Newsletter No. 5

It always feels like fall is over once the last apple of the season has been picked and put in the root cellar.  That moment came last weekend as we gathered the last of the crop before the arrival of Sandy.  Shortly thereafter, with the temperature tipping 70 degrees on the last day of October, we sat confused as to whether we should be hunkering down for winter or getting our shorts out.  What a crazy year this has been – snow for Halloween and Thanksgiving, eighty degrees in early March, freezing temperatures during the apple bloom, a summer drought, and a super storm in late October.  The fact that we had any fruit and vegetable crops to harvest in 2012 is a testament to the resilience of plants and the ingenuity of Maine’s small farmers. We are grateful to those farmers that partnered with us in the OOAL CSA this season to bring you a supply of unusual apples.  This year we sought out new orchards to provide us with rare varieties, and we were delighted to see that almost every one we went to had an old tree or two of something interesting.  Part of our motivation in starting the CSA was to provide a market for these unusual apples so that the orchardists would save those trees and not graft them over to more Macs or Honeycrisps.  And that is where you came in.  Your willingness to think beyond Red Delicious and to sample whatever mysteries were in the brown paper bags each week has helped to ensure that those apple trees live to produce another crop.  We applaud you for your sense of adventure, and thank you for sharing Maine’s heirloom apple bounty with us.  We hope you will join us again next season.

Cheers, John, Cammy, Corinne, Daniel, Phoebe, Abbey, Bennett & Annah

This Week's Picks

Baldwin Baldwin originated in Wilmington, MA, about 1740.  Once it got established, it quickly gained popularity and fame.  For over 100 years it was the standard all-purpose home and commercial variety throughout much of New England. The historic freeze during the winter of 1934 that killed two-thirds of the apples in New England inflicted a heavy toll on the Baldwin trees and marked the end of their popularity with commercial growers.  We still consider Baldwin one of the best all-purpose varieties. It keeps all winter.

Black Oxford Maine’s most famous apple originated in Paris, Oxford County, in about 1790.  The medium-sized, round, deep purple fruit has a blackish bloom that from a distance might make you think you’d discovered a huge plum. Very old trees can still be found in many central and southern Maine locations.  Because of its unusual light pink flowers in spring, you could plant it as an ornamental. Black Oxford is an all-purpose variety that keeps all winter and makes excellent pies and sauce.

Golden Russet Golden Russet is one of the most mixed up of all American varieties.  For well over 100 years, at least four varieties have been regularly called Golden Russet.  These include American Golden Russet (aka Bullock), English Russet (aka Poughkeepsie), Golden Russet of Western New York, and Hunt Russet. All are difficult to tell apart.  The Golden Russet included in your share is most likely English Russet, a very old American variety of uncertain origin.  Long esteemed for cider and dessert.

Idared Idared is a cross between two of the other apples you have tasted this season, Jonathan and Wagener. It was bred at the Idaho Experiment Station in 1942.  It’s hardy enough to be grown in small quantities in many commercial Maine orchards.  Idared is good for fresh eating, as well as for pies and sauce.  It will keep in the root cellar until late spring.

Northern Spy Northern Spy originated in East Bloomfield, NY, about 1800.  It is poorly colored in the shade and mostly covered with pink and light red stripes when grown in the sun. The large fruit which is tender and juicy does everything well; it is good fresh eating, makes an excellent pie (be sure to cook it long enough), keeps extremely well in common storage (even if the tender skin bruises), and is popular amongst cider makers.  Its one drawback is that the tree is slow to come into bearing.

Apple History:  The End of the Baldwin Era

by John Bunker (excerpt from Not Far From the Tree by John Bunker )

This week, we follow the Baldwin apple from its hey-day through a quick and tragic fall that ushered in the era of McIntosh and Red Delicious.

Baldwin had much to recommend it for farmers in central Maine, [but] it also had one terrible flaw: it is not very hardy. ...Although growers in the old days loved the huge crops Baldwins produced every other year, the trees were left in a weakened condition from harvest time until they recovered during the following “off season”.  This made them particularly susceptible to winter injury.

