It’s round two of the CSA and we’re getting in the swing of things: figuring out how much time to allow ourselves to both pick the apples AND chat with the orchardists, how best to load 14 bushels into the truck with minimal bruising of fruit, how many pies one can make (and eat) in a week… And now that fall is really truly here (well, autumn equinox is tomorrow, but that crisp air is already here) things are just gearing up for the apple season! Hope you are enjoying this week’s pomological cast of characters, and here’s the scoop in e-form:
Out on a Limb Apple CSA Newsletter
Wednesday, September 16th
We are focusing on some of the best of the early fall apples in this second delivery. Chestnut is a small apple, usually thought of as a crab apple. (Generally a crab apple is defined as an apple of 2″ diameter or less.) Chestnut is one of the absolute best of the early season fresh eating apples. Don’t be deceived by the size—one bite should tell all! Red Gravenstein is a redder “sport” of Gravenstein, which is often thought of as the best pie apple there is. Wealthy is the second great pie apple of the Gravenstein season, and some people prefer it to Gravenstein. St Lawrence is one of the best of the sauce apples. Winekist will be a big surprise when you slice it, wait to do so until your friends or family are gathered around. Enjoy!
Late Summer. Uncertain Italian or German origin, 17th century or earlier. The most famous of all pie apples. There are numerous strains of Gravenstein; this mostly deep solid purple-red strain can be found in old orchards in southern Maine. Mary Jones used this Red Gravenstein from Sweetser’s Orchard in Cumberland to win the Maine State Pie Championship a few years ago. She told me it’s “sweet but very hard to describe…real nice…full-bodied…wonderful flavor.” Ripens earlier than most cooking apples, over the course of several weeks so you don’t have to deal with them all at once, but they don’t keep well. It’s a minor miracle that Mary “somehow saved them until January for the State Championship.” See more on Gravenstein in John’s variety profile below! Best grown in zones 4-8.
Early fall. Thought to be a Fameuse seedling from Canada, 19th century or possibly much earlier. Recommended early all purpose variety for colder districts. Medium-sized roundish fruit. Always easily recognized for its light green skin, very distinctly striped with dark red—once you see this apple you’ll never forget it. Tender mildly tart flesh easily cooks down to a tasty sauce. This apple has some scattered commercial popularity in northern districts, and is very hardy. Like most other early season varieties, it is not a storage apple. Best grown in zones 3-5.
Early Fall. MN 240 (Malinda x open-pollinated) U Minn, 1946. A lot of people love this apple. Small golf-ball-sized fruit with truly excellent fresh eating qualities. Yellow and bronze-red skin with some russeting. Firm crisp juicy fine-grained very sweet yellowish flesh. The apple version of “Sun Gold” tomatoes. For a growing number of people in central Maine, mid-late September is Chestnut apple time. Every year we put out a bushel a day at Fedco’s booth at the Common Ground Fair and watch them disappear. Neophytes often look at the fruit with disdain. Most however take one bite and their frowns turn to smiles. (For some, despite its crispness and depth of flavor, it is too sweet.) Chestnut needs no sugar to make a sweet and subtle sauce. Not a great keeper, but can be stored for a month or so. Grows best is zones 3-5.
Fall. Cherry crab seedling. Excelsior, MN, 1860. A Maine native of sorts, the seed having come from Bangor. Superb all-purpose fall apple, one of the most famous of all hardy varieties. With its perfect texture and complex flavors, Wealthy is considered to be one of the best apples. I agree. Our old friend, long-time orchardist Francis Fenton, believes Wealthy—not McIntosh—deserves to be the favorite commercial apple of northern New England. The trees his father planted in Mercer 104 years ago are still going strong. Round-oblate medium-sized fruit is pale greenish-yellow streaked with carmine. Tender very juicy sweet tart flesh is white, often stained red, about as firm as McIntosh. When very ripe they have a rich—almost spicy flavor. Good eating and even better cooking. Wonderful pies! Good acid source for fermented cider. Ripens over a long period. Best grown in zones 3-4.
Late Summer. Unknown parentage. Winthrop, ME, 20th c. Medium-sized red-fleshed apple with quite good—though tart—flavor. Cassie thinks it tastes like cranberries. Fruit is medium-sized and wine-red with areas and stripes of darker red and very small white dots; the overall effect is dark red. Very juicy coarse flesh is almost solid beet-red: a real eye popper! Many people love it for fresh eating, and it is also a great addition to cider or sauce. Though we only had one knobbly speciman to give each of you, picked from the tree by John’s front door, we thought you would want the chance to taste this rare apple, which unfortunately is not commercially available (though we hope to change that!) Winekist is one of three varieties introduced by the late Morris Towle who lived and collected rare apples in and around Winthrop ME during the middle of the 20th century. (The other two varieties were named for his daughter: one is called Sweet Sal and the other, Sour Sal!) Though not open to the public, much of his collection still exists in Winthrop. Best grown in zones 4-7.
Featured Variety Profile: Gravenstein
c. By John Bunker
Gravenstein is one of the very oldest varieties still existant. It is of uncertain Italian or German origin. It may be an ancient Italian variety called Ville Blanc that was brought to the castle of Graafsten in Slesvig, Germany (now South Jutland, Denmark) in the late 16th century. It may have originated in the garden of the Duke of Augustinberg at the castle of Grafenstein in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (Just south of modern Denmark). It may be a German apple once known as Grevans apfel (Earls apple). It may also be a Russian import.
