Saturday night's ominous forecast sent us into a two-day scurry to harvest the last of our storage crops. There we were in the gardens, in the trees, headlamps on and still picking after darkness fell right on top of us. Our long months of work hinge on the night of a hard freeze, and if we aren't well-prepared, much will be lost.
To be sure, it is a rewarding, yet stressful time of the year. October can be a downright difficult balancing act. There comes a time when we must set aside certain responsibilities (apple events, apple identification, chores, jobs), to make time to reap what we sow. Peppers and tomatillos were hurriedly stripped of all edible fruit. The curved spines of Brussels sprout stalks were carried, almost cradled, to the root cellar where they are now safely tucked with all our roots and cabbages and gigantic kohlrabi. We were able to pick all we needed, but some remaining apples we skipped over won't keep after freezing and thawing on the trees, though they will gladly meet the cider press soon. However, the last of our tomatoes are toast. It is good practice in letting go.
The end of a season can feel like a very real loss. All the annual plants you have nurtured thus far are dead overnight. And there are always some things you just can't get to. But if a grower is versed in anything, it is resilience. It is putting your heart and soul into your work to begin bare and anew each season, year after year.
A quote that comes to mind as we begin to put the gardens to bed, with the cold, lonely winter on the horizon:
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
- Louise Erdrich
This week's picks:
Every year there is one week that we encourage shareholders to open all of the bags, remove one apple from each, polish them up, and set them out on the counter in a line. This is the week. Perhaps the magnificence of fall in Maine is not attributable solely to the foliage. The array of hues in the apples in your share is richer and more varied than that of even the brightest sugar maple, and this kaleidoscope of colors will still be vibrant when the last of the leaves has turned brown and become litter on the side of the road.
This is why we love apples.
And if a feast for your eyes is not enough, then let your taste buds marvel at the diversity of flavors and textures that our ancestors enjoyed. Someone once told us that his grandmother planted twelve apple trees in her back yard, and the fruit from each had one, and only one, specific purpose – pie, sauce, cider, dumplings, fresh eating – she never mixed them. We like to think that the apples in your share were some of those that graced that grandmother’s kitchen long ago.
This is why we love apples.
While we could go on and on about the heirloom apples, we have to admit that there is a newcomer in the mix – Sweet 16. We debated whether or not to include it and decided that we should since you had an opportunity to try one of its parents, Frostbite, last week and will likely find its other parent, Northern Spy, in your last CSA share. We heard from one shareholder that Frostbite was not a favorite, but even if you didn’t like it, give Sweet 16 a try. We get hints of cherry lifesaver, vanilla and bourbon – way more complexity of flavor than your run-of-the-mill supermarket apple. The taste seems to change with the season and the terroir.
This is why we love apples.
Finally we have to say a little something about names. Perhaps you are a bit skeptical about an apple called “Hurlbut”. John always says you can tell it is an old variety by its name. Nowadays we call apples Cosmic Crisp, SweeTango, SnapDragon and Jazz. But what do Jazz and Tango have to do with apples? Apples used to be named after the person who discovered them (General Hurlbut), their color (Blue Pearmain), their flavor (Tolman Sweet) or the conviction that you had discovered perfection (Westfield-Seek-No-Further). How can you top that?
And this is why we love apples.
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.
Super Chilly Farm Featured in New Cookbook
Two years ago we had a visit from Ben Coniff, who with his business partner Luke Holden owns and operates 14 Luke’s Lobster restaurants in NY, D.C. and MD. He had been asked to write a cookbook and quickly realized that few people could probably afford a cookbook just about lobster. Instead he wanted to highlight the bounty of food produced and prepared from Maine’s fields, orchards, and waters. His tour through Maine led him to Super Chilly Farm to learn about the apples and discuss our favorite ways to use them. He also visited state fairs, fishermen, bakeries, grist mills and restaurants. The result is REAL MAINE FOOD: 100 Plates from Fisherman, Foragers, Pie Champs and Clam Shacks. The press release says it “taps into the magic that draws visitors to the state year after year offering simple, authentic recipes from the best restaurants, food artisans, bakeries and farmers across Maine.” Those of us who actually live here will enjoy the recipes too. And there is a useful reference for Luke and Ben’s favorite spots to eat, drink and stock up. Look for it at your favorite independent bookstore, or if you must, you can order it online.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
It would be difficult to travel around Maine this fall and not notice the golden, red, and green apples bending down the limbs of trees and spilling out across the roads and walkways nearly everywhere you look. Theses apple trees that are suddenly so obvious have been silently lining the stone walls and tucked into the dense woodland edges around every pasture for many years. They were there last winter when the mice buried under the snow to nibble on their sweet-tasting bark and the deer came to browse on their new growth from the summer before. They were there in the spring when they raised their white and pink blossoms toward the sun so the mason bees and bumblebees could bring them pollen. They were there all summer as their tiny green fruits swelled and became blushed with color. But it is only now, when the vibrant colors of their apples fairly shout at us, that we see them for the first time.