Baldwin [was] the apple of choice for commercial growers in the 1930’s, and the fall of 1933 growers saw a bumper Baldwin crop. Beginning soon after the harvest when the apple trees had not yet hardened off for winter, Maine was hit by a succession of severe cold snaps alternating with periods of unusual warmth.  Record low temperatures were recorded as early as mid-November. It was a brutal winter for the entire eastern seaboard.

Temperatures in central Maine during the last three days of December, 1933 dipped to –28 on the 28th, -20 on the 29th, and –40 on the 30th. ... On January 22nd the temperature in Winslow was –33.  Twenty-four hours later it was +44, a rise of 77 degrees. From January 27th to the 28th the temperature dropped 50 degrees in 24 hours.  On the 29th it dropped 50 degrees in 12 hours.

February was [also] extremely frigid, averaging +18, the coldest month on record. ... On Saturday, February 10th the Kennebec Journal wrote that, "all bays and inlets for a distance of forty miles westward from Jonesport to Winter Harbor are frozen in a solid stretch of ice."

...On March 23rd [1934], the Kennebec Journal reported that the state was organizing a cooperative tree order or "tree pool" for orchardists in the state, "possessing information indicating that all Baldwin apple trees in Maine which bore fruit last year either died or were very seriously injured by the severity of the past winter…" The two varieties offered in the state pool were Roger Mac (McIntosh) and Richard Delicious (Red Delicious).

By spring over a million of Maine’s apple trees, nearly two thirds of  those in the state, were dead.  In 1930 there had been 1,791,000 bearing trees in Maine.  Ten years later in 1940, there were only 550,000.  Millions of apple trees also died in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.... Although trees of many varieties succumbed, Baldwins were the hardest hit.

No one will ever know why any Baldwins made it through the winter alive....  The few survivors were likely in their ‘off’ year, spared the added stress of a heavy crop.  In any event, 1934 marked the end of Baldwin cultivation in New England.  Since then, Baldwin has remained a revered memory for some, a novelty heirloom for others.

To learn the fate of other heritage apple varieties in Maine, and for more interesting anecdotes about apple history, check out John’s book, “Not Far From the Trees,”  available through the CSA.

From the Palermo Test Kitchen

This week, Cammy brings you a few recipes from a recent apple collecting jaunt she and John took through New England!  

This past weekend John and I took an apple-collecting trip across northern New England.  On Saturday we spent the afternoon picking cider apples and sampling a few of the Farnum Hill hard ciders at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, NH. 

That night we visited our friends, Jude Tharinger and Dan Breslaw, in their beautiful mountaintop home in Vermont.  Their daughter, Cassie, who was our apprentice the first year of the OOAL CSA, was there as well so we spent the evening talking about (what else?) apples.  Jude had prepared an almost all-apple dinner to celebrate the reunion of appleheads, and it was so delicious that I begged for the recipes to share in our newsletter.  Thanks to Jude for passing along her secrets!

Golden Beet, Fennel & Apple Soup

Ingredients 8 cups golden beets 1 large fennel bulb – peeled and chopped 2 ribs celery – peeled and chopped l large sweet apple (Tolman Sweet, Black Oxford) – cored, peeled and grated 6 TBS butter

Garnish 1/2 cup quark, softened and creamed (substitute whipped goat cheese or sour cream) 1/3 cup hazelnuts chopped, toasted, and tossed in butter while hot chopped chives or scallions

Directions 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Place beets in a pot, and cover with water. Parboil beets until al dente. Remove beets, peel, and chop. Don’t throw the water away. 3. Turn off heat under the beet water, and place fennel and celery in water to soften to al dente. Remove.  Save the water. 4. Brown 4 TBS butter, mix with vegetables, and spread them on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Roast in the oven till very soft, mixing occasionally, about 30 – 45 minutes. Vegetables can brown, but do not let them get crisp. 5. Add the roasted vegetables back into the beet cooking water, and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add more water as needed to make a medium thick soup. These steps can be done a day ahead, and the soup refrigerated. 6. Before serving, add remaining 2 TBS of browned butter. Peel the apple, and grate into soup using a fine grater. Heat the soup till hot, and serve garnished with a dollop of quark, a sprinkle of hazelnuts, and a few bits of chive or green scallion.