Gravenstein was probably first brought to the eastern US from Europe in about 1826, and to California by the Russians in about 1820. Considered the “King of Apples” in northern Germany as early as 1788, and still common throughout Germany, Sweden and Denmark. It is the leading commercial variety in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, and is grown commercially in western Washington, Oregon and in California’s Sonoma County where there is even a Gravenstein Highway and an annual Gravenstein festival in August. Still found in Maine dooryards and orchards, it was once grown extensively throughout most of Maine, as far north as southern Aroostook County. By 1880 it was the most popular apple of its season in Maine.
Gravenstein is probably the most famous of all summer apples and deservedly so. Medium to large fruit, irregularly round, asymetrical, usually ribbed. Described by A J Downing in his famous 19th c Fruits and Fruit Trees of America as, “beautifully dashed and pencilled and marbled with light and deep red and orange. Thin, tender skin and tender, crisp, aromatic, juicy firm flesh. Outstanding eating and cooking.” Edward Bunyard in The Anatomy of Dessert says, “Of Gravenstein it is hard to speak in mere prose, so distinct in flavour is it, so full of juice and scented with the very attar of apple.”
Good friend and fellow apple grower Phil Norris of Blue Hill wrote to me: “My first introduction to Gravenstein applesauce was by an older woman, Gladys Gould of Blue Hill, Maine, who had an even older Gravenstein tree in her yard. “Sit down and try this applesauce,” she said. “It’ll be the best applesauce you’ve ever eaten.” She was right. When I brought some home to my wife she agreed. Gladys said that adding spices or sugar was optional but that you must never add water to Gravenstein applesauce. Just let it cook down slowly in its own juices.” Gravenstein “makes a light, smooth special flavored great tasting cider,” according to long time Gravenstein-champion, the late mid-westerner and apple growing friend, Art Hontz. For many years I would receive an annual Christmas card from Art with a different Gravenstein photo featured each year.
It is a large vigorous productive tree with a nearly perfect wide-angle branching habit that requires practically no training. It bears young, and reliably and ripens over several weeks. There’s an old saying told to me by Nelson Wright of Belfast that, “The Gravensteins were usually gone before the Macs came in.” It is considered hardier than Baldwin, but still too tender for the coldest areas. It has intense white flowers. It is also “Triploid” (3 sets of chromosomes 3 x17 =51) which means that it will not pollinate other varieties. There are numerous synonyms for Gravenstein, including Blumen-Calvill, Diel’s Sommerkonig, Early Congress, Paradies Adfel, Ripp Apfel and even Tom Harryman! There are also many redder strains of Gravenstein, selected and then grafted over the centuries. These red strains generally have the same eating and cooking qualities as the original, but are supposedly more pleasing to the eye.
Pie Recipe #2, Green Chili Apple Pie:
I will admit that I am a solid traditionalist when it comes to apple pie, and was more than a little skeptical of this recipe when John showed it to me—a recipe that a friend from New Mexico had excitedly given to his wife, Cammy. I decided to be open minded however, and baked one this week—and well…let’s just say I’m including it here for all of you to be converted as well. The mild bite of the chilis set off the sweet-tart apples beautifully, and since I decided to make it with a cheddar cheese crust, the pie was transformed into a delicate sweet & savory pas de deux, giving me the perfect excuse to eat a large slice of it for lunch today! The recipe simply called for “mild green chilis,” I used two Poblanos and four Anaheims, which I thought gave it just the right amount of heat, but you could use whatever you have in your garden or is available—just don’t use bell peppers, or anything too too hot!
~Make your favorite piecrust. If you’d like to make a cheddar cheese crust (which I heartily recommend,) omit 2 tablespoons of butter or shortening and add in 6 oz grated cheddar cheese.
~Roast, Peel, Seed and Chop 6 mild green chilis. (Roast in a pan on the stovetop or under the broiler until almost charred, flipping to get both sides, then let sit in a covered bowl for a few minutes. The steam will make it easy it to slip the skins right off)
~Core and slice 8 apples. Combine with the chopped chilis and:
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
~Assemble Pie and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 375 and back for 30-40 minutes more, until crust is golden
brown and juices are bubbling. (I made this pie with a lattice crust, which lets some of the juice evaporate and the fruit brown
a bit on top, which seemed to enhance the roasted flavor of the chilis.)
Grower Profile: The Sweetsers
Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard is run by our good freinds Connie and Dick Sweetser and their son Greg. It’s been in the Sweetser family since 1812, with the first apple trees being planted in about 1840. They currently offer 39 different varieties uncluding one extremely rare old Maine apple called Rolfe. It was through Connie and Dick that I first discoved Rolfe. It is currently one of the 16 Maine apples featured on the 2009 Common Ground Fair Poster. Sweetser’s is easy to find and close to Portland, located just off Rte 9 at 19 Blanchard Rd, in Cumberland Center. Their farm stand is open from 10 AM – 6 PM and also features maple syrup, vinegar, dry beans and other farm products. -John
“Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”