Thursday, February 25

Finding Your Orchard

As some of you may have noticed the blog recently got a makeover of sorts.  I had a lot of fun looking at the different templates they had available and playing around with fonts and colors, but I wouldn't even pretend to know how to manipulate html codes.  I will save that for an incredibly rainy day.  Among the changes, is the addition of some navigational links at the top of the page, which I hope will help people to navigate to areas of interest within the blog.   One of the links leads to a part to a page that is not yet developed.  "Orchard Listings" is something I recently thought up that I think would make a nice addition to the blog.  My idea is to start a database of sorts, although initially it will just be a long list of orchards, with a short bio and orchard info.  I realize the list could be interminably long being as there is a plethora of wonderfully unique orchards and growers out there.  It occurred to me that a good place to start would be orchards I am already familiar with.  This is where you come in.  If you have an orchard or orchards in  you neck of the woods that you adore, or ones you are aware of through other channels send me the name and info you have.  I will do a little of my own research if needed to round out the bio and add them to the list.  You can email me here.  Alternatively you can just leave a comment on this post.
My hope is that eventually a listing of orchards in numerous states and bio-regions will be accessible to people looking for a local source of fruit or a fellow grower in their area.  In the long run it is my hope that this listing could even serve to connect pickers with jobs and apple enthusiasts and educators with numerous learning opportunities.  Why not aim high?  I am interested in small hobby growers or large established orchards, organic, sustainable and conventional alike.  I think some of the most interesting places might be something you would never find on a Google search, so I am depending on word of mouth.  Spread the word!

On a second note, I attended the Hudson Valley Commercial Fruit Growers School yesterday.  The four day school, two days of which are dedicated specifically to apple growing, is put on by the Cornell University Cooperative Extension.  I was surrounded by apple growers, orchard managers, and educators who seemed to embody a interesting amalgamation of professionals and old farmers who had put on their Sunday cloths for the occasion.  In between speakers numerous conversations about pollinators, the latest pruning techniques or fall foliar nitrogen applications could be heard around the large conference room.
The information encompassed a wide range of topics from soil and leaf analysis and integrated pest management to fruit marketing ideas.  It was an informative and interesting glimpse into the  commercial apple growing industry.  I plan on going over my notes and different publications I gathered while I was there, hopefully finding some good material for some upcoming posts.

In the meantime put on your thinking caps!

Thursday, February 18

Story of an Apple: Red Delicious

The original Red Delicious which bares only a slight resemblance to the supermarket reds found all over the world today, has its roots in the soil of a farm in Peru Iowa.  The owner of the farm Jesse Hiatt had been trying for several years to kill a young seedling tree, each year cutting it down to a stump.  Every spring the rootstock would send up new shoots.  After several failed attempts to kill it Hiaat gave in to the tree's determination and allowed it to grow for several years.  In the autumn of 1872 the tree bore it's first fruit.  Upon tasting the the fruit described as having "vermillian stripes...over a creamy base," he was quickly thankful for his choice to give into nature, perhaps already sensing the long lasting effect this one fruit would have on the apple world.
He gave the fruit a truly Iowan name, calling it the Hawkeye.  Many years passed, with each one the seedling tree, which he had so desperately wanted to rid is land of, produced grater numbers of the sweet, almost perfume flavored apples.  Twenty-two years after tasting the first apple, Haitt decided he could no longer keep this ambrosial fruit to himself and entered it in the Stark Fruit Fair.  The Stark company, a prominent tree nursery during the late part of the nineteenth century, had decided to hold a competitive fair, with the hopes of finding a new apple to replace the Ben Davis.  As the story goes, C.M. Stark after biting into the apple proclaimed "My, that's delicious - and that's the name fore it."  Unfortunately for Mr. Stark the tag labeling the name and origin of the delectable fruit had been lost during shipping.  Not having any clue where to even begin looking for it, he had no choice but to wait until the following year and hope it would again be entered in the fair.  Jesse Hiatt having faith, foresight and some amount of good fortune, reentered the fruit the following year.  Stark's adoration for the apple had not waned during the previous twelve months and upon tasting it again he decided to purchase the sole rights to propagate it and renamed it the Delicious.  A few decades later the same nursery purchased the rights to an apple that would become known as the Golden Delicious.  Wanting to avoid any confusion the original Delicious was renamed the Red Delicious.  The two varieties together would become the quintessence of an apple in the eyes of many, sharing much more than just a name. 
In the years following his purchase of the Red Delicious Stark made a substantial financial investment in promoting the apple to American growers.  Spending upwards of ten million of today's dollars, Stark force fed the Red Delicious into the U.S. apple market.  His efforts were not in vain, by the time World War II rolled around the Red Delicious was the most popular apple in the country.
Perhaps more than any other apple variety, the Red Delicious has been subject to the aesthetic whims of those who consume it.  A preoccupation with the "perfect fruit" has created what some would consider a monstrous apple, turning the Red Delicious into the poster child for the cosmetic apple industry.  The apple found today in school lunches and big box supermarkets has been scrupulously shaped, colored and remolded into an object that is much more the product of human desire than any single force of nature or genetics.
This phenomenon is largely due to the fact that Red Delicious trees are notorious for producing single-branch mutations called sports.  These branches sometimes produce visibly different looking fruit, that may not only look or taste different, but might also ripen at a different time from the fruit on the rest of the tree.  These branches, if bearing fruit with a desirable trait such as a redder skin, can then be grafted onto new rootstock and subsequently propagated as a new lineage of Red Delicious.    This has allowed growers and breeders to choose mutations that may be redder or more "perfectly" shaped constantly moving the Red Delicious closer to an ever-changing ideal of a perfect apple, and further from what Jesse Hiatt first bit into on an October day in 1872.
 The fate of the Red Delicious can not be completely blamed on the consumer.  Sports of the Red Delicious have also been chosen for the ease of the grower.  Ones that ripen earlier or are better for long term storage, packing and shipping have also be chosen and propagated over the years.  In short the Red Delicious was shaped by, and perhaps also shaped the global apple market.  Over 40 sports of Red Delicious have now been patented in the United Sates since it's introduction.
Red Delicious grown at the orchards where I have picked tend to be a later ripening apple.  They are one of the last varieties to be harvested, usually in mid to late October.  They are a very hard apple making them difficult to bruise, a plus for pickers.  They are however also highly susceptible to stem pulls and thus need to be finessed off the branch.  The opening in the apple crated by the absence of a stem introduces oxygen into the flesh of the fruit more easily and gives stem-pulled apples a shorter storage life.
I have never had a soft place in my heart for Red Delicious, I usually think of them as a rather tasteless apple that can be found almost anywhere.  I have come to realize however that what I think of today as a Red Delicious, was probably nothing like Hiatt's Hawkeye.  I would very much like to have a bite of that apple.  I realize I can only make a partial judgment of the Red Delicious, which itself won't be impartial, until I take that bite.