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Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust

To accompany her Golden Beet, Fennel and Apple Soup, Jude prepared Amy Traverso's Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust .  The aroma of this dish is enough to make people sit down at the table to wait for it to come out of the oven.  It looked so beautiful and smelled so delectable, that even I, a vegetarian for over 40 years, was tempted to dive in.  Instead I satisfied my longing with a piece of the top crust, snagged off of John’s plate, and that was heaven enough.  It was, without a doubt, the most amazing crust I have tasted; when you read the list of ingredients, you will see why.  Try it with Baldwin, Black Oxford or Golden Russet apples.

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Free-Form Apple-Pear-Cranberry Tart

Later in the week, we made two of Amy Traverso's Free-Form Apple-Pear-Cranberry Tarts, side by side, with two different apples (and no pears).  After lots of debate about taste, firmness and “mouthfeel”, we decided you probably can’t go wrong making this with either Northern Spy or Baldwin -- or maybe even a mix (guess we’ll have to make another)! The Spy slices retained their shape better than the Baldwin which got softer with cooking.  The Baldwin devotees favored the more blended flavors of the apples and the spices.  No matter whether you make one, two or three of them, don’t expect a lot of leftovers.  No ice cream needed!

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As you may have noticed from the many recipes in our newsletters or the dogeared copy of The Apple Lover's Cookbook that spends apple season on our kitchen counter, we huge fans of Amy Traverso and her apple-filled recipes!  You can check out her website here.

To wrap up our series on odd-sounding apple desserts, we chose to explore "steamed pudding” this week.

Cammy has recollections of  the chocolate and vanilla “pudding” her mother made when she was young, but nothing with apples in it.  On the other hand, “steamed” reminds her of the brown bread her grandmother baked in a tin can and served with baked beans on Saturday nights. 

Lucky for all of us, “The Joy of Cooking” came to the rescue and solved our steamed pudding muddle.  This dish is more cake, than pudding, but steamed on the stovetop -- though don’t let that deter you!  It is not as hard as it sounds, and the results will be gobbled up before the steam in your kitchen dissipates.

Steamed Apple Molasses Pudding

Ingredients ¼ cup butter ½ cup packed brown sugar 1 egg ½ cup molasses 1 TBS orange zest 11/2 cups sifted flour ½ tsp baking soda 1 tsp baking powder 1tsp ginger 1 tsp cinnamon ½ cup buttermilk or plain yogurt 1 cup firm apples (Northern Spy, Golden Russet) – cored and chopped

Directions Cream butter and brown sugar till fluffy.  Beat in egg, molasses and orange zest.  Sift flour, measure, and resift with the rest of the dry ingredients.  Add these to the butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk/yogurt.  Stir in chopped apples.

Grease a bundt pan, and add the batter. The pan should be no more than 2/3 full. Cover tightly with foil.  Put a trivet or other rack on the bottom of a large pot, and add an inch of water.  Canning jar lids will work if you don’t have a trivet.  Place bundt pan on the trivet, and cover the pot with a lid.  Bring the water to a boil, and reduce heat a bit once steam starts to escape.   Steam for 11/2 hours.  Remove the bundt pan from the pot, take off the foil and let the steamed pudding cool slightly before unmolding.

Serve with plain or vanilla yogurt.

Well, there you have it, the end of our final newsletter for the season.  Please keep in touch and keep sharing all your wonderful apple recipes and anecdotes--they keep us warm as the mercury dips and our thoughts shift toward winter pruning and next season's bounty.

--The OOAL Crew