November 8th, here at last! The last week of the Out on a Limb CSA! Apples aside, today, of course, also marks the end of an excruciatingly long, vicious, exhausting presidential election cycle. (I hate to even bring it up!) A great many people have been stirred into a frenzy and I fear what today will bring: violence at the polls? Armed so-called “militias” rising up to protest election results? (Worst case scenario, we'll just try to hide out in the Bunker bunker with our supply of homegrown food until the dust settles.)
Being farmers dependent on a stable climate and ample water supply, climate change is at the forefront of our minds and is the biggest, most pressing issue humanity is facing. Yet neither presidential candidate speaks much of it. It's difficult to believe in our leaders while considering what's at stake. No matter what the outcome of this election, there remains a lot of real, urgent work to be done.
Right now, thousands of water protectors are gathered at camps in Standing Rock, North Dakota with the goal of stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline, or the “black snake,” from destroying tribal land and potentially contaminating the drinking water of millions of people. They are on the frontlines of the movement to end our dependence on fossil fuels and work towards a sustainable future; they are warriors putting their bodies on the line for both climate and social justice. After reading accounts from participants, it's hard not to be moved by the swelling show of community and solidarity and the power of peaceful, prayerful demonstrations. (If you support their movement, please consider donating to one of the camps or the legal defense fund; they are in great need for the long struggle ahead.)
As you move through this tense, nerve-wracking day, do yourself a favor and read this essay by historian and activist Howard Zinn. It may be what you need to remain strong and hopeful.
”I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.”
Get out and vote today and take care of each other.
Picks of the week:
We thought we had all the apples picked for the year, but today we spotted some Starks way up high in the tree over hanging our barn. It will require an acrobat with very long arms to reach these remaining fruit so we may just leave them for the birds. Luckily we have plenty of apples to send to you this week that we hope will fill your lunch boxes, ovens, and root cellars through the holidays. These apples are all “keepers” so there is no rush to eat them – the longer you wait the better they will be.
Rome, Milden, Northern Spy, Baldwin, and Black Oxford are apples that caught the eyes of the settlers who planted the seedling orchards all across New England and throughout the Midwest in the 1700s and 1800s. These early orchardists were not looking for the perfect, crispy-juicy dessert fruit to snack on while they rode to town. Instead they were interested in apples that they could feed to their livestock, could press and ferment into hard cider and vinegar, could boil into molasses and that they could keep all winter. Without refrigeration, fruits and vegetables that stored well or could be preserved in other ways to provide nutrients through the long, hunger gap of winter in North America were prized. In 1885 at the Maine State Pomological Society, Charles Downing gave a talk on apple varieties and recommended that farmers plant 21 varieties to keep themselves in apples from July to June.
We don’t expect that your apples will last till the time the 2017 Out on a Limb CSA rolls around, though in the meantime we hope you will come to appreciate what an excellent job our ancestors did in discovering and preserving these five varieties. For although they were originally selected for their keeping qualities, they are all excellent baking apples and pretty great for fresh eating too.
There’s a lot in your bag to be thankful for. Happy Holidays!
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.
Storing Apples for the Winter
For the final CSA installment of the year, we like to repost our winter storage tips, both to inform newcomers and as a refresher for returning members. We recognize that everyone's storage capabilities are different, therefore we try to cover all the bases (refrigerator, root cellar, etc.) so that you are equipped to get the longest life out of your apples. If you follow the guidelines laid out below, you could be eating and/or cooking with apples well into Winter and—depending on the variety—early Spring.
- Every apple is a living organism. Once harvested, the fruit cannot obtain nutrients from the tree, and because it is still respiring (breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide, just like humans), it begins to use up the energy it stored up during the growing season. As this energy is used up while in a cellar or refrigerator, the sugar, acid, and starch content of the fruit change. At some point, these processes cause the tissue to break down, and the fruit becomes mealy or rubbery, and it eventually rots. Therefore, the goal of storage is to slow down the breathing of the apples, in order to slow down the ripening. Furthermore, cold temperatures will retard the activity of the bacteria and fungi that cause decay.
The optimal storage conditions for apples are: 30-40°F, and 80-95% relative humidity (RH). Within that range, colder and more humid is the best (30-32°F, and 90-95% relative humidity). In many cases, it will be hard to sync both temperature and humidity. If you can keep the fruit near 32°F, you can get away with a little less humidity (80-85% RH). On the other hand, if you can only get the storage temperature down to 40-50°F, then make sure to raise the relative humidity to 90-95%. Some people run humidifiers in their storage space, while others simply mist the fruit periodically through the winter. Due to the high sugar content of apples, they will freeze at a lower temperature than water. The “freezing point” of apples ranges from 27.8°F to 29.4°F. If apples do get frozen, their quality will quickly deteriorate—the flesh will soften and rot will ensue.
As a general rule of thumb, apples held at 40°F will age and decay twice as quickly as those held at 30°F. Apples held at 50°F will age twice as fast as those held at 40°F. At 70°F, the speed of deterioration doubles again. Whatever storage facilities you have available, try to keep the temperature consistent. Large temperature swings will cause more respiration and thus faster decay.
If you are storing your apples in a refrigerator, be sure to keep the apples in perforated plastic bags. The plastic will help retain moisture (refrigerators are drying agents), and the perforations will allow carbon dioxide to escape. In the absence of perforated bags, you can use unperforated polyethylene bags, but do not tie them shut—once the fruit is cooled in the refrigerator, simply fold over the open ends. Be sure that your refrigerator isn't set too cold; you don't want to store the fruit in the back of the fridge and forget about them, only to have them freeze and rot!
