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.


42 Responses to “Apples!”

  1. Jimon 11 Oct 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Okay, you talked me into it. I just bought ten of the things as a nod to caloric….well, they’re good for you.

    I live right across the river from, yes, Apple Valley, and I need to plant trees.

  2. Keith Farnishon 11 Oct 2009 at 4:44 pm

    I’m struggling to find what to do with what I have. After the chutney and the jelly I’ve run out of jars, so will be getting some more; but what about sugar? At some point it will have to be replaced because the amount of energy needed to produce it from beet is astronomical. I’m also loathe to freeze for the same reasons – just thinking towards the future.

    Probably confused to have a glut of anything for the first time…

  3. Mikeon 11 Oct 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I just harvested a bushel off of an ignored tree in front of the apartment building my buddy lives in. I’m 8 half pints of apple butter in so far (plus the pint I left in the fridge to eat right away). Next stop, applesauce!

    I’m really ecstatic about gleaning something that would have gone to waste and preserving it for winter (and having free apples).

  4. lissaon 11 Oct 2009 at 5:49 pm

    seventy years or so ago, when my maternal grandparents were establishing their homestead, they planted apple trees. transparents, winesaps, macintosh, northern spy, greening. these are the ones i remember. there may have been others. my sister and her family live on that homestead now (or at least in the house and on what acreage remains) and these trees are gone now, but these are the apples of my childhood. if i am someday able to plant trees (we are renting and in this economy don’t really aniticipate that changing), i would plant these. i would likely research other heritage varieties, but to me, these are true apples (as opposed to those styrofoam fake apples from the grocery store ;-) )

  5. Abbieon 11 Oct 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Grew up on a New England apple orchard… apples were my life growing up, literally. Picking, pressing cider, apple pie…

    My favorite apple by far is the Macoun. In fact, I have a French apple tart in the oven right now, made with Macouns. Also love Empires and Jonathans.

    I made apple cider jelly today for the first time, and it came out amazingly wonderful. I’ll be posting the recipe tomorrow if you want to swing by my blog and check it out. Well, that’s the plan at least, but I have my 4 month ultrasound tomorrow and am hoping to find out the gender of my baby, so that may take precidence to the cider jelly post… but I promise to have it up this week :)

  6. Abbieon 11 Oct 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Keith- As for sugar, I make and can unsweetened applesauce with lots of cinnamon. I much prefer it.

  7. Lisa Zon 11 Oct 2009 at 6:17 pm

    You make me feel guilty for all the Honeycrisps I bought today! I just love them, and yes they’re a quite new U. of Minnesota introduction. But they’re good, and they keep for 7 months! And they don’t turn brown quickly, which means I can slice them for kids’ lunches, and…I do have a wider variety planted in the yard but they’re not bearing yet. I would love to add some more heirlooms to the urban homestead, though. I’ll have my husband get right on it! He grew up on an apple orchard, after all, it’s right up his alley…;-)

  8. Sharonon 11 Oct 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Hi Keith – You can substitute honey for sugar, so bees might be the way to go. UYou can can applesauce without sugar, make cider (it will gradually go hard in a root cellar, but that’s not so bad ;-) , make cider syrup (reduce the cider to 1/4 and can it), or dry the apples, and if you have keeping varieties, you should be able to keep them quite a while in a cold spot.

    So you shouldn’t have to can all the apples!


  9. Sharonon 11 Oct 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Lisa, I like Honeycrisp too, and several of my trees are moderns. I don’t think there’s any reason to be embarrassed about liking any apples, except maybe those heavily waxed ones you get at the store in two varieties – Red or Golden Delicious ;-) .


  10. NMon 11 Oct 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I like Honeycrisps, too.
    I recently got my hands on some Cox’s Orange Pippins, and they made a terrific pie. It was fun to try something I’d only read about; would have bought and canned a lot more, but next trip to the farmers’ market, alas, there were no more. I should have taken the hint from the local bakery owner, when she bought a box full.
    It was a bad year for apples out here, but I haven’t yet given up on finding enough to can cider. Presses cost an arm and a leg, so my clever husband built one. Did collect a small bunch of apples from the market for sauce and apple butter. I don’t sweeten the applesauce, either. I also like to make quince apple sauce (which does need sweetening; it’s tart!) — with brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon. Lovely, spicy stuff.
    Don’t know what part of the country you live in, Keith, but once upon a time, people made maple sugar and and grew sorghum for sugar. Which sounded like a neat idea, until I read about the sugar-making process. Yikes.
    There’s also honey — though I find it too strong in jams and jellies.