These are wild apples. They were not planted by humans, or at least not intentionally. Although a passing motorist or a child walking by may have unthinkingly tossed an apple core into the bushes, more likely that not, the seeds of these trees were dropped by a squirrel or bird. Or they may have been planted by a tree up the hill when an apple from that tree fell, rolled and deposited it seeds in the ditch.
These apples have no names. Like every apple planted from a seed, each is a new variety, unknown before and never to be repeated, unless by grafting. Wild apples come in all shapes, colors, sizes and flavors. Some are tasty; others are “spitters”.
All of the apples that New Englanders claim as their own started as chance seedlings such as these. When our ancestors came to North America, they planted seedling orchards; when they considered a tree to be a “good one”, they named it, nurtured it and shared it with their neighbors through the miracle of grafting. Although we lost much of that genetic diversity when the seedling orchards were cut down and replanted with McIntosh and Red Delicious, there is still plenty of genetic diversity lying hidden for much of the year in the forests and edges of the pastures in Maine.
Henry David Thoreau, who was fortunate enough to spend six hours a day wandering through the woods and fields of Concord, MA wrote a wonderful essay entitled, Wild Apples, in 1855. In it he shares his disdain for cultivated fruits which he finds “tame and forgettable” because they have “comparatively little zest, and no real tang or smack to them”. He much prefers the “spirited and racy” taste of the wild apple but only when eaten in the woods where the November air is the “sauce it is to be eaten with”. When eaten inside the house the wild apples taste “sour enough to set a squirrels’ teeth on edge and make a jay scream”. “These apples have hung in the wind and frost and rain till they have absorbed the qualities of the weather or season, and thus are highly seasoned, and they pierce and sting and permeate us with their spirit. They must be eaten in season, accordingly, - that is, out-of-doors.”
In the spirit of Thoreau we spent a sunny Monday a week ago collecting wild apples along a nearby ridge with a friend who was taking them back to his home in Colorado to put in his cider. The breeze was warm, the views to the west appeared endless, and the fall colors took our breath away. We used an ancient tool called a planking pole to shake the apples lose from the branches onto a tarp. As the apples rained down around us and bounced off our heads, we grabbed handfuls to taste, savor and spit out. Each apple was full of the wind and the sun and the rain that had seasoned it for the past four months. There were sweet apples that had been gnawed on by porcupines, one that tasted like bananas, another recalled a tropical breeze, two with hints of rose, and several that made us pucker. Collecting those wild apples off the tarps felt like sifting through a pirate’s chest and letting the gold and jewels spill through our hands.
So as you travel around Maine this fall, stop and taste the treasures that the wild apple trees are offering you. As Thoreau suggests, make sure you sample the apples outdoors in the brisk fall air. It is sure to make the apple taste better, and it certainly makes it a lot easier if you have to spit it out in a hurry. But for every spitter, there are others with just the perfect tang or smack for your tastes. Who knows – maybe you will even discover the next Seek-No-Further.
Recipe of the Week
If you haven't before thumbed through Apples of Uncommon Character by Rowan Jacobsen, you're missing out. We may be biased, since John is featured in it, but the book is chock full of fascinating apple lore that our CSA members would be sure to love. What excites us most are the recipes that include tips on which varieties to use. For this recipe, Rowan suggests Grimes Golden for a "distinctly southern spin," and Jonathan or Tolman Sweet for an "old-timey pie." I ended up using Bullock, whose sprightliness mellowed out a bit, yet still complemented the other flavors in the dish quite well.
(And for many dishes I cook, I end up making two; my partner is lactose-intolerant but I still want to get my dairy fix. For his, I replaced the butter with coconut oil and the milk with coconut milk with much success. I also added some nutritional yeast to give it more of a nutty, cheesy flavor. As usual, I add 1-2 more apples than called for!)
"A rustic pie with a cheese biscuit crust -- serious comfort food, made even more comforting by the apples."
Makes 8 servings.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces.
- 1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup milk
- 1 pound pork sausage, bulk, or casings removed
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced, or 1/2 cup diced celery root
- 2 large apples, cored and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1 cup chicken or beef stock, or sweet cider
- 1 tsp dried, crumbled sage
- salt and pepper to taste
- To make the crust dough, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheese and milk and pulse just until the dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the food processor. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- In a 9- or 10- inch cast-iron skillet, cook the sausage over medium-low heat until browned, breaking it up as it cooks. Remove the sausage and set aside.
- Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the pork fat and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 4 minutes.
- Add the apples and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 4 minutes.
- Add the flour and stir until incorporated, about 1 minute.
- Add the stock and sage and stir until a hot, bubbling gravy has formed, about 2 minutes. Return the sausage to the pan and stir. Turn off the heat. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Drop the biscuit dough over the top in spoon-size balls. It's okay if it is uneven or if there are small gaps; it will spread out as it cooks.
- Bake until the top is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.
That ought to be enough to tide you over until week 5! Any questions, comments, tasting notes, or recipe suggestions? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org