Once again, the Common Ground Fair has come and gone. This weekend is always a hectic one for us, as not only do we spend lots of time at the Fedco Trees booth answering questions and geeking out about our favorite apples, but it inevitably turns into a huge reunion of friends, some of whom travel from other states, even if they can only attend for one day. We get tied up in entertaining guests, wrangling apples for our yearly CGF apple tastings, and protecting our home gardens from frost - if we have any time and energy left!
Several CSA members came to the Fedco Trees booth to tell us how much they've been enjoying their shares. (We're glad to hear it!) Other folks informed us that they came specifically for the booth because they couldn't stop thinking about it since they last attended the fair two years ago. Interest in heirloom apples keeps growing and growing, judging by the crowds that squeeze in for the apple tastings at the Hayloft Tent (Chestnut crab and Whitney crab were the Fair favorites this year), the people who come to us with countless growing questions, and the fledgling orchardists who flock to John Bunker to proudly speak of their new plantings. Think of every fruit tree Fedco sells locally and all the folks who faithfully pick up their grafting knives each spring to add something different to their orchards! We're sure to see a proliferation of fruit in our area as all of these trees begin to bear. It's possible that heirloom apples will soon become nearly as widespread as they once were in New England. If Black Oxfords and Gray Pearmains become as widely loved as Macs and Honeycrisps are now, we could happily declare that our business is done!
This week's picks:
If you are planning to make some extra applesauce to have on hand this winter, this may be the week to do that. Slice up and simmer the contents of your share, and you will have a potful of fine, pink sauce to fill your canning shelves and freezers. The smell alone may make you happily turn your back on summer.
Three of the apples this week are old favorites: Wealthy, Twenty Ounce and St. Lawrence. They are easy to recognize because they are among the “stripey-est” of the apples. Packing the Wealthy and the St. Lawrence, in particular, took us longer than usual because we had to turn each one over in our hands to admire the coloring. It felt like we were handling gems, each more magnificent than the one before. If you are in need of a pie this week, Wealthy and Twenty Ounce are your "go to" varieties.
Fameuse (aka Snow) is another heirloom that we have had in the CSA before. It is a special treat to include it this year because it looks so good. Fameuse is very prone to a fungus called scab, which leave crusty blemishes on the apple skin. One of the (few) benefits of the drought this summer is that there is very little scab in the orchard. So enjoy these beautiful Fameuse for fresh eating or sauce. If you do find a few spots of scab, it won’t hurt to eat it. In fact we heard last year that it might even be good for you.
And then there is this tiny bag with two varieties in it. What’s that about? Well, truth be told, we added these into your share at the 11th hour because we were excited to give you two more unusual apples to try, even if it is only a taste. The Burgundy (which should be easy to identify since the color lives up to its name) has been in the CSA before. A friend who grows apples in the County says it is her favorite cooking apple so that is how we have always thought of it. But this past weekend at the Common Ground Fair it surprised us all by coming in 2nd at the apple tasting. So get out your knife and give it a try. You can’t help but be wowed by the color of its flesh. And if you don’t like its flavor fresh, you can always throw the rest into your sauce.
And that leaves the Foxwhelp or “Fauxwhelp” as we like to call it. This mislabeled apple has caused a mystery among cider growers who thought they were growing an astringent bittersweet. Instead the trees grafted in the US produce a tasty, fresh eating apple that no one can identify. Happily for us it adds good flavor to a pie. And even if it is not your favorite apple in the bag, its story should make a good conversation starter.
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.
Update from the Maine Heritage Orchard
Join Us for Compost Day on Sunday, October 9th, 2016. 9am - 12pm.
