Thanks for joining us for our 8th season!
Is it just me, or does the weather in Maine become more unpredictable every year? It's disorienting when there is so little rain in the spring, hardly any thunderstorms all summer, the peppers have just started to ripen, and then all of a sudden it's getting dark at 7PM. With the weather being such an unreliable indicator of the seasons, are there any definitive signs that it's time to get ready for fall? Here at Super Chilly Farm, because we mark the passing of the seasons by what fruits are ripening, the most telltale indicator is: the first distribution of apples for the CSA -– fall, here we come!
In fall of 2015, when we were up to our ears with apples, we were already preparing ourselves for a much leaner crop in 2016, because of apple trees' tendency to follow a boom-bust cycle. In April, we were still nursing a few bushels of storage apples in the root cellar, trying to make them last as long as possible, in anticipation of a scarce apple year. Same with the plums we had frozen and canned; though they were taking up lots of precious space in the freezer and on the shelf, we knew better than to consume them too quickly (only about one year in seven do our plum trees seem to fruit well). Looking on the bright side, at least we'd get to take a year off from all the work involved in organic tree fruit pest management.
Lo and behold, when May rolled around, there was a terrific plum bloom and a very respectable apple bloom, and the relatively warm, rain-free weather facilitated excellent pollination. We thought to ourselves, could we really be this lucky? Will we really get two years in a row where we have more apples and plums than we know what to do with? Of course, lots can go wrong between May and September, but it was looking quite promising for a fruitful fall.
This growing season, of course, turned out to be an exceedingly dry and difficult one for all kinds of crops. We heard from a number of our vegetable-farming friends that some of their crops didn't come up at all. Of the crops that did come up, things like spinach simply bolted prematurely in the dry heat. Vigorous-growing crops like squash couldn't out-compete the weeds, pests, and diseases like they usually can. Potato foliage died back early; the resulting tubers were minuscule. Irrigation ponds that normally hold an ample supply of water were exhausted early on, with no hopes of getting replenished. Some folks have wells that are nearly spent. Here at Super Chilly Farm, since we're not growing vegetables for market, we typically make only a small dent in our irrigation pond, but ever since mid-July, we've had to strictly ration the water we pump to our crops. Naturally, we've been worried about our tree crops–won't they suffer from the drought, too? So far it seems that yes, the apples aren't getting as big this year, and they appear to be dropping earlier than usual, but for the most part, we're pleasantly surprised with the quantity and quality of fruit. Though the fruits are smaller this year, the dry conditions have limited the proliferation of the apple scab fungus–the bane of the organic orchardists' existence.
We're thankful to have had most of our crops survive this year, but this difficult growing season has served as a reminder that life is precarious, that we cannot take the bounty of the land for granted, that our subsistence is so dependent on the weather and on the work of other people. Though crop failure is an inherent risk in agriculture, the beauty of the farming community is that your friends and neighbors almost always have your back. This summer, for example, our winter squash succumbed to a disease that severely stunted and killed most of them, but not to worry, we have a friend who likes to trade his winter squash for our apples. So despite this year's drought, we still believe just as firmly in the power and magnificence of agriculture and local economies. A tree can bear fruit for many decades, so long as it puts down deep roots. -John Paul
The first apple distribution of the year is always the trickiest for us. While there are a number of interesting early season apples that make a decent pie or good sauce, the window for picking them is small and never seems to coincide with the timing of our CSA. We pushed the CSA start back a week this year to give ourselves more options – or so we hoped – only to be foiled by the drought that is causing many of our apples to ripen and drop early. So we are pleased that we have been able to gather five very distinctive apples for your first share of the season, including two that we have only rarely offered.
Seven years ago, our fledgling CSA offered Martha Crab as one of the picks. We weren't sure how people would feel about finding a crabapple when they opened their bags, but we hoped that shareholders would not be turned off by the crabby name and diminutive size and discover instead that not all crabapples are those nasty, hard little fruits that are better used as a projectile than a food. We should have known that anyone who signs up for a CSA featuring "unusual" apples, would be adventurous enough to take that first bite, and it didn't take many bites of a Martha Crab before our shareholders were hooked. Since then, at least one of those original shareholders has emailed us every year to ask if we could include Martha Crab again. Finally we have. So now it's your turn to change your mind forever about crabapples. We think you'll want to eat them fresh; but if you must, you can also pickle them or turn them into jelly. We've even included a recipe for roasting them, although following the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", we're not sure why you would bother.
The other fresh eating apple in the group is Zestar. With a name like that, you know it couldn't be an heirloom. But we include it because it has a great balance of flavors and keeps well for a summer apple. And you won't find it many places since it bruises easily and doesn't ship well. Handle it carefully.
Save your adventures in the kitchen this week for the pie apples in your share. Although they can hold their own with a piece of cheese as a dessert apple, Milton, Maiden Blush and the rarely offered Charette are better known for their pie worthiness. Try them alone; mix them together; add in your (second) favorite fruit. We don't think you'll be disappointed. Five years ago, one productive apprentice made 25 pies - John Paul remembers Milton as his favorite! There is nothing like the smell of apples baking to convince us that fall is on our doorstep.
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.
