Archive for October 11th, 2009

Apples!

Sharon October 11th, 2009

This weekend involved some serious apple picking – we had old friends visiting and a chance to try out a new orchard near us with some interesting old apples.  Now I’m not an old apple snob – or at least not entirely.  I’m very much interested in new introductions coming from breeding programs that reduce dependence on chemical controls, and I think some of the newer bred apples are as good as anything old – Mutsu, for example, is one of the best storage apples in my pantry.

Now apples aren’t a small thing for us – Eli is addicted to apples, they are his favorite food, and we buy about 12 bushels of apples every year (our own trees are just coming into bearing, so this is on top of what we produce), as well as making some cider when we can borrow a press, out of the wild apples on our property.  We dry apples, sauce them, make apple butter, but mostly eat them out of hand.  When anyone says they are hungry in our house, the one thing you can always have is an apple.

We enjoy everything from the earliest Summer Transparents and Oldenbergs that start off the new season to the September gravensteins and cortlands, but for me, real apples begin in mid-October, when the Northern Spies and Roxbury Russets are ripe.  They are tart and crisp, and something about each bite says “more, more.”    Apples grow in other places, of course – New York is only the second largest producer in the US…but to me, apples are inextricably linked with the cold, rocky soil that I was born into in the Northeast.

Today we drove into an Amish neighborhood to find an orchard that mentioned that they have Esopus Spitzenberg apples – Bellinger orchards in Glen/Fultonville for them that are out my way, although I fear that this year, they no longer have Spitzenberg apples.  You see they had a bad year for that variety, and only a few trees, and I pretty much harvested the lot (it wasn’t that much, in defense of my greed ;-) ).  They have a winey taste to them, sweetness, crispness, and an underlying spice – there’s nothing not to love about them. 

My kids can gorge on Pound Sweets (the old fashioned sweets are much better than most sweet apples, more complex) and Baldwins to their hearts content, but I’m hiding my Spitzenbergs, and doling them as a reward to myself and my husband, to be eaten with homemade herbed goat cheese or had as a snack on a particularly productive day, when they are well earned.  My own Spitzenberg trees are still small, but I smile at them a lot, and pat them, give them a nice dose of goat manure and a lot of kind words in anticipation of the days to come. 

It is no accident that we still revere Johnny Appleseed, or that wherever european settlers went, the brought apples.  The apples were a long lasting touch of sweetness, that for some varieties, kept well into winter.  They were food for children who ate few sweets, and not enough fresh things all winter long.  Their juice was sweet and delicious when fresh, and a source of warming alchohol in winter.  The drops fattened pigs or sheep.   They were roasted over the fire at night, and sliced and hung in rings behind the stove to dry.  They were packed into the root cellar and made into pies for breakfast (I have enough old New England WASP in my blood to believe in the merits of pie for breakfast…or really any time ;-) ).  With a mug of beer or cider, a piece of cheese and a chunk of bread the made the perfect, portable, delicious lunch.

Apples are part of my project too – first of all, we eat so many we’d be crazy not to have them.  I read the names on our list, listing places, origins, stories of the past: Roxbury Russet, which came from a neighborhood in Boston near where I grew up; Yellow Transparent, the first apple of summer; Freedom, a new introduction that seems to be resistant to some apple diseases; Baldwin, the old classic apple before Mac, which I vastly prefer; Arkansas Black, which wears its name on its sleeve; Chestnut, a delicious crab cross, tiny and superb; Chenango Strawberry, fruity and tied to my own region; Wolf River, a huge apple from Wisconsin, English Pearmain – perhaps the oldest known apple still in cultivation; Sheepnose, which carries a description in its name…Greening, Winesap, Grimes Golden, Liberty, Lady, Ananas Reinett.

Moreover, our rabbits and goats eat the tree prunings, and the drops.  Sweet cider is our favorite drink, and apples the only fruit that I can get locally all winter long.  We grow other tree fruits and nuts, of course, but while apricots and peaches, quinces and plums please us, there is no other fruit that makes us sigh in delight this way, or whose complexities get discussed, whose favorites get praised and defended as apples do. 

The bags of Spies, Mutsus, Spitzenbergs, Sweets and Macouns came home, but they are only the beginning of our appling – from now until the end of the month, we will be apple foragers, buying from several of our neighbors who grow them, filling our root cellar with boxes of apples in anticipation of the days when the trees are bare and we long for the tang and sweet crunch of autumn.

Sharon

Still Spots Left in Farm and Garden Design!

Sharon October 11th, 2009

Just a reminder – I do have spaces in the farm and garden design class, starting Thursday.  Email me at [email protected] if you’d like to join us – Aaron and I are going to put out all our mistakes, our screw ups, our successes and experience into helping people get more out of their piece of land – big or small, owned or not – *without* having to make our mistakes ;-) .

Here’s more info: http://sharonastyk.com/2009/10/06/farm-and-garden-design-class/

This is going to be a fun one – we’d love to have you join us!

Sharon