Posts Tagged ‘Westfield Seek-No-Further apple’

The University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown features more than 100 apple varieties, including many New England natives. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown features more than 100 apple varieties, including many New England natives. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

IT SEEMS ONLY FITTING to celebrate native New England apples on New England Apple Day Wednesday, September 3. The New England state commissioners of agriculture will be visiting orchards today to mark the official launch of the 2014 fresh harvest. While some early season varieties are picked in August, most of the region’s apple crop ripens in September and October, with New England’s favorite apple, McIntosh, traditionally available soon after Labor Day.

Although less than 2 percent of the national apple crop is now grown here, New England continues to have a strong apple industry and an even richer apple-growing heritage. Dozens of apple varieties have been discovered or developed on New England soils, and many flourish today. A number of them have had illustrious histories and were once among the most widely planted in the Northeast.

Baldwin (Massachusetts, 1740), Northern Spy (Connecticut, 1800), and Rhode Island Greening (Rhode Island, 1600s) were the nation’s most popular and well-known apples a century ago. They eventually were surpassed by newer varieties that were more marketable and easier to grow, but they still can be found at many New England orchards.

In the 19th century, two varieties whose names combine superlatives with the Massachusetts towns in which they were discovered, Hubbardston Nonesuch (early 1800s) and Westfield Seek-No-Further (1700s), were popular well beyond the New England region.

Hubbardston Nonesuch apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hubbardston Nonesuch apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hubbardston Nonesuch, also known as American Blush, is a large, late-season apple with heavy red streaking on yellow-green skin, with occasional russeting. Its dense, yellow flesh is juicy, and it has an exceptionally small core. Its complex flavor, more sweet than tart, is ideal for cider and fresh eating, although its flavor tends to fade in storage.

References to Hubbardston begin in the early 1830s, and it was popular throughout the Northeast for much of the 19th century. As late as 1905, S. A. Beach in the classic work, Apples of New York, recommended Hubbardston for commercial orchards. But it is a difficult apple to grow, and only survives as a rare heirloom despite its rich flavor.

Porter apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Porter apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Porter is another Massachusetts native that once enjoyed widespread popularity. A medium, round, early season apple, apple, it has a yellow-green skin with a peach-colored blush. Its cream-colored flesh is tender, aromatic, and juicy. Its flavor is sweeter than tart, and it retains its shape and flavor when cooked.

It was discovered by the Rev. Samuel Porter in Sherburne around 1800, and was grown locally until about 1850, when its popularity spread to Boston and it began to be cultivated in other parts of the country. Despite its virtues as an eating and cooking apple, though, it, too, proved too difficult to grow for sustained success.

In his 1922 book Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruits, Ulysses P. Hedrick wrote, “A generation ago Porter took rank as one of the best of all yellow fall apples. If the fruits be judged by quality, the variety would still rank as one of the best of its season, but the apples are too tender in flesh to ship, the season of ripening is long and variable, and the crop drops badly.

“Porter must remain, then, an apple for the connoisseur, who will delight in its crisp, tender, juicy, perfumed flesh, richly flavored and sufficiently acidulous to make it one of the most refreshing of all apples.” It is also known as Summer Pearmain and Yellow Summer Pearmain.

Tolman Sweet apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Tolman Sweet apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Tolman Sweet is a late-season apple, medium-sized, pale-yellow in color with a red or green blush. It sometimes has patches of russet, or a line running from top to bottom. Its white flesh is crisp and moderately juicy, and its unusual flavor is sweet and pear-like, but with some tartness. It is considered especially good in cooking and in cider.

Tolman Sweet may be a cross of Sweet Greening and Old Russet discovered in Dorchester, Massachusetts, but its origin is unclear. It was first cited in 1822, and it remained popular well into the 20th century. Its trees are exceptionally hardy, making it a good choice in Northern climes, but Tolman Sweet bruise easily, limiting its commercial appeal.

Sheep's Nose apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Sheep’s Nose apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Another old New England favorite is Sheep’s Nose, from Connecticut. Also known as Black Gilliflower or Red Gilliflower, its names refer to its pronounced conical shape and deep ruby color, respectively. Often a striking solid red in color, it can have patches of green. Opinions about its mild, sweet-tart flavor are mixed. While aromatic, its dense flesh lacks much juice, and it becomes dryer in storage. It is good in cooking, though, especially in applesauce.

Whatever its flaws, Sheep’s Nose has had a small but steady following for more than two centuries, having been cited in New England as early as the Revolutionary War.

Granite Beauty apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Granite Beauty apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Granite Beauty is a large, late-season apple, round, ribbed, with red patches and stripes over a yellow skin. Its cream-colored flesh is crisp and juicy, and it has a rich flavor, more tart than sweet, with hints of coriander or cardamom.