Join Us at the Common Ground Fair, September 23rd, 24th, & 25th
It's fair time once again! Though three of the seven of us work for Fedco (and will be staffing the booths at the fair) ALL seven of us will be hanging around Fedco Trees' apple booth at some point, so come say hello! Check out John's educational displays of New England apples and grab a "Wanted" poster to join the hunt for rare varieties that might've grown in your area. Apples are for ogling, not for sampling - though if you can't wait to taste more varieties, head over to the Hayloft tent for our apple tasting events on Friday (3pm) and Saturday (4pm). More information about the fair can be found here.
Recipes of the Week
When I was growing up, certain dinners that were favorites of some members of my family were sure to draw “yucks” and ‘”ewws” and ”no way I am even touching that” from others. When passions rose too high, my mother would inevitably try to diffuse the situation by commenting, “Well, that is why they have horse races.” We could have used her wisdom this weekend when two apple recipes polarized the OOAL crew at dinner on Saturday night.
I was looking for new ways to use Maiden Blush when two offbeat recipes in Ken Haedrich’s Apple Pie caught my eye. One was for Apple Pizza Pie that featured apples, sauerkraut and cheddar cheese on a yeasted butter pastry crust. We really like apple-cheddar pizza, but what intrigued me about this recipe was the sweet platform provided by the pastry crust for the savory topping that included sauerkraut. The other recipe I chose was Fresh Tomato and Apple Pie. The author confessed that this was the weirdest sounding pie in his book so I had to try it. (Also our garden is overflowing with ripe tomatoes at the moment.)
Never before have two apple recipes caused such a rift in our farm harmony. Some of us loved the pizza and felt that the slightly sweet crust was a natural complement to the topping. Others were completely thrown off balance by it – their taste buds wanted a regular pizza crust and this one was just plain wrong.
But that debate was nothing compared to the war that erupted when we tried the Tomato Apple Pie. Reactions were immediate and extreme. Comments spanned the spectrum from, “This is the best pie I have ever tasted” to “This is the worst thing you have ever made”. Kelsey admitted that it might take her a few slices to get behind it, but John, who only varies the apples in the pies he cooks and would never consider adding strange or even different ingredients, ate two pieces. When only one sliver of pie remained, the consensus at the table was that we should include the recipe in the newsletter, and let you decide for yourself. -Cammy
Fresh Tomato and Apple Pie
(adapted from Apple Pie by Ken Haedrich, 2002)
1 recipe for your favorite 1 or 2 crust pie (refrigerated)
2 large, ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
½ cup plus 2 TBS sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
7 cups cored and sliced apples (Maiden Blush work well)
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
11/2 TBS cornstarch
Topping: (if you prefer, you can use a top crust instead – I will when I make this again)
1 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
pinch of ground nutmeg
½ cold butter cut into ¼” pieces
Roll out your chilled pastry into a 13 ½” circle. Place over a 9” deep-dish pie pan. Sculpt the edge into a ridge, and place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl combine the tomatoes, ½ cup sugar, lemon juice and zest. Add the apples and thyme: toss well. Combine the rest of the sugar and the cornstarch. Add to the fruit and toss. Turn the filling into the frozen pie shell. (When I did this, there was a lot of liquid in the bowl from the tomatoes that I did not put in with the fruit since I thought it would make the crust soggy.) Smooth the filling with the back of a spoon or your hands.
Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes.
To make the topping mix the flour, sugar, salt and nutmeg in a food processor, and pulse several times. Remove the lid, and scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients. Pulse the machine until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Dump the mixture into a bowl, and rub the crumbs with your fingers until they form buttery clumps. Refrigerate.
After 30 minutes, remove the pie from the oven and place it on a baking sheet. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Pour the topping mixture onto the center of the pie, and spread it out with the back of a spoon, tamping it down lightly. Return the pie to the oven, and back until the juices are bubbling through the topping, 30-35 minutes more.
Remove pie, and place on a cooling rack for at least an hour before slicing.
If you get tired of eating all those tiny Martha Crabs before you get to the end of your bag, you can try this easy recipe. It takes only a minute or two to prepare, and the resulting apples are fun to pop in your mouth.
Slow-Roasted Baby Apples
(inspired by Apples of Uncommon Character by Rowan Jacobsen, 2014)
20 Martha Crab, stems on
1/8 cup canola or safflower oil
½ TBS cinnamon
1 TBS (or less) sugar
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Wash and dry the apples.
Place the apples in a bowl, and toss with the oil until coated.
Add the cinnamon and sugar, and toss until the dry ingredients are evenly distributed on the apples.
Place the apples on a baking sheet, and roast till soft. Rowan says 1 hour, but the Martha Crabs cooked so quickly that after 25 minutes they had blown apart. (But they were still delicious.) So I reduced the temperature a bit and tried again. After 15 minutes they were starting to get soft, and after about 18 I heard the first one pop and deflate in the oven so I took them out. My recommendation is to stay close to the oven after 15 minutes and pull them out when you hear that first explosion. You want them to be tender and wrinkled but not a pile of sauce.
Rowan suggests serving them in low bowls or wide glasses. We just put them on a plate in the center of the table and used our fingers. The long stems are perfect for dropping the apples into your mouth and eating off the soft flesh. The core stays attached to the stem.
If you want to skip the sugar, you can roast these with just a light coating of oil. John Paul preferred the ones I did that way.
That's it for our first installment of the season. 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.