  11. NMon 11 Oct 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Just saw Sharon’s comments. Cider syrup. Yum. I think in Italy, they make grape syrup.

  12. Debon 11 Oct 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Timely post–there’s an apple/blueberry slump sitting and cooling on the counter for supper tonite. Served with local heavy cream and made with my CSA apple that were seconds and couldnt be given to customers because they weren’t “pretty.”

    I called the local orchard and ordered 100 lbs of McIntosh for pick up Tuesday. I sauce it and freeze it. The boys in my household like it slighly warmed on soda crackers. They can chow thru a quart of sauce in a sitting. Freezing breaks down the sugars in the apples and you dont have to add as much sweetener to it.

    My father, who was raised in the Depression, ate his applesauce with cream on it. They had plenty of dairy and eggs, if not money for shoes and clothes, so everything was creamed.

    From him I also learned to eat tomatoes, still warm from the sun, chopped into a bowl and almost covered with cream and a dusting of sugar…..heaven on earth!

    Deb in Wis

  13. Maryon 11 Oct 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Pie is appropriate for any meal!

  14. knutty knitteron 11 Oct 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Apples – a favorite round here too. Every shift I have left behind a half grown Peasgood Nonsuch. Maybe this time we will be here long enough to actually eat our own apples! I did say this would be our last move so I’m hoping it is!

    Somewhere in the nursery there are some trees with my name on:)

    viv in nz

  15. Stephen Bon 11 Oct 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Pie, cheese, and cider for lunch!! That reminds me of (late) Haydn Pearson’s book, New England Flavor, Memories of a Country Boyhood.

    He swore by the apples they got from the Garden Royal apple tree that was growing near their kitchen garden, though I’ve never gotten my hands on such an apple yet. (I think it’s an early season apple.)

    He claimed to be head apple butter maker for his family too, under his mother’s direction. They’d core and peel several bushels of apples, mix some cider in with them, and then cook them slowly over an open fire kettle in the backyard on some fall Saturday. Towards the end, his mom would put in her secret mix of spices and fixings, let it simmer down some more, and then towards sundown declare their apple butter done for the season. Haydn said he’d have to stir the apple butter most all day so it wouldn’t scorch. Wow.

    Haydn also wrote about how his neighbors used to put up cider in barrels in the cellar. Supposedly they let them sit for several months before opening them, but as he said, “Of course, I wouldn’t know about such things.”

    I heartily recommend Country Flavor (Norton, 1961) if anybody can find an old copy.

  16. Meganon 11 Oct 2009 at 8:37 pm

    We moved to Maryland from upstate and have had a hard time finding good apples that store well but we were very pleased last year with York apples, they stored crisp and tart until February. Tonight with dinner we had fried apples and onions.

  17. Lornaon 11 Oct 2009 at 8:54 pm

    We’ve put up 50 pints of applesauce so far. This year we used a mix of macintosh, russets, cortlands and pears for our sauce–we pick drops from our favorite orchard and that was what they had when we went. We love apple crisp, and yes, I think it makes a wonderful breakfast. But my favorite way to eat apples is to put applesauce on peanut butter and toast. Great for breakfast or a snack.

  18. Donon 11 Oct 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Does anybody have Winter Bananas? They’re pretty rare. They’re yellow with a pink blush and they do have a banana-like aroma. They’re good keepers, too. I only know one orchard that grew them and we’ve moved away from there.

    Sharon, we were in your neighborhood about three weekends ago and we picked up some Macouns and Cortlands at an orchard near Kinderhook. I just finished the last one a few days ago.

    But Northern Spies are the best.

    I should mention that we Ohioans claim Johnny Appleseed for our own. He’s part of the pioneering legends around here and many of the nurseries he established were in Ohio. Do you know Mary Oliver’s poem about him? “John Chapman” is the title.

    I couldn’t have lunch without apples.

  19. Sara: in northern rural Alabamaon 11 Oct 2009 at 9:50 pm


    these names find my salivia increasing (mouth watering) as my tounge and my memory connect with when i lived on Cape Cod and worked on Bourne Farm and Peachtree Circle, where we grew many of these apples. my favorites were Cox’s Orange Pippin (ah if I could only find that tree here in Alabama!), Mcouns, Baldwins, Northern Spy, and a tree i just harvested apples from today, my beloved Arkansas Black.

    thank you for the taste & memory treat!

  20. espon 12 Oct 2009 at 5:42 am

    What a pleasant post the read the morning after I processed our one little bushel into applesauce, butter, and juice for jelly from the peels.

