Greetings, apple enthusiasts! We are delighted that you have chosen to join us for the sixth season of our Out On A Limb Heritage Apple CSA. For some of us, it is hard to believe that apple season is already here, while others have been counting down the months in anticipation of fresh-picked heirloom fruit. Or perhaps you feel both ways! Here at Super Chilly Farm, we can't help but think about apples year round. From January until April, there are many trees to prune and lots of scionwood to collect. April and May are spent grafting and planting new trees. Then, once most of the trees have bloomed in late May, we begin the season of pest, disease, and weed management in the orchards and nurseries. Before you know it, August rolls around and the early-ripening summer apples start dropping from the trees!
As luck would have it, despite our year-round preparation, our apple trees in Palermo had a relatively poor bloom and fruit set this season. If this happened with your trees, too, and you're wondering why, please look to the article further down in this newsletter for a discussion of the factors involved in fruiting (or lack thereof).
Fear not, though, because other orchards we collaborate with in Maine have substantial crops of many delicious heirloom and rare apple varieties, all of which come with unique stories and gastronomical qualities. With this newsletter, we aim to provide you with apple education and entertainment, but above all, it's about getting you to experience these amazing varieties “in the flesh,” if you will...
This week's picks:
Summer apples are like summer in Maine – not around for long enough. They are at their peak for a few days only, then before you have time to pick them all, they start to drop and turn brown. Old-time Mainers planted their summer apples close to the back door of their farmhouses so they wouldn’t miss the early harvest. These days the old summer apple trees that remain in people’s yards often provide more shade than apples. But each August we receive packages of Red Astrachans, Sops of Wine, Chenango Strawberries and Yellow Transparents in the mail from homeowners who are eager to know what they have.
We don’t include most of the old summer varieties in our CSA because they have come and gone with one exception: we always include Duchess of Oldenburg because it is the quintessential pie apple. The Duchess aren’t large this year, but they will bake up into a tasty treat. Milton, another apple in your share, makes a great sauce, and it stayed firm and sweet in the pie we made tonight. The two relative newbies in the share are Prima and Zestar. We offered Zestar for the first time last year, and we got so many rave reviews from shareholders about its fresh-eating qualities that we wanted to offer it again. Prima has Jonathan in its heritage so try cooking it when you get tired of eating it fresh.
A final note about these early apples – they bruise easily so handle them gently. We have done our best to cull out ones with bruises, but shipping will surely leave its mark on them. They just aren’t as thick-skinned as their late fall cousins. And don’t stick them in the back of the refrigerator and forget about them. Eat them today; there are lots more apples coming.
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.
striking Duchess apples
MOFGA's Common Ground Country Fair is just around the corner (next week, in fact!), and we're gearing up for all the fruit-related workshops (too many to count).
On both Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th, our very own John Bunker will be leading Apple Tasting: Vote for Your Favorites, which is a perennial hit (no pun intended). Also of interest, Rowan Jacobsen will be talking about how Heirloom Apples are Leading the Biodiversity Renaissance, C.J. Walke will be giving MOFGA Orchard Tours, and Todd Little Siebold will facilitate a discussion titled Creating MeHO, the Maine Heritage Orchard. There are many interesting things on the schedule, of course, but here's a hint: most of the apple-focused events will be happening at the Hay Loft.
As usual, John will be bringing dozens of historic varieties to display at the Fair, and he will be continuing on his never-ending search for old trees (more than 100 years old)—if you have any leads, be sure to bring him some fruit to identify!
The Fair is just the beginning of John's fall speaking circuit; please visit our Calendar of Events to see when John might be giving a talk in your neck of the woods.
Milton fruits vary widely in shape
The Secret Life of Trees OR “Why Didn't My Trees Produce Apples This Year?” by John Paul Rietz
We all know that Mother Nature is often unpredictable, but doesn't it seem a little unfair that you can expect the black flies to be consistently bad every single year, yet you can only expect a good apple harvest from your trees once every few years? While we haven't yet figured out how to undo a poor fruit set, we can attempt to make sense of the factors that determine a “good” apple year versus a “bad” apple year.
To begin with, many heirloom and “wild” (unmanaged) apples have a tendency to bear on a biennial basis. In some cases, this is a genetic predisposition of the variety, and in other cases, the tree simply needs a break after being overwhelmed by a heavy fruit crop. After the stress of bearing and supporting so much fruit all season long, the tree responds by forming very few flowers the following spring. Little to no flowers means little to no chance of pollination means little to no fruit.
The good news is that there are some strategies to mitigate this biennial tendency. You can start to address the issue during the “on” (heavy-bearing) year by thinning (picking off) the fruitlets to one per cluster in mid-June. This frees up some of the tree's energy so that it can invest some in the first stage of latent flowers that will become next year's fruit clusters. On the “off” (nonbearing) year, you can prune your trees thoroughly in the spring, which will induce a vegetative response in the tree, meaning it will create more shoots that will ultimately flower and bear fruit the next year. Furthermore, on an annual basis, try fertilizing with an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen in October when all the apples are off the tree; these nutrients get stored in the bark and give the tree a boost in the spring when it begins to bud out.
No matter how a tree gets managed, if the weather doesn't cooperate, flower buds and flowers die prematurely or fail. In some areas of Maine, flower buds were killed en masse by the extremely low temperatures of this past winter. Another threat comes in May, when the trees are in full bloom and the flowers have lost their cold-hardiness—if the temperature drops below 28°F, the flowers are killed. This is especially a problem for trees located in frost pockets, or low areas where cold air settles.
Finally, even if the flower itself is not damaged by extreme temperatures, if the weather is too cold and wet, it can prevent pollinators from visiting the flowers. To address this problem, you can either try to wish the clouds away, or you can encourage orchard mason bees to reside near your trees. Also called blue orchard bees, they are more apt than honeybees to venture out into lousy weather and pollinate. You can attract them to live and procreate near your trees by installing a specially-designed mason bee house. You'll also want to populate your property with flowering plants that will feed them throughout the year. You can start planning and planting now for next year's abundance of flowers.
Good luck growing, and remember that in order to get fruit, you sometimes have to go out on a limb.
Fresh From the Palermo Test Kitchen
Apple & Elderberry Pie
Since one of the most famous pie apples is included in your share this week, we decided that it made sense to include a pie recipe. We have recently been picking elderberries by the bucketful from the bushes in our orchard so we searched out a recipe that combined the two fruits in one pie. Much to our surprise, the recipe we found in the cookbook, Apple Pie, by Ken Haedrich came from our friend Nancy Phillips, an herbalist and gardener and wife of orchardist, Michael Phillips. Rumor has it that if the apples don’t keep the doctor away, the elderberries will.
Another surprise this fall is that one of our apprentices is a devoted baker whose specialty just happens to be PIES. How lucky can we be? So we turned over the recipe to Natalie Beaugard and let her bake away. She brought her own ideas and creativity. Here is what she came up with:
We decided to compare pies made with Duchess and Milton apples. The recipe calls for six cups apples, so I used three cups of Duchess and three cups of Milton apples and divided the pie down the middle. Nancy’s recipe calls for a three-grain pastry dough, but I went to my go-to crust. It’s simple and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
• 1 1⁄4 cup flour • 1 stick butter • pinch of sugar • pinch of salt • 2-3 tablespoons ice water
Mix the dry ingredients, and then add and mix up chunks of the butter with your fingers. Once you break up the clumps of butter, add the water. You can add more if the dough is too dry; you want the dough to stick to itself well.
• 6 cups apples (peeled, cored, sliced) • 2 cups elderberries • 1⁄2 cup honey • 1 tablespoon lemon juice • 2 tablespoons sugar • 1 tablespoon cornstarch • pinch of cloves • pinch of ginger
Mix the apples with the other pie filling ingredients and let sit. Roll out the crust, and lay it into a deep-dish pie plate. Add the filling. Bake the pie for about 30 minutes at 400 F in the middle of your oven. While it’s baking, mix the dry ingredients for the crumble top in the food processor, and then cut up one stick of butter and pulse it in.
Oat Crumble Top:
• 1 cup flour • 1⁄2 cup oats • 2/3 cups light brown sugar • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt • 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon • 1 stick butter
Squish the mixture between your fingers to form the crumbles for the top crust. After 30 minutes remove the pie from the oven, and add the topping. Return to the oven, and turn your oven down to 375°F. Bake the pie for another 30 minutes. Nancy’s recipe suggests that you check before the last 15 minutes and cover the crust with foil if it’s getting too dark.
Six of us gathered to taste the results. Took a lot of pie to decide which we liked better. In fact we ended up eating so much pie that we all skipped dinner. The Milton half of the pie was sweeter which balanced the tart, bitter flavor of the elderberries. The Milton apples held their shape and had a nice bite to them. The Duchess half was less sweet, and the apples had a softer texture preferred by some of our taste testers. We all agreed that the Duchess might be better to match with some vanilla ice cream. The entire pie had a beautiful pink tint from the elderberries. You can also try replacing the elderberries with cranberries.
Apple Yogurt Salad
What's not to love about a salad that calls for more apples than greens? That sort of thing is exactly what we're looking for as we attempt to use up leftover apples without overindulging on desserts.
This dish is loosely based on a couple recipe ideas from food blogs. After so many alterations and substitutions, it just became our own.
Salad: 6 apples, cored and cut into thin slices 3 cups chopped lettuce or arugula 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
Dressing: 1/2 teaspoon salt a sprig of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1 cup greek yogurt 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar black pepper to taste
Combine dressing ingredients in a food processor and puree. Mix salad ingredients, then toss together with dressing, reserving some nuts for sprinkling on the top. We think fennel would make a lovely addition to the salad but we haven't tried it yet.
We also did a taste test with this salad recipe, though one thing we did differently was add celery to the dish, which we found overpowered the apples. (We're likely never growing Redventure celery again!) Nonetheless, we all agreed that Zestar was the best salad apple of the bunch, its sprightly flavor shining through and its airy texture a nice contrast to other crunchier ingredients.
We hope to report back on many more taste tests throughout the season and we'd love to hear the results of yours!
Any questions, comments, suggestions: email@example.com