With most of central Maine in peak fall foliage this week, and with the four brilliantly red varieties in this week's CSA bags, our attention is focused on the phenomenon of color. We're especially into anthocyanin pigments, since they are primarily produced in the fall, and are largely responsible not only for the red characteristic of many apple varieties, but also for the scarlet hue of many senescing maple leaves. If you've ever wondered what biological functions are being served by the changing colors of fruits and leaves in the fall, here is a little taste of the science. As the growing season draws to an end, sugars eventually build up enough to react with certain proteins in the plants' cells, forming reddish anthocyanin pigments, which in turn fill some important evolutionary roles. In the case of apples turning red, this is sending the signal to seed-distributing animals that the fruit is ripe and sweet. In the case of maple leaves turning red, it is helping to protect the leaves from sunburn and frost damage while the tree collects the last nutrients from the dying leaves to store in its root system. Now you know!
Enjoy the fall colors while they last! Now, on to this week's features...
Picks of the week:
Laura pointed out as we were packing the apples this morning that all the varieties this week are red. Color may be the only consistent characteristic of the four apples that cover the gamut from small to HUGE, juicy to dry, and sweet to tart.
Dig to the bottom of your bag, and you will find that old favorite, Wolf River. Although it did not originate in Maine, we have claimed it as our own ever since the first loggers brought it back from Wisconsin in the late 1800’s. There are few apples that people remember from their youth as fondly as Wolf River – did everyone in the state have a grandmother who grew it? Or was it because rotten fruit made the most memorable splats when thrown at unsuspecting victims? You may be tempted to throw it at your TV this fall during the last of the (not very) presidential debates, but we hope you will cook it up into something tasty instead.
Nodhead and Spartan are two less familiar offerings in your share this week. Both are known for their fresh eating qualities, although Nodhead also cooks up well into a spicy, deep pink sauce. Nodhead is an old variety that comes our way from the Granite State. Spartan has only been around about 85 years. It is the offspring of Newtown Pippin and McIntosh and it combines the best of each. The flesh is firm and smooth and pleasing to bite into. The flavor is lightly floral – a mix of rose and geranium – without the overwhelming tartness of the Mac. As a solo apple in sauce, it is fairly bland so toss in some other varieties as well if you are going to sauce it.
The remaining apple in your share is a newcomer to OOAL, and we suspect that Bailey Sweet is new to you as well. It is certainly not a variety that you will find at your local grocery store since it is neither crispy, juicy, well-balanced, nor big. Sweet apples were traditionally used for making apple molasses since they have little to no acidity. If you have no plans to whip up a batch of molasses this week, add slices to a salad to offset the acidity of the dressing or use it in a chutney where it will keep its integrity as the other fruits break down. Because it is slow to cook, it will hold up the crust of your pie if you mix it in with more acidic, cooking apples. Whether you like the taste of this sweet apple or not, you can’t help but smile when you look at the skin of the Bailey Sweet. If they put apples in snow globes, this is what it would look like.
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.
Don't miss Great Maine Apple Day this weekend!
Once again, MOFGA will be hosting Great Maine Apple Day at the Common Ground Education Center in Unity, ME. Sunday, October 16th, 12-4. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. Admission is $2 for MOFGA members, $4 for non-members; kids are free.
There will be workshops focused on cider varieties, vinegar-making, small orchard planning, and more. Vendors will be selling apple goodies and other fun items. If you haven't yet got your fix, come taste dozens of apple varieties available for sampling and record your comments to compare your reaction with others'!
"Celebrate the history, flavor and tradition of Maine apples, while honoring the importance of a diversified, perennial agriculture."
In Northern Maine, Surprising Delights Come in Pears!
Since you've now been exposed to many unusual apples, you may not be surprised to learn that pear varieties also extend way beyond the supermarket handful. Last weekend, part of the Out on a Limb crew made the trek up to Aroostook Apple Day – the new northern counterpart to the annual Great Maine Apple Day in Unity – and spent some time with local fruit growers Liz Lauer and Chris Blanchard. Liz was one of several growers on a pear panel that day who instructed the crowd about the basics of growing pears while passing around fruit to sample. The pears ranged from mildly sweet, melt-in-your-mouth (Nova), to tart, flavorful, soft and juicy (Luscious) to just plain complex and crisp (Gourmet). One variety (Clark) provoked a disagreement between me and another attendee: I found it to be soft but dense and somewhat tropical-tasting; he claimed it tasted like butter. It made me wonder what other produce exists whose variation I have yet to discover.