  21. Laurie in MNon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:00 am

    LOVE apples. Almost any sort, but I have a taste for the tart ones. DH doesn’t. :( But given that Golden Delicious apples have looked awfully *green* in our grocery stores for a number of years, I’ve at least gotten him to try other kinds. In my opinion, Delicious apples aren’t. Period.

    Jonnies (Jonathons) are simply awesome and one of my all time favorite apples, but seem to have such a short season here in MN. Maybe I just don’t know when their season is and miss it. The hybrid Jonagold are actually awfully tasty, too. Also like Pink Lady, and all winter long, Granny Smith. (I am totally aware that I have an awfully *modern* taste in apples, but bear with me, please. There’s only the two of us in my household, so change takes some time. We started actively seeking out orchards about 3 years ago, and are still seeing what’s available in the area.)

    Someone else who knows Winesap! *grin* We used to get them at the State Fair every year, but I haven’t found them for a long time. Also a favorite.

    The promised pears from my SIL didn’t materialize (apparently the trees she would have gotten the pears from bear every other year??), but I might be able to get some apples from the stable she boards her horse at. More canning experiments in my future, I guess — apple butter and/or sauce, as well as apple crisp from fresh.

    Laurie in MN
    where it is currently snowing
    (Yes, this is a little early, even for us, at least in the last 40 years or so….)

  22. deweyon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:12 am

    I only have room for dwarf trees; does anyone know of a dwarf apple that can resist pests and disease without sprays?

  23. Donon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:33 am

    Dewey, where do you live? If you live in the north or upper midwest, you might try Miller Nursery in the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY. They have an extensive catalogue of semi-dwarf and dwarf apple varieties. Most are standard apple varieties; I think they’re grafted onto dwarfing rootstock. You might check them out. I’m sure you could tell them which ones are most pest and disease resistant.

  24. Donon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:34 am

    Oops–that last sentence should have read “I’m sure THEY could tell YOU which ones are most resistant”!

    Fingers are cold this early in the morning. ;-)

  25. Julieton 12 Oct 2009 at 10:10 am

    The dwarf apple tree (3 yrs old now, I think) on my allotment seems to be growing 2 trunks from about soil level. This strikes me as probably a bad thing, but I’m not sure if it would be a good idea to cut one off. The other possibility that occurred to me would be to twist them round each other, but I’m concerned as well that that might damage the tree & it’s productivity. Any suggestions from more seasoned apple-growers?

    (It’s an Ashmead Kernel if that matters – on some kind of dwarf rootstock.)

  26. Teresa Noelle Robertson 12 Oct 2009 at 10:20 am

    I’ve put up (or pied up or just eaten) a bushel and a half so far: Macouns, Macs and Cortlands. Yeah, yeah, Cortlands are associated with mealy mediocre grocery store apples but I grew up in Cortland and fresh, they are What Apples Taste Like to me.

    But damn, it was hard to make a decision. We were buying utility apples and they had half-bushels of utility Rhode Island Greenings. Not the best for sauce or butter since they’re so crisp, but the best pies ever. I think I’ll have to go back. After all, I have less than half a bushel left…

    Sadly, the Yellow Transparent tree near my office, which I’d been gleaning, didn’t produce this year. We had late frosts and it must have killed the buds. Sigh.

  27. Stephen Bon 12 Oct 2009 at 10:45 am

    Juliet, it probably isn’t good.

    First, you should look and see if either or both of the trunks are sprouting from below the graft. The graft, as you may know, is the surgical joint where the tree variety (in this case Ashmead Kernel as you say) was joined to whatever apple rootstock the nursery used. (On a three year old tree, you should see a “jog” in the trunk a few inches above the soil line, assuming the tree was planted at the correct depth when you or whoever, planted it.) Sometimes, the rootstock wants to grow its own growth and will send shoots up from below the graft, from its own wood. If allowed to grow, the resulting trunk will eventually bear the wild apple that the rootstock represents. You want to cut any sprouts originating below the rootstock off. Hopefully, this still leaves you one trunk for your tree. If both trunks originate from below the graft, it means the graft didn’t “take” when the nursery did the grafting, and somehow they didn’t notice before shipping the tree. If both trunks originate above the graft, you should pick the save the better of the two by pruning the weaker one off.

    ‘Hope this helps.

  28. Stephen Bon 12 Oct 2009 at 10:47 am

    That should have read: “If both trunks originate above the graft, you should pick AND save the better of the two by pruning the weaker one off.”


  29. Susan in NJon 12 Oct 2009 at 10:55 am

    Pie for breakfast is a favorite in this house. It’s almost cool enough to get our apples for winter . . . we’re still finishing up the last peaches here.

