spice can overpower them.

The original recipe, which came to me from the late Margaret Richardson of Brookfield, Massachusetts, called for cornflakes in the middle. The crisp, light cereal flakes soak up excess moisture, add flavor, and help the squares hold together better. I substituted multigrain flakes to make them a little healthier.

The crust does not have to be perfect as long as you manage to seal most of the edges. The dash of almond extract in the glaze makes a nice contrast to the apple flavor.

I sampled a square before I left for the studio, and it tasted fine. Still, there were no guarantees that Luca or his co-host, Dan Mitchell, would like them. Luca complimented me after the first one while we were waiting to go on the air, but he might have just been being polite.

Then Dan tried a square. Then they both had another one. By show’s end, Luca had eaten two more squares — four in all — and taken some home with him. That evening, he wrote in an email, “those squares were amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!” On the strength of this endorsement, I thought it time to share the recipe.

The recipe is included in my book America’s Apple, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks. America’s Apple can be ordered online in hardcover or as an ebook at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

— Russell Steven Powell

Peg’s Apple Squares

1 egg yolk


2-1/2 c flour (use white whole-wheat for better health)

1/2 t salt

1 c butter (use half coconut oil for better health)

1 c multigrain or corn flakes

4-6 New England apples, cored and chopped

3/4 c sugar (use raw cane sugar for better health)

1 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat egg yolk in measuring cup and add enough milk to make 2/3 cup liquid.

Mix flour and salt, and cut in butter with a pastry blender.

Mix wet and dry ingredients together until it forms a dough. Divide in half.

Roll out half the dough to fit into a 15-1/2” cookie sheet, pressing it into bottom and sides. Sprinkle with corn flakes. Top with apples.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.

Roll out remaining dough and place on top of apples. Seal edges. Cut holes in dough to let steam escape.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until crust is brown and apples are soft.

Glaze (omit for better health):

1/2 c confectioners’ sugar

1-2 T milk

almond extract

Mix with a few drops of almond extract. Drizzle over warm squares.


FEBRUARY IS TIME for pruning in New England’s apple orchards. See how it is done in this two-part video series starring Mo Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts:

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APPLES ARE SO AGREEABLE. Invite them to breakfast, lunch, or dinner and they will feel quite at home. It doesn’t matter where you place them — they get along equally well with peanut butter, pears, and pork chops. Apples make everything around them taste better.

Take apples for a walk, bring them in the car, put them in a lunchbox. They thrive wherever you put them, in whatever company. Bubbe’s Apple Cake is bursting with apple-cinnamon flavor, but the slices are coated with plum jam and almond extract.

Bubbe's Apple Cake (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bubbe’s Apple Cake (Russell Steven Powell photo)

It keeps well for several days but is best eaten fresh, so it makes an ideal dessert when friends are coming over. Or if it’s just you, Bubbe’s Apple cake is a relatively wholesome way to satisfy that sweet tooth.

We’ve seen various versions of Bubbe’s Apple Cake online and over the years; for our version we used some whole-wheat flour and punched up the apple flavor even more! We made this with two McIntosh and two Honeycrisp apples, creating a superb taste and texture. You can use any New England-grown apples.

Bubbe’s Apple Cake

½ c whole wheat flour

¾ c white flour

1 t baking powder

½ t salt

4 large New England apples, peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices

1 c plum jam

juice of 1 lemon

3 eggs

¾ c sugar

½ c canola oil

1 t vanilla extract

½ t almond extract


Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8”-square baking dish.

Combine flours, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl, and set aside.

Place apple slices in large bowl. Add jam and lemon juice and stir until slices are coated.

Beat eggs well. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is almost fluffy. Stir in flour mixture. Add oil and extracts, and continue to stir until batter is well blended.

Spread half of batter evenly in prepared baking dish. Cover with apple-jam mixture. Spoon remaining batter on top. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

Bake for about one hour, until top is golden brown.


Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

GROWING FRUIT in a humid climate is much more difficult than it is in an irrigated desert. Frequent precipitation creates a fertile environment for agricultural pests, so New England’s apple farmers have to deal with a number of diseases and insects. Scab, a fungal disease, is the major pest problem in the Northeast.

In addition to scab, New England apple orchards can be damaged by sooty blotch/flyspeck, plum curculio, apple maggot, or fruit moths. The disease fire blight can be devastating in some years, and mite management is an ongoing concern. Insects like sawfly and leaf-rollers cannot be ignored. Weeds, rodents, deer, or fungal fruit rot can cause problems.

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is an ecologically and environmentally sustainable way to manage these insects, diseases, and weeds. IPM programs use “current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment,” according to Environmental Protection Agency, “to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.”

The process begins with farmers reviewing when and where pest problems arose the previous year. IPM growers have either a weather station on the farm or subscribe to a web-based service for detailed information. This data is fed into models that forecast risk.

Traps are placed in the orchard to monitor insects, and growers check them and inspect trees for damage at least weekly to determine risks from these pests.

IPM growers use flail mowers early in the season to destroy old leaves and twigs that can harbor diseases. In late winter, they prune out dead or diseased wood. During the summer, they mow grass to decrease humidity, thereby decreasing the risk of pests.

IPM is a constant process of knowing which pests present a significant risk at any given time, and determining the best management tool to use at that time, says Dan Cooley, a professor of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has been working on IPM issues since 1979, when he was studying for his Ph.D. in plant pathology.

When risk is high, growers select a treatment method, usually some form of spray. In IPM orchards, growers select pesticides that have the least impact on the environment, though they are generally more expensive than older ones.

IPM management tools tend to be more expensive as they become more sophisticated. Matching detailed weather monitoring with disease prediction models, for example, is more expensive and complicated than simply watching a weather forecast. Growers often must hire consultants to monitor and analyze their orchards’ pests.

Still, the overwhelming majority of growers in New England use some form of monitoring and IPM tactics in their orchards, says Cooley. “It has become the norm. New advances in IPM are always in development, though, as new pests and other biological threats are continually emerging.”

Over time, some pests, such as the tarnished plant bug, have become much less of a problem for apple growers, says Cooley, but new ones, like the brown marmorated stink bug, have emerged. Growers and scientists must constantly adjust IPM systems to correspond to an orchard’s evolving environment.

Existing pests gradually learn to adapt to new management tools, too. One of the most difficult aspects of IPM, says Cooley, is developing tactics that maintain effective control without over-stimulating the pest’s drive to defeat it.

March 22 presentation on IPM for gardens and home landscapes

THE IPM APPROACH can be applied to non-agricultural settings such as the home, garden, and workplace. Tina Smith, greenhouse crops and floriculture specialist for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Extension, will give a presentation on, “Good bugs, bad bugs”: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for home landscapes and gardens, Tuesday, March 22, at 7 p.m. Smith Academy Cafeteria, 34 School Street, Hatfield, Massachusetts.

The event, sponsored by the Hatfield Agricultural Advisory Committee, is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

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THIS IS THE SEASON for pruning in New England’s apple orchards. To learn more about how it is done, view this video, the first of a two-part series on pruning.

For more information about New England apples, visit http://www.newenglandapples.org.

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