Newsletter No. 1

Welcome to the 2012 Out on a Limb Heritage Apple CSA!

We are excited to have so many returning shareholders and over 100 new members as well.  We appreciate your willingness to “go out on a limb” and try some apple varieties that are rarely seen amidst the sea of Fujis, Macs and Granny Smiths.  We think you will be surprised by Maine’s rich apple heritage, and hope you'll enjoy this apple adventure.

First things first, let's introduce you to the new members of our Out on a Limb crew.  We are especially delighted to have the MacPhee/Wesh family with us.  Daniel, Corinne, Bennett (5) and Annah (1) moved into our old house last spring, and they have contributed their ideas, energies, humor and good grace to our farm all this season.  They have been wonderful farm partners in all our endeavors, including the Out on a Limb CSA.  The most recent additions to our crew are Abbey Verrier and Jill Piekut (what a perfect last name!), two College of the Atlantic students whom John met when he toured English cideries with them last December.  They arrived just in time to help with the first CSA picking and will be with us for the next 10 weeks.  Last, but not least, we are totally thrilled to have our middle daughter, Phoebe, on the crew as well.  As we write this, she is making her fourth pie of the afternoon, so stay tuned for the results of her culinary adventures.

This is our first year delivering to Freedom, Belfast, Waterville and Mount Desert Island, and it makes us happy to be able to spread the word about heirloom apples across the state.  This would not be possible without the support of our wonderful partner sites: Village Farm in Freedom, Beech Hill Farm on MDI, and Barrels Community Market in Waterville.  We also have two new pickup locations in Portland as well: the Portland Food Co-op and Foodworks.  Thanks to all our partners for hosting our apple shares.  They are hosting because they believe in what we are doing and because they love apples too--so please give them your thanks and your business (and pick up your apples on time).

The 2012 season has been a tough one for apple trees.  Whether it was the warm winter, late frost or the stupendous 2011 apple season, many trees have no fruit at all this year.  In spite of that we are confident that we can supply you with enough unusual apples to wake up your taste buds and enliven your favorite recipes.  As always, we want to hear what you think about the apples and how you use them.  Share your comments on the blog or email us at <csa.outonalimb@gmail.com>.

Happy eating!

- Cammy and John

This week's apples, awaiting packing

This week's picks:

Charette Unknown parentage (maybe Alexander?). For such a large apple, Charette is surprisingly good for fresh eating.  Can you detect the taste of banana?  We think Charette is a much better dessert fruit than other huge apples, such as Wolf River.  It cooks up into a light pink sauce; the banana hints disappear, and other spicy flavors show up.  No need to add sugar or peel the apples since the skins chew up easily.  We like them sliced and lightly sautéed in butter, although they lose their shape if cooked too long.  The only known mature tree is on Charette Hill in Fort Kent, ME. The massive tree, thought to be about 200 years old, is still producing large crops.  The blossom end of each fruit is sometimes sunken in toward the stem, so much so that when sliced perpendicular to the core, the slices sometimes look like donuts, hence the alternate name, Donut Apple. Thought to have been brought south into Maine by French missionaries.

Duchess of Oldenburg Originated in Russia, 17th c. In 1835 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society imported the first of many apple varieties from Russia. These were Alexander, Tetofsky, Red Astrichan and Duchess of Oldenburg. Duchess was planted extensively wherever growers needed varieties with extreme cold hardiness, and it is still popular today in most of northern New England, especially Aroostook County. Highly esteemed for all sorts of cooking, Duchess is an excellent pie apple. It makes a zesty pie, and it cooks up quickly into thick, creamy, delicious sauce.

Early Russet This unnamed russet apple is from the Sandy River Orchard where it ripens quite a bit earlier than the other russets.  Russets tend to be a confusing group of apples, and we don’t know anything about this one’s parentage or origin.  We will be attempting to identify the variety this fall. We recommend this russet for fresh eating. Sliced and sautéed slowly in butter, it retains it shape, browns up nicely and develops more complex flavors.  Some of the tasters in our Palermo Test Kitchen voted it the best sauce of the week for it’s balance of sweet and tart and the integrity of the apples which don’t turn entirely to mush.

Gravenstein Uncertain origin, 17th century or earlier. The most famous of all pie apples, also good for dessert and sauce. There are numerous strains including this deep purple-red strain found in old orchards in southern Maine.  No one knows the origin of the apple.  Although most experts say Italy or Germany, it is possible that the apple comes from Russia.  Interestingly, Gravenstein was brought to North America from two directions.  Europeans brought it to Canada and Maine, while Russians brought it to the West Coast.  It is still grown commercially in both Nova Scotia and California.  Old trees can still be found here and there in Maine, especially in mid-coast and southern districts.

Hazen Introduced by North Dakota State University in1980. Parents are Duchess and Starking Delicious. Hazen is pleasant for eating and good for cooking. You may be able to detect the influence of its Delicious parentage in the texture.  Keep them cold, and eat them up soon because they won’t keep for more than a few days.  Hazen makes a beautiful pink applesauce that is sweet in flavor.  We like it mixed with Wealthy to add some zip.  Hazen is a natural semi-dwarf tree that grows no more than 10' tall. It begins fruiting quite young, often by the third year.

Milton Milton is a cross between the old Russian summer apple Yellow Transparent and McIntosh that was introduced by New York Station in 1923. Although mostly known as a cooking apple, we like Milton as a dessert fruit as well. Cooks up very quickly into a smooth,  yellow sauce.  The skins become soft and will almost dissolve, but those who don’t like skins in their sauce will want to peel them before cooking.  We also think that you’ll want to add spices to the sauce.  We like it in a pie, but it lacks the tartness of Wealthy and Duchess. The crust holds up although the apples do become saucy.

Wealthy Cherry crab seedling. Excelsior, MN, 1868. One of the most famous of the hardy all-purpose varieties, Wealthy is also considered to be a standout among pie apples.  If you want to try a single-variety crisp or pie this week, try one with Wealthy.  At peak ripeness, the flavor is more sweet than tart, and the texture is soft without being mushy.  Just before it’s ripe, the pie flavor tends to be slightly tart.   Wealthy makes a tart, creamy sauce.  It’s also a good acid source for fermented cider. Our old friend, long-time orchardist, 96-year-old Francis Fenton of Sandy River Orchards, believes Wealthy—not McIntosh—should be the favorite commercial apple of northern New England. The trees his father planted in Mercer 105 years ago are still going strong.

Reportedly, Peter Gideon planted the seed that grew into the Wealthy apple by divine inspiration. As his Lake Minnetonka nursery neared failure, a voice from the prairie spoke to him, suggesting that he order seed from a specific address in Bangor, Maine. In return for Gideon’s last 8 dollars, Albert Emerson of Bangor sent seeds of the Cherry Crab. These seeds grew into a tree that produced the Wealthy apple that saved Gideon’s business.  Actually we don't know if the apple made him rich; Wealthy was his wife's maiden name, and he named the apple after her.

Whitney Introduced by A.E. Whitney of Franklin Grove, Illinois in 1869. The Whitney is considered to be a crabapple, which is simply an apple under 2" in diameter.  While all crabs are edible, some are not very palatable; but we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Whitney.  We consider it to be a tasty fresh eating apple and think you’ll be wasting a real treat if you cook them. One year at Common Ground Fair, Whitney beat out Cox Orange Pippin and Chestnut in our taste test. Some say Whitney is excellent for pickling so we have pickled a few jars that won’t be ready till Thanksgiving. In the meantime we are eating as many fresh as we can.

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.

What are those spots on my apples?!

The apples you receive from OOAL CSA will probably never be as “perfect” as the ones you can buy in the grocery store.  (Of course, we think that they are all perfect in their own way.)  So, what are those various spots and blemishes that you’ll see from time to time on the fruit?  Do they taste bad?  Are they bad for you or your family?

Round blackish spots about the size of a small thumb tack are probably “scab”.  Scab is the most common fungal defect found on apples in Maine.  In extreme cases, it can completely cover the fruit, making it inedible, and it can even defoliate a tree.  The most susceptible variety to scab is McIntosh.  Most of the heirlooms and other varieties we provide are resistant to scab.   While you may find a small scab spot here and there, it won’t negatively affect the fruit.

Sometimes you might see a light tan bump on the skin.  Usually these are bug bites that have healed over.   Cut them out if you like, but they rarely damage the fruit or cause any off-taste.

Tiny black dots in clusters of a dozen or so are called “fly speck”.  They usually show up in conjunction with a smoky film called “sooty blotch”.  Both are fungal defects.  Neither is harmful in any way, nor do they have any taste.

None of these dings or spots or blemishes is bad for you or your family.  Feel free to cut them out - or leave them!