We toured Liz and Chris' apple and pear orchards, sat down for a hearty meal, and swapped stories while sipping spiced pear liquor. Liz brought out her copy of “Pears of New York,” a vast book published in 1921 that documents hundreds of pear varieties of the period, and we paged through the descriptions and gorgeous color plates in wonder as we were momentarily transported back to a time of unimaginable diversity.
Recipes of the Week
We are all about the single variety pie in this house. That way we can really get to know an apple – how long it takes to cook through, how well it holds it shape, what color it becomes when baked, and how its flavors are enhanced or diminished by heat. But we all know that the best pies are made with a mixture of varieties – those that turn soft to fill in the spaces blended with those that stay firm enough to keep the crust from collapsing on itself. One Belfast shareholder told me at the last pick up that he had read that a pie should have five to seven varieties in it to really shine. So I was excited when friend, chef extraordinaire, and longtime shareholder, Deb Soifer, sent me the picture of the Heritage Apple Crostata that she made with a mix of Burgundy, Wealthy, and 20 ounce from the last share. If you have any apples still lingering from two weeks ago, here is a way to use them up. Toss in some Wolf River, Bailey Sweet, Nodhead, or Spartan to create your own signature mix.
Heritage Apple Crostata
Pastry for 2 tarts:
2 cups unbleached white flour
¼ cup granulated or superfine sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
½ lb very cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup ice water
Filling for 1 tart:
1 ½ lb apples
¼ tsp grated orange zest
¼ cup flour
¼ cup or less granulated sugar
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
4 Tbs cold unsalted butter, diced
(Deb says, “if you can make this ahead and freeze it, even overnight, it makes a big difference in how the dough handles and bakes up – it will be as flaky as a croissant”.)
Put dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor (or just a bowl), and pulse or whisk a few times.
Add butter, toss quickly with your fingers, and then pulse 12-15 times, (or cut in with pastry cutter), until butter is the size of peas.
With the motor running, add ¼ cup ice water all at once, and mix just until the dough comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, and form it into two disks. Wrap each disk in wax paper, and freeze or refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Peel, core, and cut the apples into quarters. Cut each quarter into 3-4 pieces. Toss in a bowl with the orange zest.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice. Add the butter and pulse until crumbly.
Roll out one of the discs of the dough into an 11" circle and put it on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Spread the apples out on the dough to within 1 ½" of the edges. Sprinkle the combined flour, butter and spices over the apples.
Fold the edge of the pastry up over the apples and pleat, leaving most of the filling exposed.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool. Enjoy!
Apples and 'Kraut
Friends that were visiting from Boston over the weekend of the Common Ground Fair told us about their new favorite food cart that serves everything bacon – even the desserts. Clearly Americans are having a renewed love affair with these smoky, salty strips that now flavor everything from coffee to soda and lip balm to toothpaste. Apples have long been paired with pork in savory dishes so why not hop on the bandwagon and include a bacon and apple recipe? Apples & ‘Kraut makes a lot more sense to us than bacon vodka or bacon jellybeans.
This is the most flexible of dishes – use it as a stand-alone accompaniment to chicken or pork. Spread it on a piece of toast, cover it with a sharp cheddar or parmesan and put it under the broiler till the cheese melts – voila! – lunch. Layer it between two flour tortillas, sprinkle on some cheese and pan-fry it for a unique quesadilla. Mix it up with a couple of scrambled eggs at breakfast time. Leave out the bacon, if you dare, and it becomes a savory treat for the few remaining bacon holdouts among us.
3 apples – cored and chopped into ¼” pieces
6 strips bacon – chopped into small pieces
1 medium onion – diced
1 cup of sauerkraut
Combine the bacon and onions in a pan and sauté over medium heat for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften.
Add the apples to the pan, and continue to cook until the bacon has browned and the apples are tender when poked with a fork. Tart apples, such as Spartan, will take less time to soften and cook. Sweeter apples, such as the Bailey Sweet, take longer so add them right after the bacon begins to sizzle.
When everything is cooked, stir in the sauerkraut and heat for 1-2 minutes more until the sauerkraut is warm.
Serve any way you like!
We hope you enjoy week 3's selections. Time to get cooking! If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.