This past weekend apple geeks from around the Northeast descended on Unity Maine for the Common Ground Fair. By day they loitered around the apple display at the Fedco Trees tent trading stories about rare apple sightings or the best techniques for keeping voles out of the orchard. By night many of them could be found gathered around the dinner table at Super Chilly Farm arguing the finer points of cider blending and malolactic fermentation. Among those apple enthusiasts who dined with us were three recently published authors who were at the Fair to share their wisdom and sell some books. After seeing the crowds lined up to buy autographed books after each of their talks, we thought you might like to know about them too. They are:
All three authors share a love of heirloom apples and gastronomy, so if this newsletter inspires you and leaves you wanting to read more agricultural & culinary stories, we highly recommend you seek out these titles. You may find it difficult to put them down when it’s time for the next meal.
This week’s picks:
For the first time on our six-year history we are only including three apple varieties in your share. As we mentioned last week, many of the heirloom varieties that were so abundant last year, took this season off. Those that did produce a crop seem to be holding onto them longer than usual. Although if you head for the nearest u-pick orchard, you might be able to pick some of those late apples now, our preference is to provide you with apples when they are ripe or ready for storage. As a result, we have decided to include fewer apples this week with the intention of giving you extra apples as the season progresses.
Hopefully the apples we have included will stimulate both your taste buds and your culinary skills. Wealthy is an old favorite whose fans would argue that, when ripe, it makes as good a pie as Duchess. St. Lawrence is the one apple that everyone can identify – its beautiful red stripes over a green base make it as striking as a carnival tent. Our apprentice, Laura, claims it is her favorite fresh-eating apple because it is “not too crisp”. She loves the texture, the citrusy flavor and the thrill of biting into something so visually magnificent. The last member of the apple trio this week hails from Wisconsin, which must have been the “northwest” when the apple was discovered in 1849. Despite what you might think given its name, Northwestern Greening is not purple and white (any Northwestern Huskies out there?); this mostly green apple holds its shape well when cooked and adds a subtle sweetness to the dish. All these apples will keep a little longer than the ones you received in the first share, but don’t wait too long to eat them.
Our apples come to you straight from the tree, so, as with all fresh produce, please be sure to wash them thoroughly before eating. Unless otherwise specified, the apples are grown using Integrated Pest Management by the orchards we collaborate with throughout Maine.
On The Origin of [Domesticated] Species by Means of [Human] Selection, or the Preservation of Favored [Cultivars] in the Struggle for [Fruitful] Life
Charles Darwin John Paul Rietz
When you venture past Red Delicious and Fuji and enter the world of heirloom apples, you are introduced to a wealth of flavors, textures, and culinary opportunities that perhaps you never knew you were missing. At the same time, you step back in time and learn about America’s history in a way you may never have before. But what if you took a step WAY back in time, to see where and how apples originated—where would that take you? This week, we’re going to take that journey, and explore how the modern apple, Malus domestica came to be. Just be warned that this history is extremely condensed, and therefore it may read a little fast-paced.
Most scholars agree that the ancestry of M. domestica can be traced back to the forests of the Tian Shan mountain range, in Central Asia. One species in particular, Malus sieversii, is credited with being the wild relative of the domesticated apple. M. sieversii grows abundantly in the wild fruit forests of Kazakhstan, producing an incredible diversity of shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes—amounting to 56 distinct forms, to be exact. Although these are all considered “wild” forms, it is evident that a number of them have undergone some level of human selection at some point in the past. Naturally, as soon as humans began to occupy the forests of this region ~5,000-8,000 years ago, the process of selection began with the favoring of some flavors, textures, and characteristics over others.
With the dawn of the Bronze Age and the Silk Road trade routes, the progeny of M. sieversii spread far and wide throughout Asia and Europe, which led to widespread hybridization with the native (wild) crabapples of other regions: M. baccata in Siberia, M. orientalis in the Caucasus, and M. sylvestris in Europe. Scholars suspect that the technique of grafting was discovered in Mesopotamia, so with the plant material and the technology necessary to reproduce favored varieties, the culture of apples passed through the Persians and Greeks to the Romans. It was the Romans who first documented evidence of their domesticated (grafted) orcharding endeavors, as well as their use of “fruit houses” (similar to root cellars) where they stored apples during winter months. Before long, the practice of growing cultivated, sweet varieties spread all across Europe (mostly by way of the Roman Empire), though cider-making from native crabapples in the region had begun much earlier.
Now we will begin to narrow our focus and trace the lineage of the American heirlooms that we know and love. It is thought that domesticated varieties did not become popular in England until around 1066 CE, when the Norman Conquest brought the country into closer contact with mainland Europe and its preference for sweet cultivars. Soon thereafter, a series of events—beginning in the 13th Century—devastated English apple culture: first the Black Death, then the War of the Roses, and repeated droughts. Fortunately, Henry VIII helped to revive the culture of apples by initiating the kingdom’s first large-scale orchards in the island’s southeast region.