Apple History: The Origin of the Apple

by Jill Piekut This season, we’ll follow the apple through America’s history and answer more common apple questions.  Up this week: where did it all begin?

One of the most consistently surprising facts presented in John’s frequent talks is that the apple—long accepted as a resident of teachers’ desks and harvest celebrations—is a non-native species. It is guessed that the common apple, Malus domestica, originated 2000 miles northwest of the Garden of Eden, where a wild apple forest still grows in the mountains of Kazakhstan.

The Romans then formed a link with the Silk Road to carry this decadent and hardy fruit to northern Europe.  By the 1700s, French, German, and British scholars wrote about the care and use of choice apple varieties—and Malus domestica traveled to the New World.

Next week, we'll explore how the apple made its across the Atlantic and onto Maine soil.

A Note from the Palermo Test Kitchen

Now that fall is here, we are cooking up a storm in our Palermo Test Kitchen.  We are experimenting with all of the apples we are picking for you, testing them to see how they fare cooked into sauces and pies, sauteed, dried and pickled.  Our hope is to offer one savory and one sweet recipe each week.  We will share the results with you in the apple descriptions, and include the recipes for the best dishes of the week.

We're picky here in the Test Kitchen.  Our recipes must be made from in-season, locally-available ingredients.  We try to avoid complicated recipes that call for many exotic ingredients.  And while we did have to purchase a new bottle of walnut oil for this week's recipe, we will try to use things already in our pantry.

With that, on to dessert!... Ever wonder what the difference is between an apple crisp and an apple brown betty?  And who amongst us really knows the difference between a slump and a pandowdy?  Well, this season we hope to unravel those mysteries, and, in the process, add some easy apple desserts to your repertoire.  For this first week, Jill created an Apple Paradise.  We agree with the name.

We used a recipe from The Joy of Cooking, 1974 edition, called “Fresh Fruit Crisp or Paradise,” which can be made with apples, peaches, rhubarb, or cherries. The Joy of Cooking suggests that this dessert may be baked in an ovenproof dish from which you can serve at the table—we agree that it looks best left in the pan.  The original recipe also states, “its success, when made with apples, depends upon their flavor.”  True.  Tart apples, like Wealthy, are perfect for balancing the brown sugar.  Try serving warm with sour cream.

Apple and Peach Paradise (adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1974) Serves 6 – 375°

Filling: 4 Wealthy apples (tart apples are best) 4 fresh peaches 2 tablespoons lemon juice Crumble: ½ cup all-purpose flour ½ cup packed brown sugar ¼ cup butter ½ tsp. salt, if butter is unsalted 1 tsp. cinnamon

Wash, core, and slice peaches and apples. Lay slices, overlapping, in a 9-inch pan, alternating between peach and apple slices, until the dish is covered. Add another layer if necessary. Splash lemon juice over fruit slices.

To make the crisp, mix the dry ingredients in a shallow bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture with two forks, a pastry blender, or with fingertips. Work until the mixture resembles a dry meal—it should not become oily. Sprinkle the crumble over the fruit. Bake at 375° for about 30 minutes.

Now let's move on the to savory side of apples!

Beet, Greens and Apple Salad with Roquefort (adapted from Apples: A Country Garden Cookbook by Christopher Idone) Serves 4. The original recipe called for a mixture of radicchio, endive and watercress as the base.  Since we don’t grow those things, we tried it with shredded savoy cabbage instead.  We found that too heavy and uninteresting.  A mixture of lighter greens, such as baby spinach, arugula, and baby beet greens got our stamp of approval. 

Cider-Walnut Dressing 2 TBS cider vinegar 4 TBS walnut oil 2 TBS olive oil 1 TBS Dijon-style mustard salt & pepper to taste

mixture of baby greens – washed and dried 4 medium beets – slices ¼” thick, roasted and then julienned 2 medium sweet - tart apples (such as Wealthy) julienned ¼ cup chopped walnuts – lightly toasted salt & pepper to taste 4 oz. Roquefort cheese

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oils and mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the roasted beets into julienne strips, and toss the beets and apples with half the dressing.  Toss the greens with the remainder of the dressing.  Arrange the greens on four individual plates.  Place the beets and apples on top of the greens.  Top with the walnuts and crumbled Roquefort cheese.

Well, that wraps it up for this time.  The next distribution is the week of September 23rd.  Until then, enjoy your apples, and let us know what you think!

-The OOAL Crew