Heirloom Apple Alert – The Season is ON!
I don’t usually get around to issuing one of these alerts until the other end of the season, when it’s more like “last chance” than “get ready.” Two reasons:
1. My interest in apples is very small when there’s still a chance that a peach might be found. (I don’t want to hear about broccoli while there are still tomatoes, either).
2. Although some of the most famous and best loved heirlooms are early ripeners like Yellow Transparent and Chenango Strawberry, they aren’t, as a group, my favorites. Too sweet and too soft.
But this year I’m on the bandwagon right near the start of the parade, because the first batch from my heirloom apple CSA has arrived, and – are we surprised? Well, yes, mildly – a couple of them are delicious.
The CSA, called Out on a Limb, is one of a comparatively new breed that’s as much educational as commercial. Rather than originating from a single orchard, it comes from the fertile mind and extensive network of grower/explorer John Bunker, a man who has made a life work of identifying, celebrating and sharing Maine’s vast assortment of heirloom apples. (His wonderful book on the subject, Not Far From the Tree, is out of stock at retailers but available through the CSA)
What OOAL has promised:
A) There will be five deliveries, one every other week, each consisting of about 10-12 pounds of assorted apples.
B) All told, there will be “20 or more varieties of rare and highly flavored apples with a wide range of uses, appearances, histories and flavors.”
C) The varieties will be described and a few recipes provided in a bi-weekly newsletter, published on the CSA site.
After that, surprise time, and if the first delivery – eight varieties! – is any indication, there are going to be a lot more than 20 surprises.
Or not. At least at first tasting, most of this initial batch is what might be called “early as usual.” They have different flavors but are united in being uninteresting for fresh eating. The newsletter puts a lot of emphasis on applesauce, and roasted applesauce is indeed where most of mine are headed (please see note 2 in the update below).
Only exceptions are the not-very-russeted Early Russet, which I happily ate in its entirety, and the thin-skinned little Whitneys, which have the requisite apple snap and plenty of juice to carry a flavor that tastes almost pre-spiced. Only a very deep love for my husband leads me to even think about sharing.
Faithful readers may notice I’ve not said anything kind about the Gravensteins, which I have glowingly praised in the past. Unfortunately, this group isn’t worth praising, a good reminder that fresh fruit, like all produce, varies from grower to grower and year to year.
Could be that my regular supplier (Schoolhouse Farm, in Warren, Maine) grows a better sub-variety; there are a lot of apples that go by the name of Gravenstein. Could be that these were harvested a while ago (Gravensteins don’t keep). Could be the weather.* Or of course some combination.
I picked up my CSA share the day before I left Maine for 10 days in the Hudson Valley and didn’t have time to get some Schoolhouse fruit for comparison. So I’ve been looking for Gravensteins down here. Thus far no luck. But I did find a stand selling Rhode Island Greenings, which anyone who bakes will know is very good fortune indeed.
The recipe is here
The recipe is here.
* For many Maine growers, this has been a year from hell. In an increasingly common pattern, there was a long warm spell in early spring, followed by heavy frost. Flower buds opened, only to be killed en masse. Then there was a long summer drought, just when what little fruit remained was needing water to develop well.
Some orchards, like Sewall’s, in Lincolnville, suffered complete crop failure, while others, like Mainely Apples, in Dixmont, were completely spared. Averaged out, it’s looking as though Maine’s total will be down from last year’s by about 30 percent. For more, check out this recent story in the Bangor Daily News.
1. I seem to have neglected to mention Cammy Watts, John’s wife and partner in the farm. Given how hard she works and how much she contributes I’m feeling quite red in the face.
2. Cooking the first batch of apples helped a LOT. Big reminder that heat changes the flavor of fruit (and that even sweet fruit is sometimes improved by sugar)