Zephaniah Breed, who named Granite Beauty, wrote in the late 1850s, “no orchard is considered complete here unless it contains a good share of these trees. A good fruit grower here says he would sooner do without the Baldwin than the Granite Beauty.”

Breed published this account of the apple in the New Hampshire Journal of Agriculture:

“Years ago, soon after the first settlers located upon the farm we now occupy, they paid a visit to their friends in Kittery (now Elliott), Maine, on horseback, that being the only means of conveyance then in vogue.”

When ready to return home, Dorcas Dow “needing a riding whip, she was supplied by pulling from the earth, by the side of the road, a little apple tree. With this she hurried her patient and sure-footed horse toward her wild-woods home” in Weare, New Hampshire, then known as Halestown.

“An orchard being in ‘order’ about that time, the little tree was carefully set and tended, and when it produced its first fruit it was found to be excellent, and Dorcas claimed it as her tree. When nephews and nieces grew up around her, the apple was called the Aunt Dorcas apple.”

As Dorcas grew older, her grandchildren gave the apple the name of Grandmother. In another part of the town it was called the Clothesyard apple.

Maine’s contribution to the apple world includes the heirloom Black Oxford and a newer discovery, Brock.

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Black Oxford apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Black Oxford is Maine’s most famous apple, but like Brock it is little known or grown outside the state. Black Oxford is named for its distinctive dark, purple-red skin, with occasional green highlights and prominent white lenticels.

It is medium-sized and round, and its dense, white flesh has a tinge of green, and is moderately juicy. An all-purpose, late-season apple, its flavor is balanced between sweet and tart, and it is considered especially good in pies and cider. Its keeps exceptionally well, and its flavor becomes sweeter and more complex in storage.

According to George Stilphen, author of The Apples of Maine (1993), Black Oxford “was found as a seedling by Nathaniel Haskell on the farm of one Valentine, a nail maker and farmer of Paris in Oxford County, about 1790 and the original tree was still standing in 1907, the farm being then owned by John Swett.”

Brock apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Brock apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Brock, like Black Oxford, is a late-season apple. It is large, round or with a boxy shape, mostly red in color with a green or yellow blush. Its crisp, juicy, cream-colored flesh is mostly sweet, with a little tartness.

Brock is a cross between Golden Delicious and McIntosh, developed in 1934 by Russell Bailey, a longtime plant breeder at the University of Maine, and introduced commercially in 1966. It was named for grower Henry Brock of Alfred, Maine, one of the apple’s trial growers. The only variety developed at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Brock has the same parentage as the Canadian apple Spencer, with distinctly different results.

Two recent New England apples that have enjoyed greater commercial success are Hampshire and Marshall McIntosh.

Hampshire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hampshire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Hampshire is a large, late-season apple, nearly solid red in color, with crisp, juicy, cream-colored flesh. Although its flavor is less intense, Hampshire resembles McIntosh: more tart than sweet, tender flesh and a thin skin, and a rich aroma. It is a good all-purpose apple, and it stores well.

Hampshire is a chance seedling discovered in 1978 by Erick Leadbeater, then owner of Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire. Its parentage is unknown, but it was found in a block of trees containing several varieties, including Cortland, McIntosh, and Red Delicious. It was released commercially in 1990.

Marshall McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Marshall McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Marshall McIntosh is a medium, round, early season apple with red skin and green highlights. It, too, resembles its McIntosh parent (its other parent is unknown) for its tender flesh, juiciness, aroma, and sweet-tart flavor. It ripens before McIntosh, though, and it has more red color

Marshall McIntosh was discovered in 1967 at Marshall Farms in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and originally propagated by Roaring Brook Nurseries of Wales, Maine.

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

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'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellMORE INFORMATION about these and other apple varieties discovered in New England — such as America’s oldest named variety, Roxbury Russet (1635), and Davey (1928) from Massachusetts, and Vermont Gold (1980s) from Vermont — can be found in Apples of New England: A User’s Guide (The Countryman Press).

A new book by Russell Steven Powell, Apples of New England, includes photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties grown, sold, or discovered here, plus a history of apple growing in the region spanning nearly four centuries. Photographs are by Bar Lois Weeks, executive director of the New England Apple Association.

In addition to extensive research, Powell interviewed senior and retired growers and leading industry figures from all six New England states, and obtained samples of many rare varieties at the preservation orchard maintained by the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

A chapter on John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”), for the first time links him with another Massachusetts native, Henry David Thoreau, as the fathers of American wild apples, Chapman for planting them, Thoreau with his pen.

Apples of New England is intended for use by all apple lovers, whether they are visiting the orchard, farm stand, grocery store, an abandoned field or a back yard — or in the kitchen. The descriptions include detailed information on each apple’s flavor and texture, ripening season, and best uses, as well as age, parentage, place of origin, and unusual histories.

