This week, we were finally able to free up some of our apple boxes. For two solid weeks–even after CSA pickup #4–every single wooden bushel box we owned was in use. If we pressed cider, we quickly re-filled those boxes with fruit that we had been waiting to pick because there were no spare boxes anywhere on our farm. We had to borrow a dozen from friends, and we even bought 40 boxes that were barely intact, because it's all we could find (every other orchardist was at full capacity, too), and we promptly filled those 40 boxes the very next day.
Our cider pressing party was a major success, in part because of how many boxes we freed up, space we cleared, and culled fruit we used. More importantly, so many folks came out to enjoy the bright, sunny day with us, chatting, and taking turns at the cider press. We reckon we pressed at least 30 bushels of fruit. Many thanks to those who participated!
This last CSA pickup may seem like it marks the end of the apple season, yet in reality, the only thing that's ending now is the apple harvest season. Only 3 out of the 10 months have passed of the apple eating and cooking season. Given the ideal storage conditions, some of the varieties we're sharing this week will keep through May and into June! If you want to eat and cook with apples through the winter like we do, plan to store about (at least?) 200 lbs. (or 5 bushels) of fruit for two adults.
People often ask us how to properly store apples for the winter. Though formerly indispensable for rural folks, root cellars aren't exactly common these days, having been replaced by refrigerators which aren't nearly as roomy. We'd like to refer everyone back to our post from last season regarding storage, so you can ensure your apples will stick around for as long as you want them.
This week's picks:
Finally, we have arrived at the “keepers”. These apples are good now, and they will get better. To begin your culinary adventure, start with the Grimes Golden as it is the softest of the group. This apple of Virginia heritage is great for fresh eating, sauce, chutneys and salads. Lay of slice of it on a burger or sandwich. If you are going to use it in a pie, try pairing it with the firmer and tarter RI Greening.
Next up? Well, our suggestion would be the Northern Spy. This all-purpose apple is pretty much excellent for everything. We saw stores selling them green in September, but we held off picking ours until as late as possible. Slice one up and eat it with a piece of cheese. If you don’t get hints of sweetness and maybe even a little pear when you bite in, wait another few weeks and try again. Same goes for the Yellow Bellflower – good for baking now. As a dessert apple, you will notice its tartness mellow and it’s flavors develop with time.
Kelsey has been munching on the Winter Bananas since we picked them before the big chill on October 18th, but the real tropical flavors don’t express themselves till there is at least of foot of snow on the ground. Be patient when you cook this apple; the slices can remain firmer than you think they should – more like a green banana than a brown one.
Stark, RI Greening and Black Oxfords will be the apples to bring a smile to your face when you come in from shoveling in February. By that time their tartness will have mellowed and the full complement of flavors will shine through. Amaze your friends with a Black Oxford pie when all the McIntosh in their refrigerators have turned soft and brown. And if by some chance a few of these apples roll behind the ketchup or a sack of potatoes and you don’t find them till spring, you may be in for a late season treat. Emily found a couple of Black Oxfords in our root cellar in mid-July, and they were as flavorful and almost as firm as they had been in March.
There may be a few of you who are ready to yell, “Uncle”, because you just can’t stand to eat another apple after this epic season of apple bounty. If this sounds like you, don’t despair: you can press up these apples for cider – sweet or hard. All of the varieties are known for their excellent cider making qualities. Bottom’s up.
* Just a word about some of our apples this week. The Black Oxfords which are striking in their beauty may appear a bit subdued when you remove them from the bag. Just take a cloth and wipe them off to see them shine. Similar to the Frostbites, the bloom on the Black Oxfords and some residue of the Surround clay we spray on them, just seem to cling on making them look as if they were permanently frosted. And a word of caution for the Northern Spies– they bruise easily. The bruises should not affect the storage quality of the apple.
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.
New Use for Exceptionally Large Apples
If you've still got any Twenty Ounce apples kicking around, Kelsey has discovered that they are the perfect size for modeling knitted baby hats! It would make a cute display for a yarn store or craft fair. Try using them for blocking, too, which is the term for wetting, then stretching a finished knitted garment to dry in the desired size and shape. These gigantic fruits are truly multi-purpose. Spread the word to all the knitters in your life!
When we started this CSA seven years ago, the attitude among our shareholders and, we suppose, the population of apple lovers in general was that apples were for eating, either out of hand, added to a salad, baked into a pastry or thickened into a chutney or preserve. These days, however, it seems as if we meet more and more apple lovers who are turning back the hands of time and embracing the ways of our fore mothers and fathers by enthusiastically drinking their apples. The government has done everything it can to make it difficult for orchardists to sell fresh, sweet cider right off the farm without either pasteurizing or irradiating it. So apple growers and consumers alike are responding by turning their attention to hard cider that requires no processes other than natural fermentation to make it “safe”.