  30. Debraon 12 Oct 2009 at 11:04 am

    oh how i wish i had the space for apple trees!

  31. Taraon 12 Oct 2009 at 11:23 am

    Pie is totally appropriate for breakfast! I grew up in Illinois and am now in Texas, and boy do I miss good apples. :(

  32. Fernon 12 Oct 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Back in March, when I started blogging, one of my first blog posts was on apples. That was because one of the first things that caught my eye was a press release from U of IL/et al on a new variety of apple they had developed that is resistant to apple scab disease. OTOH, the apple is hard as a rock, albeit with good flavor.

    The apple I jump on here each year is an early one: Smokehouse. The Ungers only have them for a few weeks at the farmer’s market, and I buy lots of them. Spicy, moderately tart, and wonderful to eat out of hand.

    Frondly, Fern

  33. sealanderon 12 Oct 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I planted 3 apple trees a year back. Hetlina (a New Zealand heirloom), and Monty’s Surprise (NZ seedling) as eating apples. These both came out tops in the tests for having the most cancer inhibiting phytochemicals of any eating variety in the country. Plus I have a Peasgood Nonesuch, which will be for cooking…..and just because I like the name ;)
    I wonder if anyone has tested the American varieties for procyandin levels?

  34. Mark Non 12 Oct 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Yes, the Mutsu is a good storage apple and one of my favorite all-around late apples. If you are planning on growing them yourself you should bear in mind though that they have very little disease resistance. Scab and Cedar Apple Rust have been especially bad in my area of upstate NY the last 2 years and the Mutsu is very susceptible to these 2 diseases. Spraying with copper, sulfur, or other anti-fungal can help but this is not a disease-resistant apple, unfortunately. I still like mine though, gnarly fruit and all.

  35. Dianeon 12 Oct 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Teresa Noelle Roberts: Here in RI I haven’t been able to find RI Greenings for several years. If you’re around here do you know where to get them?
    And Lady apples (not Pink Lady) were a childhood treat in Brooklyn. If they are still grown they don’t seem to make it here. I’m not sure how tasty they are but they seemed child-sized.

  36. Kathrynon 12 Oct 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Sharon and readers, you might be interested in an article on heirloom apples of appalachia in a recent issue of Saveur magazine. I had no idea there were so many varieties and I’m glad to find out that people are trying to save them. Here’s a link:

  37. Kate-Bon 12 Oct 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Wow! I hope to learn as much about different varieties as possible. I admire your fund of knowledge.

  38. Laurie in MNon 13 Oct 2009 at 1:06 am

    My favorite part of visiting the orchard stores around here is the sampling we get to do. :) Granted, it gets pretty hard to tell the varieties apart after the first 4 or so, but you can get a good idea of what you like.

  39. Julieton 13 Oct 2009 at 8:48 am

    Stephen B – thanks for the tips! I am pretty sure that at least the original trunk is fine (the 3 apples we got this year taste like what they’re supposed to :) & it was a one-yr-old tree when we got it), but that may be the case for the second-growth trunk. I’ll go check it out next time I’m at the allotment & prune as necessary.

  40. Shannonon 13 Oct 2009 at 9:16 am

    LOVE this time of year here in Maine! Our young apple trees are just beginning to bear, so I treasured the three Liberty apples I managed to harvest. :) They’re best after a good frost, and have a lovely apple/rose/strawberry fragrance – very floral and delicious. Crunchy, too.

    I harvested a William’s Pride apple and cut it in two; I ate half and forgot about the rest. The thing just sat there on the counter, gleaming, all day – not a speck of brown. I’ve never seen an apple do that!

    Deer got the Cox’s Orange Pippin, but I’m hoping it will make a comeback.

    Happy harvest to all of you apple lovers out there!

  41. Sharonon 13 Oct 2009 at 10:03 am

    Dewey, I’ve trialed some of the disease resistant varieties, but the ones that do well here won’t necessarily do well where you are – I’d call my cooperative extension agent.


  42. Stephen Bon 13 Oct 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Here in eastern Massachusetts, our 3 yo Liberty apple did well this year, it’s first year of bearing actually. I was skeptical when I planted it, as I was selecting for disease resistance over taste, but it really is a nice crunchy, firm, dark red fruit that is somewhat slow to turn brown I dare say.

    We got about 1/3 of a bushel this first bearing year of of it. I have a Macfree that should bear next year too. Next season, I’m also going to try bud grafting some Roxbury Russet and Orange Pippin onto these two trees of mine, as I don’t really have the space for 2 more complete apple trees, (making use of and borrowing buds from R. Russet and O. Pippin trees at my employer’s orchard.)

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply