If you haven't visited visited our Calendar of Events page lately, we encourage you to check it out, because OOAL's John Bunker is scheduled to speak soon in Belfast, Ellsworth, and Portland. Of special note is Apple Day, a daylong apple festival on Saturday, October 11th at the Woodlawn Museum in Ellsworth. If you missed Claude Jolicoeur at the Common Ground Fair, find him at this event to learn about making hard cider. Also, Seed Savers Exchange orchard manager Dan Bussey will be joining John Bunker to give a talk titled "American Heirloom Apples: A Lost Treasure."
This week's picks:
Although the apples are still taking their time ripening up, the seeds of a few varieties are finally turning dark, and the flesh is getting soft enough to bite into without chipping a tooth.
This week the apple colors, flavors and sizes in your share are all over the spectrum. On the small side is the apple you're most likely to be familiar with, Macoun, although chances are you have no idea how to pronounce its name. Don't even think about cooking this apple - just slip them into your lunch box, pocket or backpack so you will have one within reach whenever you need an apple fix.
Tipping the scale on the beefy end is Twenty Ounce. Hard to believe that these softball-sized fruits are actually smaller than usual this year. Although Twenty Ounce just calls out to be used for a baked apple - BEWARE. We tried using it in a baked apple recipe we found in Rowan Jacobson's new book, and we had a disastrous apple blow out before the cooking time was half up. Those delicate skins just don't hold up to heat. But slice it up, and it is tart enough to make a tasty pie.
The remaining three apples will surprise you more with their taste and flamboyant colors than their sizes. The glowing Fireside and Sweet Red are two of the sweeter apples you will encounter this season. If they are too sweet for you, try mixing them with Twenty Ounce or another tart apple in sauce or a crisp. They will hold their shape longer than the tart apples and lessen the need for sugar to balance out the flavor. And wondering what that one gorgeous Milwaukee apple in your share is all about? Well there weren't many of them, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to share this apple with you for the first time. Take a moment to notice the fantastic purple skin and the blaze of russet gold around the stem. Emily is delighted that this beauty originated in her hometown. The taste of Milwaukee is tart and the skin is thick, so once you have admired it, you may want to toss it into your apple sauce pot. And finally we don't have to urge you to eat these apples right away. These three will keep long enough to add to your Thanksgiving stuffing recipe.
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.
The Birds and the Bees in the Trees at the Universities
by John Paul Rietz
Okay folks, I think it's finally time for us to have "the talk." We've skirted around this discussion long enough, and by now you're probably brimming with questions and concerns that you've hesitated to ask. Worry no more, because by the end of this discussion, you will have all the basic knowledge of breeding--apple breeding, that is. In the last newsletter, we explored the origin of apple domestication and how our beloved heirlooms came to be, so in this article, we will examine how modern commercial varieties are developed. The goal is to educate without causing you to blush (we only want blush on the fruit).
As we discussed last time, humans have been selecting for better fruit for thousands of years. The breeding and selecting work that happens these days, though, is both more intensive and extensive than even before in history. In the United States, the bulk of this work takes place at just a handful of public universities: Cornell, Purdue-Rutgers-Illinois (cooperative), and University of Minnesota. These five institutions are responsible for the development of nearly all of the more "modern" American varieties.
University of Minnesota: Honeycrisp, Fireside, Zestar!®, Sweet Sixteen, Frostbite™ (if you're wondering about the trademark, keep reading)
Cornell: Macoun, Jonagold, Cortland, Empire, Liberty
Purdue-Rutgers-Illinois: Prima, GoldRush, Enterprise, Priscilla, William's Pride
Of all these apple breeding powerhouses, Cornell has been getting the most press in the past year, with the release of a cultivar it named "SnapDragon." Let's look at how Cornell got this cultivar started, and learn what it takes to bring a breeding project to completion (or should I say "fruition").
The first step is to select two parents with winning characteristics. The Cornell breeders chose to start with Honeycrisp for its "explosive" crispness and juiciness, and they paired it with one of their experimental unnamed parents that was described as similar to Jonagold.
When the parent trees blooms in the spring, the staff manually takes pollen from one parent and paints that pollen onto the female parent's flowers. Thousands of blossoms are hand-pollinated in this way, and then covered with fabric to prevent any cross-contaminating pollen from arriving via insect pollinators. At the end of the growing season, the staff extracts the many thousands of seeds from the fruit they pollinated, and these seeds are then planted in a nursery to be grown and closely monitored for a few years until the first fruiting season.