If you don't have enough refrigerator space and your cellar or basement is too warm, you can try storing your fruit in insulated containers in an unheated room or outbuilding—but be sure the temperature in the containers doesn't drop below 30 degrees!
It is best to store apples in shallow layers, because there is less chance of bruising the fruit on the bottom with the weight of the fruit on the top. Shallow layers are also easier to inspect and pick through!
Shriveling is caused by rapid respiration of the fruit (the apples are using up their reserves in response to an environment that is either too dry or too warm). However, shriveled fruit is perfectly fine to cook with, because the cooking process naturally softens the fruit. If you're like some of us on the farm, you may find that the altered texture doesn't bother you enough to prevent you from enjoying the raw fruit out of hand.
If any fruits are damaged with handling, be sure to use those first. Damaged fruits will give off ethylene gas more rapidly, and this ethylene causes surrounding fruit to ripen faster. Thus the saying, “one bad apple spoils the barrel!”
Wherever you decide to store your apples, make sure you can access them on a regular basis, in order to: a) monitor how the apples are doing, make adjustments if necessary, cull any rotting fruit, and—most importantly—procure fruit to use! Perhaps you have heard the adage, “The best fertilizers are the footsteps of the farmer.” The same principle holds true for storing apples: the apples that keep the best are those that are monitored and cared for regularly.
Happy Storing (and Eating)!
Recipes of the Week
Whether you buy your cider from a local farm stand or press your own, the cider produced in August and September can’t hold a candle to the thick, rich, complexity of flavors in the cider made from late season apples. It’s a perfect balance between sweet and tart, between earth and sunshine. As you sip it, the tannins in the juice wake up all the sensors in your mouth. A drink of late season cider conveys in its flavor the story of the apples from bloom to harvest.
With all the apples off the trees, we have cider on our minds here at Super Chilly Farm. So it seemed as if the recipes this week should make use of the juice from our presses. Here are two of our current favorites. They are perfect for a harvest dinner on a cold fall night.
Cider-Braised Cabbage with Apples and Fennel
This is another recipe from Rowan Jacobsen’s Apples of Uncommon Character. He suggests making it with russet apples, but when I tried it, the russet slices took so long to soften that the other ingredients lost their bite. Oddly, the picture in Rowan’s book shows the dish made with a red-skinned apple, not a russet. So try this with Rome – the resulting colors in your serving bowl will be spectacular and I think you’ll be happier with the resulting texture of the apple slices.
- 4 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- ½ head red cabbage, core removed and thinly sliced
- ½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced (reserve fronds)
- 1 large apple, cored, halved and sliced
- 1 cup of sweet cider
- salt & pepper to taste
- In a large skillet with a lid melt 2 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat.
- Add the caraway seeds and toast until fragrant (about 30 seconds), shaking the pan once or twice.
- Add the sweet cider, and simmer till reduced by two-thirds.
- Add the cabbage and the fennel, and sauté two minutes.
- Add the apple slices, cover the skillet, and cook until the cabbage has softened but still retains some crunch, about 6 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Remove the lid from the skillet, add the remaining 2 TBS of butter, turn the heat to high, and sauté until the liquid has evaporated and the cabbage is coated in sauce, 3-4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve garnished with fennel fronds.
Lost Nation Cider Pie
Each time the Palermo Library Guild calls to ask me to make a pie for an event, it gives me an excuse to try a new recipe. And since I would never buy a piece of my own pie, I always try to make a mini-pie with the extra crust so that we can taste it at home. Recently I tried Lost Nation Cider Pie which originated in the kitchen of organic apple growers Michael and Nancy Phillips and made its way to Super Chilly Farm via Ben Watson in his book, Cider Hard & Sweet. I love this pie. The cider jelly gives a rich depth to the apple flavor, and the apples get tender without turning to mush. Mmmm.
- Pastry for a two-crust 9” pie
- ½ sugar (Ben’s recipe calls for ¾ cup, but I prefer less)
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup cider jelly**
- ½ cup boiling water
- 1 egg – lightly beaten
- 1 Tbsp butter – melted
- 3 cups winter keeper apples - sliced (or enough to make a heap in the center of your pie plate)
- Preheat the oven to 425° F.
- To make the filling, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl dissolve the cider jelly in the water, and then mix that into the sugar. Stir in the egg and the melted butter.
- Roll out the bottom crust and lay it into a 9” pie pan. Cover the bottom crust with the apple slices, mounding them up in the center. Pour the filling mixture over the apples.
- Roll out the top crust and lay it over the pie. Crimp the edges, and cut a few slashes in the top to let the steam escape. (You might want to put a rimmed baking sheet under the pie when you cook it as mine leaked a delicious caramel-y juice that I spooned up and drizzled over the pie when I served it.)
- Bake 40 minutes or until the crust is golden and you can see the juices bubbling.
**Ben suggests making your own cider jelly by boiling down fresh cider until the jelly stage (220 degrees) or until the cider runs off a spoon in a sheet. Sounded easy, but by the time my cider started sheeting off the spoon, it was way too late. The whole batch turned to hard candy as it cooled. I ended up using a jar of cider jelly I located at the back of the refrigerator. Guess I need to get a candy thermometer.
Hard to believe the season is already over! We hope you've enjoyed your biweekly shares of apples this fall. We'd love it if you joined us again next season.
As always, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please be in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.