Come join us at the Maine Heritage Orchard on October 9th for this year's compost day! Help fertilize holes for the April 22, 2017 batch of trees. Site preparation is especially important because the Heritage Orchard gravel pit still a work in progress; we’re building more topsoil every year. We’ll be using lots of compost, bags of soil amendments, shovels, wheelbarrows, buckets, and helping hands. In August, we staked out the spots for the next 30 trees. Fall fertilizing gives the amendments and compost a chance to start breaking down before the trees are planted the following spring. We will also prepare the orchard for winter and put a tree guard on each of the 270 existing trees to protect them from mice and voles. We’ll check to make sure that each tree still has an up-to-date tag and do other fall orchard clean-up. October 9th also happens to be John Bunker’s birthday, so come celebrate with him! Lunch will provided at MOFGA for all volunteers. Bring a dessert if you'd like! See you on Sunday October 9th, 2016, 9am-12pm!
About the Maine Heritage Orchard
The Maine Heritage Orchard is a preservation and educational orchard planted in a renovated gravel pit at the MOFGA Education Center in Unity. If you heard about “MEHO” or visited in the early stages of its renovation from an abandoned gravel pit, you will be happy to hear that it is now looking much more like an orchard. The trees are still young and not yet producing fruit, but they have really taken off – they look great!
The orchard is currently home to about 270 fruit trees. One thing though that makes this orchard unique is that each tree is of a different variety. You won’t find rows of Honeycrisp, McIntosh, or Cortland. You will find old varieties you've come to know through Out On a Limb CSA such as Black Oxford, Blue Pearmain, Golden Russet, and Wealthy. You’ll also find some mystery trees that John Bunker and others have found in their fruit exploring. These unidentified ancient trees have been given provisional names such as Orland Town Office #1 and #2, Dots, Dunlap, Stone Wall, and Frank Ashworth Cantaloupe. The list goes on. We’re working on identifying them. Stay tuned!
The transformation since 2012 was possible only because of our many volunteers and donors. Since renovation began there have been three annual plantings of heritage apple and pear trees. Heritage Orchard work days have been popular with volunteers. They’ve included a compost day each fall to prepare for the spring plantings, companion planting days, orchard tours, and orchard clean-up days. This summer we’ve had steady turnout on our Wednesday volunteer days, led by Nick Libby, Kelsey McGrath, and Laura Sieger (all Super Chilly Farm apprentices and members of the Out On a Limb crew). If you are interested in helping out, please send an email to email@example.com.
Apple Tree Stewards
Order now through Fedco and for $50, you can become a Heritage Orchard Tree Steward. Next spring you’ll receive a sister tree to one of the Heritage Orchard trees. You’ll plant your heritage apple tree in your yard, garden, or home orchard and become a caretaker for that variety. If anything happens to the tree in the orchard in Unity, we will be able to replace it by grafting a new tree from yours. In some cases, your tree will be the only backup left on earth. What a responsibility! If you’re interested in becoming a tree steward, take a Fedco catalog when you pick up your CSA share or click here.
Recipes of the Week
Those big Twenty Ounce apples just call out to be cored, stuffed, and baked. So at the first chance I got, I whipped up a batch of my favorite baked apples that are filled to overflowing with dates and almonds and are slathered in a cider, rum and butter sauce. I briefly considered including that recipe again in place of something new in the newsletter, but decided that that was cheating. We'll just plan on linking back to it every year. Click here for Cammy's Favorite Baked Apples.
Looking for other baked apple recipes I came across one quick and easy recipe called “Cider Baked Apples” that caught my eye. I found it in that challenging type of old cookbook where the ingredients are hidden in the text of the recipe instead of listed conveniently at the beginning. This forced me to do something I often neglect – read to the end of the directions before starting to cook. Doing so, I discovered something curious about the recipe - despite the name, the apples are boiled, not baked. The recipe provided no amounts and was vague enough on directions that it inspired me to experiment. So that’s what I did. I hope you will too.
Cider “Baked” Apples
- 4 apples – cored, with bottoms in tact
- Sweet cider – 1.5-2 cups
- Zest from ½ lemon
- Brown sugar (optional)
- Place the cored apples in a saucepan.
- Add enough cider to the saucepan so that it comes half way up the sides of the apples.
- Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and cover the pan.
- Simmer gently for 10-20 minutes until the apples are tender but have not exploded into sauce. Test them with a fork every few minutes, then remove each apple from the pan with a slotted spoon when each reaches the desired consistency.