Once they have fruit to test, the researchers "go bananas"--if you will--with evaluations. There are many qualities they look at, such as:
- Sugar : acid ratio - Harvest window - Size - Color - Texture: a) firmness b) crispness c) juiciness - Disease and insect pest resistance
The vast majority of the seedlings produce fruit that is worthless, but the breeding team takes scionwood cuttings from the few seedlings with promising taste, and grafts (copies) each one many times over onto rootstock, so that they can have numerous replicates of each candidate. Then they must wait and watch out for any traits that might render a candidate unfit for commercial production. In other words, though a contestant may have delicious fruit, perhaps it proves to bear inconsistently, or it falls of the tree too readily, or it doesn't store well.
These days, the whole process takes at least a decade (in the early 20th century, it sometimes took 40 years). In the end, the one or two varieties that ultimately "make the cut" in the breeding project are virtually "one in a million". Of course Cornell would want you to think so, because the success of their breeding program depends on how much demand--among both growers and consumers--they can create for their product. In the last twenty years, university breeding programs have become both more offensive (in marketing new cultivars) and defensive (through patents and other restrictions on propagation). Believe it or not, there are plenty of stakeholders in favor of a more controlled release of new varieties; they point out the example of the Empire apple (not a controlled release), which first took a long time to gain consumer popularity, and later became so overproduced that the supply surpassed demand.
If all this makes you nostalgic for the era when most named varieties sprouted from lucky chance seedlings, we don't blame you. While the OOAL crew enjoys many of the unique modern varieties, there is no doubt that we are die-hard ("hard-core") heirloom apple fans.
Out on a Limb Crew Member Spotlight
(As told by her co-intern, Natalie Beaugard)
Laura is a third-year student at College of the Atlantic. Although she was born in New England, she was moved to Austin, Texas and now travels with her Texas flag. She came to intern at Super Chilly after taking a COA class about the history of agriculture in Maine through apples.
Laura wants to do it all. She is excited by every aspect of the homesteading life, and is always mapping out new project plans to minimize our waste and make our cabin life more efficient. With an uncontrollably big heart, she’s the first to volunteer for a job and the first to offer you her help. Since moving in together, she has not only adopted and nursed two sick kittens, but has also taken care of me while I was out for over a week with a head cold. Doing everything with a passionate heart, Laura has been a pleasure to work with at Super Chilly Farm.
Fresh From the Palermo Test Kitchen
Grandma's Apple Crisp contributed by Cammy Watts
Our youngest daughter, Tracy, was visiting for the weekend, and she was keen to cook when she found out that the other activity of the day was stacking firewood. So we pulled out The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso to see if we could find a recipe that let us use all the different types of apples (except the Macouns, of course) that are included in the CSA share this week. And we found the perfect recipe to allow us to do that. It calls for both tart-tender apples, such as Twenty Ounce, and firm-sweet apples, such as Fireside and Sweet Red. Grandma's Apple Crisp is a departure from those crisps with the oatmeal and nut top. Instead it has a biscuit topping that sounded a bit strange but really made believers out of us. Don't forget the scoop of ice cream.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Arrange apple slices in an ungreased 9'x13' pan.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add eggs, and use a fork to mix until it is crumbly. (Amy says it is supposed to look like a streusel with a mix of wet and dry bits.)
- Spread the topping over the apples, and then drizzle the melted butter over the top. Sprinkle on the cinnamon, and bake until the top is golden brown and the juices of the apples are bubbling - about 50 minutes.
- Cool 20 minutes, and serve warm from the pan.
Apple Sharlotka, via Smitten Kitchen contributed by Emily Skrobis
When researching recipes to include in the CSA newsletter, I sift through cookbooks, recipe sites, and food blogs, looking for something unique we haven't tried yet. Just when all the cakes, crisps, and cobblers were beginning to blur together, I hit the jackpot with this fascinating little recipe of Russian origin. It certainly belongs in a category all its own. Read more at Smitten Kitchen.
I've had this one bookmarked for some time and I finally got to try it out last night using Twenty Ounce and Fireside. It was astonishingly simple and mostly consists of apples (always a plus)! It would have been quicker to prepare but I kept having to reread the instructions out of disbelief. Yes, it really is that simple. You throw everything together and let the oven do most of the work. We dined on this dish for dessert last night. Add our favorite party game, Nouns in a Bag (and perhaps some John's Ice Cream as well), and you've just experienced a typical Super Chilly Farm evening.
Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan 6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths 3 large eggs 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour Ground cinnamon, to finish Powdered sugar, also to finish
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.
Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (Updated to clarify: Spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon. Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar.
That's it for this week. Any questions, comments, suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org