America's Apple coverPowell has worked for the nonprofit New England Apple Association since 1996, and served 13 years as executive director from 1998 to 2011. He is now its senior writer. He is the author of America’s Apple (Brook Hollow Press, 2012), a book about apple growing in the United States.

America’s Apple is now available in paperback for $19.95 as well as hard cover ($45.95). Visit Silver Street Media or Amazon.com to order online, or look for it at your favorite orchard or bookstore.

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Powell will read from and sign copies of Apples of New England in a presentation at the Keep Homestead Museum, 110 Main St., Monson, Massachusetts, this Sunday, September 7, at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.


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Find Fuji apples at Averill Farm in Washington Depot, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Find Fuji apples at Averill Farm in Washington Depot, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

ONE OF THE WAYS Americans have made the apple distinctly our own is in the kitchen. Of course there is Waldorf Salad, introduced at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1893. The original recipe of maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky comprised diced red-skinned apples, celery, and mayonnaise. Eventually, chopped walnuts were added to the mix, and today a wide variety of apples of any color can be used to make this unique salad.

Then there are a trio of desserts that share simple crusts and colorful names: Apple Brown Betty,  Apple Cobbler, and  Apple Pandowdy. All were favorites in early New England for their economy and ease of preparation, and, of course, their rich apple flavor.

Apple cobbler has a thick, biscuit-like crust over a deep-dish filling. In some versions, the crust encloses the filling like a pie, in others the batter is dropped in spoonfuls on the top. While popular in New England, cobblers may have originated in Europe, deriving their name from their uneven crust resembling cobblestone streets.

Apple Brown Betty is a pudding-like dish featuring apples baked between layers of buttered breadcrumbs. Betties also have European roots, originating in England and closely related to the French Apple Charlotte. This was a popular dish during Colonial times, although the name Apple Brown Betty only dates back to the mid-19th century.

Pandowdy is another deep-dish apple dessert, spiced and sweetened with maple syrup, molasses, or brown sugar. Pandowdy differs from cobbler in that its biscuit-y topping gets pushed down into the fruit as it bakes, allowing the apple juices to bubble up through. Apple Pandowdy has been traced to the early 1800s, but the origin of its name is unclear. It may refer to its simplicity and dowdy look.

* * *

ONE DEFINITION OF “COBBLE” isto mend or patch coarsely.” We cobbled together our recipe from several cookbooks and sources, starting with a whole-wheat dough adapted from Joy of Cooking. For apples, we chose two Fujis, one Honeycrisp, and one Macoun, all good sized (most recipes called for six apples). We used less butter and sugar than most recipes called for, and the result was a delicious cobbler brimming with apple flavor, with a touch of lemon and cinnamon.

Cobblers are best eaten while still warm from the oven, topped with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, whipped cream, or even a dollop of tapioca pudding.

New England Apple Cobbler

4-6 extra juicy New England apples, like Fuji, Cortland, or Golden Delicious

1/2 c sugar

1/2 t cinnamon

3 T lemon juice

1 t lemon zest

* * *

1 T apple cider vinegar

about 1 c milk

* * *

1 c whole wheat flour

3/4 c white flour

2 t sugar

2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

3/4 t salt

1/3 c butter

Preheat oven to 425°. Core and slice apples. Mix with sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and zest, coating slices. Place in 3-quart casserole or baking dish.

Put vinegar in measuring cup and add enough milk to make one cup. Set aside.

Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Cut in butter with knives or pastry blender until crumbly. Add milk mixture and mix with a fork until it forms a soft dough. Knead 8-10 times on lightly floured surface, and roll out by hand to about 1/2” thick. Shape to fit baking dish, and place over apples. Make several inch-long cuts in dough to allow steam to escape. Cook for 50 minutes, or until apples are soft and crust is brown.

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Fuji apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fuji apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Fuji is a good late-season apple that can be found in more and more New England orchards. It has a dense, firm flesh but is very juicy, with a sweet flavor owing primarily to its Red Delicious parent (Fuji’s other parent, the Virginia heirloom Ralls Janet, is a good eating apple known for its late bloom, making the variety less susceptible to frost damage.).

Fuji is a medium to large-sized apple, excellent for fresh eating, baking, and drying. Fuji is a great keeper, maintaining its quality for several weeks left in a fruit bowl or for up to a year refrigerated.

Fuji was developed in Japan in 1939, and was named in 1962, after Japan’s tallest and most sacred mountain.

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IN OCTOBER we published a post, Seek No Further, expressing our interest in locating the heirloom apple Westfield Seek-No-Further. A reader responded with one possible source, Bear Path Farm in Whately, Massachusetts. We visited the small orchard, but the Seek-No-Furthers had already been picked.