At our cider pressing party this past weekend there were some who took a turn on the press and left with a gallon or two of sweet cider. More than a few of the guests to the farm arrived with their own bushels of bitter sweet and bitter sharp apples to press and left with their carboys filled and ready to ferment.
How better to preserve the explosion of apples this year than as hard cider? It is shelf stable, requires no freezing or refrigeration, no baking, in fact it requires no energy inputs at all beyond muscle power to grind and press the apples. Although a few of our Black Oxfords may last till June, our bottles of hard cider will keep for as long as we can wait to drink them.
Perhaps some of the attention on hard cider has been generated by former beer drinkers who are now going “gluten-free”. Others may be attracted by its purported health benefits. As one who drank a few too many cups of cider straight from the press on Saturday, I can assure you that it is far easier on your stomach to drink a few glasses of cider that has been fermented. But the real benefits to health from hard cider are not the ones the experts measure. If you are making the cider yourself, you are going to have to spend a fair amount of time outside gathering apples and pressing them into juice. Sure you could purchase the apples or even the sweet cider, but why not collect the apples dropping in your neighbors’ yard? You will be helping them clean up the mess and maybe you will get to hear a story or two about the old apple tree along the way. That’s how John got started on his apple journey. And don’t forget to add in some wild apples that you find along the hedgerows and roadsides. We have one friend who has gotten so excited about these undiscovered treasures that he finds himself stopping to taste the apples on every wild tree he sees. It doesn’t make for quick trips, but wandering the back roads of Maine on a fall day is deep nourishment for the soul. And a final health benefit of hard cider comes when the bottles are uncorked and friends gather to celebrate. While apple cider vinegar and apple molasses both have their place, we have trouble imagining the scene where community gathers to raise a glass of vinegar together. Hard cider is the perfect drink for a rural state – we can make it for free and it gives us an excuse to come together.
Last spring we got an excited call from one of our daughters who lives in NY. The NY Times had run an article about a new cider bar, Wassail, that had just opened in the lower east side (on Orchard St., of course). The article provided the recipe for one of their signature cocktails that was named “Bunker’s Love Affair”. Never having heard of Wassail or its head bartender, Jade Brown-Godfrey, we were a bit surprised (and flattered if the truth be known) that someone would name a drink after John. One thing led to another, and before we knew it we were headed to NY to try one of those Love Affairs. John gave a talk on cider while we were there, and we filled the room with everyone we loved in NY as well as a few real cider enthusiasts. You can say it was the cider that brought us together.
This weekend we will again be gathering around a glass of cider at the annual Franklin County Cider Days in Greenfield, MA. It has become the capstone of our fall – a place to learn, visit old friends and make new ones, and swap stories and bottles. If you are interested in learning about how to make cider or how to cook with apples, there are beginning classes for amateurs and panel discussions with professionals – something for everyone including your kids. If you can’t join us there, you can try a Bunker’s Love Affair at home. Here is the recipe. Wassail.
Recipes of the Week
Bunker’s Love Affair
1 ounce Suze liqueur (a French liqueur made from gentian)
1 ounce Calvados (apple brandy)
1 ounce Pommeau ( a drink made from fresh apple juice and apple brandy)
2 ounces hard cider
In a mixing glass filled ¾ with ice, stir the Suze, Calvados, and Pommeau till chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Top with hard cider. Twist a grapefruit peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.
This comes from Martha Stewart, who originally got the recipe from Lucinda Scala Quinn's book, "Mad Hungry." It makes a delightfully moist cake. For half I used Stark, the other half, Grimes Golden. I found the Grimes to be more soft and tart and melt-in-your-mouth good. The Stark slices held their shape well, and made a slightly sweeter treat.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 to 4 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, Cortland, or Winesap
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch square pan or equivalent-size baking dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and 1 cup of the sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/3-cup sugar with the cinnamon. Squeeze lemon juice into a medium bowl. Peel, core, and slice the apples into the bowl. Add the cinnamon-sugar mixture and toss to thoroughly coat each apple slice. Arrange the apple slices on top of the batter in overlapping rows, pressing lightly into the batter. Bake for 45 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
This marks the end of our 2015 season! Thanks for joining us and, as always, be in touch with any questions, comments, tasting notes, or recipe suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org