By the 1600’s, the apple had become such an integral part of life that the Colonists traveling to the New World were compelled to bring apple seeds and potted (grafted) trees. Some of their favorite English varieties survived in the unfamiliar environment, but the most successful trees were those grown from seeds sown in the “new” soil. Because apples do not come true to type when propagated from seed, many of these early American apples were unsuitable for fresh eating or cooking, so instead they were pressed and fermented into hard cider, which became Colonial America’s drink of choice. Among the many thousands of apple trees grown from seed on settlements, a few—by chance alone—bore fruit with remarkable fresh-eating and culinary qualities. When Colonists noticed such promising seedlings, they would begin to propagate them through grafting, and thus the development of the first American heirloom varieties had begun!
That concludes our severely abridged history of the domesticated apple; we hope this whets your appetite for more apple lore to come in future OOAL newsletters.
Seen recently in an unidentified corner market stall were several extremely hard-to-find apple varieties for sale in THE Big Apple. The aptly-named Red Apple and Green Apple have really got us scratching our heads. We thought we knew apples; how have we not heard of these before? They appear to be new, ultra-modern varieties, with brilliantly understated elegance that is attractive to the young and hip as well as the bargain shopper. However, most exciting about this discovery is the Mctose Apple, for which we’ve been searching for years! John Bunker is thrilled to have finally found it and is currently busy uncovering the long, tangled history of this forgotten gem. Those NYC folks sure are lucky to have access to these elusive fruits (though one would think they’d command a higher price, being so uncommon and all)! Needless to say, we’ll be grafting all of our trees over to these exciting varieties so we can offer them to the CSA in the future!
Out on a Limb Crew Member Spotlight
Each year new apprentices arrive at Super Chilly Farm to learn not only about apples but also about gardening, carpentry, chickens, and everything else that we work on throughout the seasons. In addition to knowing more about what you’re eating and how it was grown, we think it’s important to learn the faces and stories behind the people who help bring it to you. So who’s packing these bags, anyway?
This season at Super Chilly seemed to fly by! Experiencing a wide variety of new homesteading skills–gardening, carpentry, wood working, and food preservation–at the farm has giving me the confidence to try out my own solo homesteading venture next season! I’m grateful for my learning time here and look forward to launching my homesteading life in the near future!
(The rest of the crew would like to add that Jenny is an incredible old time fiddle player. You may even have unknowingly heard her jamming with various musicians during the Common Ground Fair!)
Some Wealthys are humongous this year.
Fresh From the Palermo Test Kitchen
by Cammy Watts
Roasted Fennel with Green (or Red) Apples
I have been waiting to try this recipe until we had a green apple in the CSA share. As I grabbed the Northwestern Greening to take to the kitchen, a lonely Wealthy that had been left on the packing table caught my eye so I brought it along too. One thing led to another, and we ended up with two dishes of Roasted Fennel with Apple. A lot of “mmmm’s” issued from the tasting crew, but as fate will have it, the red-skinned Wealthy with its richer, zesty flavor carried the day. This easy dish will make your house smell great and please your dinner guests. Jenny thought the dish was good enough for either the dinner or the dessert course.
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs (1.5 lbs)
1 medium onion – sliced thin
1 large apple – cored and sliced thin (leave the skin on if you use a red apple)
salt and pepper to taste
2.5 TBS olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Remove the outer layers of the fennel bulb, and discard. Slice the bulb in half or quarters if it is large. Cut cross-wise into ¼-inch slices.
- Add the sliced fennel, onion and apple to a baking tray with sides or a casserole or baking dish. Add the salt, pepper and olive oil, and toss the ingredients together.
- Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the fennel is tender. Stir after 15 minutes.
- Serve right away.
Kay Hollabaugh’s Apple Nut Cake
Armed with some new cookbooks purchased at the fair, we decided to try an apple cake recipe for dessert recently. This one is from the Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier, who obtained the recipe from an orcharding family in Pennsylvania. We used Northwestern Greenings, which remain pleasantly sweet and hold their shape quite nicely. Though, in lieu of the sugary topping called for, of course we drizzled apple molasses on top!
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 medium apples, cored and diced
1 cup chopped nuts
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil or spray a 9×13″ baking dish.
- Mix sugar, oil, and eggs in a large bowl; beat well.
- Add flour, baking soda, salt, apples, nuts, and vanilla and beat until just combined thoroughly.
- Scrape batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 1 hour.
- To make the topping, boil together the brown sugar, butter, and milk for 2 1/2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Remove the cake from the oven, and immediately poke the times of a fork down through the cake (about 15 jabs all around the cake), and pour the topping over the hot cake. Serve warm or let cool. 8-12 servings.
That’s it for this week. Any questions, comments, suggestions: email@example.com