A little later we received an email and photographs from a grower, Walter Curtis of Honey Hill Farm in Fayette, Maine. Imagine our surprise this week when a box of beautiful Westfield Seek-No-Furthers arrived in the mail from Walter! We are deeply indebted.

Westfield Seek-No-Further apple (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Westfield Seek-No-Further apple (Russell Steven Powell photo)

We’re happy to say that, thanks to Walter, Westfield Seek-No-Further will soon appear on our New England Apples website (among the 30 new varieties we will be adding later this fall to the more than 100 already photographed and described).

Westfield Seek-No-Further is a sweet, aromatic apple with a slightly nutty, almost buttery flavor. Primarily a dessert apple, it is not generally recommended for cooking. Seek-No-Furthers have a creamy yellow, firm, crisp flesh. Their skin has a smooth, deep yellow or greenish base, and can be streaked red, with some russeting around the stem.

Westfield Seek-No-Furthers originated in Westfield, Massachusetts, in the 1700s, and were a popular New England variety in the 1800s, especially in Connecticut, New York, and the Midwest.

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Westfield Seek-No-Further apple

Westfield Seek-No-Further apple

WHEN WAS THE LAST confirmed sighting of a Westfield Seek-No-Further? Has anyone seen a good Shamrock lately?

Westfield Seek-No-Further is an heirloom dessert apple, dating back to Westfield, Massachusetts, in the 1700s. It was a popular New England variety in the 1800s.

Shamrock is a green apple that originated in British Columbia less than 20 years ago. It is a tart apple, and works well with other varieties in pies and sauce.

We have descriptions and photographs (the Westfield Seek-No-Further taken from the classic work from 1905, The Apples of New York, the Shamrock source unknown) of both apples on our website, newenglandapples.org, but have not personally seen or tasted either.

Both, we believe, continue to be grown somewhere on New England soils. We just don’t know where. If you grow either Westfield Seek-No-Further or Shamrock, please let us know. We’d like to learn more, and get new photographs.

The photos, incidentally, are among more than 100 pictured on the New England Apple Association website. Most of the images are original photographs by Bar Lois Weeks. See New England apple varieties. We’re still writing and rewriting some of the descriptions. Perhaps you can help.

Tell us what you know about apples. We’d love to hear from you about this fascinating fruit: your favorite or hard-to-find varieties; recipes, new and handed down; horticulture; photographs and artwork. You can post your comments below or email them to info@newenglandapples.org.

(We have since found several sources for Westfield-Seek-No-Further and Shamrock, and have photographs of both apples.)

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WE MET JUDY MATHER at the Sterling Fair September 12, and although she does not use a computer she was kind enough to handwrite a letter and send it with a pair of recipes as a follow-up to our conversation about apple crisp and New England apples.

She writes, “I’m still looking for the words to “Sippin’ cider through a straw.” (Using our computer, we found them at Sippin’ Cider, reprinted below.)

Mather’s apple crisp recipe is a family favorite passed down from Edith Crosby, her grandmother. Note the unusual egg in the topping.

Judy Mather’s Apple Crisp

Apples — pare (optional), core and slice thin McIntosh, Cortland, and Golden Delicious (or a mix ).

Place sliced apples in a 9” pie plate or casserole dish.

Spread over apples ½ c sugar and ½ t cinnamon.

Topping — 1 c sugar, 1 c. flour, 1 t baking powder, pinch of salt. Stir in 1 whole egg. Mix together and spread on top of apples.

Bake at 350° until top is a light “nut” brown and crunchy and apples are done —20-30 minutes approximately.

Mather, who lives in Sterling, sent this as well:

“This is a favorite apple recipe, also from my grandmother, Edith Crosby. I entered it in a cookbook back in the 1980s. It’s a great accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner, to top hamburgers, etc. I also add it to ham salad.”

Old Fashioned Apple Chutney

24 Golden Delicious apples

4 green peppers

6 onions

4 T salt

1 c raisins

4 T white mustard seed

½ t cinnamon

½ t ground cloves

5 c vinegar

6 c brown sugar

Boil vinegar and sugar until clear. Chop apples, pepper and onions into small chunks and add to sugar/vinegar mixture. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer gently for 2 hours. Process in canning jars.

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Sippin’ Cider

The prettiest girl I ever saw

Was sippin’ cider through a straw

I told that gal I didn’t see how

She sipped that cider through a straw

Then cheek to cheek and jaw to jaw

We sipped that cider through a straw

And now and then that straw would slip

And I’d sip some cider from her lip

And now I’ve got a mother-in-law

From sippin’ cider through a straw

The moral of this little tale

Is to sip your soda through a pail!

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