- Return the saucepan with the cider to the heat. Add lemon zest and sugar if your cider isn’t very sweet. I used cider that had started to ferment because that was I what I had available; it was fairly tart so I added ¼ cup of brown sugar. If the cider had been sweeter, I would have added less sugar or omitted it completely.
- Bring to a rapid boil, and boil until the liquid is reduced to a cup and has the consistency of maple syrup or runny jelly. While it is boiling, taste it, and add more sugar or lemon zest as desired. Remember the sweetness will increase as the cider thickens.
- Pour the cider syrup over the apples. Serve plain, with ice cream or maple yogurt.
I tried this recipe with Twenty Ounce, Wealthy and Fameuse. Although all three are considered to be excellent cooking apples, there was nothing similar about the resulting tastes and textures of these three varieties. Once again the farm crew was divided as to which variety they preferred. We tried them plain (just boiled in the cider) and covered with the cider syrup. If you are only going to try one variety, Wealthy might get the nod. But there were some rabid Fameuse enthusiasts who would disagree. Although Twenty Ounce did not win the blue ribbon in either the plain or syrupped category, it was pretty tasty too. Hopefully one of you will try it with St. Lawrence and let us know the results.
The big frosts last Saturday and Sunday nights here in Palermo marked the end of the summer gardening season on Super Chilly Farm. But even as our attentions and taste buds turn to those fall brassicas and root crops, we can’t avoid noticing the last of the plums sitting in harvest crates in the summer kitchen. I’m not sure how Jack Horner kept his plums fresh 'til it was time to make a “Christmas Pie”, but ours are not so patient - we need to use them now. Luckily Ken Haedrich has a solution:
Individual Apple and Plum Pies with Streusel Topping
(adapted from Apple Pie by Ken Haedrich, 2002)
- Pastry dough for a single crust pie
- 3 large cooking apples (Twenty Oz. or Wealthy) – cored and sliced
- 8 small plums – quartered and pitted (I used 12 plums)
- 1/3 cup sugar – less if your plums are sweet
- 1 TBS lemon juice
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- ½ TBS flour
- ¼ cup flour
- ½ cup oats
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ cup cold, unsalted butter – cut into ¼” pieces
Ken Haedrich recommends cooking these pies in 10-ounce, oven-proof custard cups. I used individual pie tins, the size that mini Table Talk pies used to come in, and they worked fine. Whichever you prefer, get four of them out before you begin to make sure you have enough on hand. If not, I’m betting that this recipe would be delicious as a full-size pie too.
- Prepare pastry. Divide it into four equal pieces and shape each quarter into a disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour until firm enough to roll out.
- Combine the apples, plums, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and flour in a mixing bowl. Mix well and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Get out 4 10 oz oven-proof custard cups or individual pie tins.
- When the pie dough is firm, roll out each disk one at a time into a 7½“ – 8” circle. Place each in a custard cup or mini pie tin. Ken says if you are using the custard cups, you should make four 1½” slices evenly spaced around each of the rolled out doughs so that it will “self-pleat” when you place it in the cup. This wasn’t necessary with the individual pie tins.
- Place the dough into the cups/tins, gently press into the corners and let the dough hang over the edge. Turn the extra dough under itself and flatten it into a thick edge. Refrigerate each until ready to fill.
- Spoon an equal amount of filling into each of the cups/tins. Place them on a large baking sheet and place in the center rack of the oven. Bake for 25 minutes.
- While the pies bake, make the streusel topping. Place the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Remove the lid, and scatter the butter cubes over the dry ingredients. Pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Dump the crumbs into a bowl and rub between your fingers to make large crumbs. Refrigerate.
- After 25 minutes, remove the pies from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Divide the topping evenly over the pies and pat it down with the back of a spoon. Return to the oven for 20 minutes or until the juices are bubbling up through the topping.
- Let pies cool for 30 minutes before serving. Try serving with a vanilla custard sauce.
That's it for week #2. We hope you enjoy this week's offerings! If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.