Sunday, February 14

Apples and Lovers

In the spirit of the day I thought it would be appropriate to look into some of the myths connecting the apple to beliefs about fertility, temptation and the human desire to find true love.   Although the shape and color of some apples could conjure up the image of a heart, the relationship between the apple and adoration runs much deeper.  The white flesh and deep red skin depicted in imagery surrounding the apple plays on the dichotomy of purity and temptation, innocence and lust.  Aside from these direct implications, different cultures have put emphasis on the apple's relationship to fertility or its ability to answer questions concerning one's future love.
In some cultures the apple can serve as a crystal ball, having the power to foretell the future of a person in search of love.   In Sicily, a young girl can tell her amorous fate by tossing an apple out of her window.  If the apple is picked up by a boy or young man she will be married within a year.  If a women encounters it, she will have to wait a year to try her luck again.  If, on the other hand, the apple finds it's way into the hands of a priest, the young girl will live her life a virgin.
Different parts of the apple are also believed to have their own prophetic powers.   In France, a person twirls an apple peel three times around their head before tossing it.  When the peel lands it will do so in the shape of the first letter of their true love's name.  In Belgium, apple seeds placed on a hot pan lid play the role of oracle.  Upon placing the seeds on the lid, a young women will ask a succession of questions such as, "Will I like him? Or, "Will my first child be a girl?"  For each question to which the answer is yes a seed will pop. 
Other myths endow the apple with the power to grant fertility.  In Montenegro, a newly married woman may throw an apple against the side of her husband's house to encourage the birth of many children.   In Kyrgyzstan, some believe that children are granted to infertile women if they roll around on the ground beneath an apple tree.
Lore relating the apple to good fortune in matters of love also made its way across the Atlantic.   A Kentucky mountain saying claims, "Eat a crab apple without frowning and you'll win the love of your dreams."  Or if that is not to your liking you might try this one: "If you can pull in apple apart with you bare hands, you can have any girl [boy] you want."
If you are away from the one you love, you could try sticking apple seeds to your forehead.  The number of seeds that stick when you remove your hand is the number of days until you will see your sweetheart again.
Some out there may think these myths sound foolish, but for the skeptics out there, don't knock it until you try it.  And, by all means, if it works, let me know!

Wednesday, February 10

Apple Recipes: Simple Apple Sauce

By this point in the winter I start to think about what to do with the remainder of the apples I have stored up from the previous fall.  Regardless of how good a place I found to store them, most the apples are inevitably soft and mealy by February.  Personally, I get spoiled by gorging on apple after apple, ripe off the branch all through September and October.  It therefore feels hard to bring myself to eat an apple that is a ghost of the crispy juicy taste of autumn it once embodied.  I do however find these February apples perfect for cooking with.  One can only make so many apple pies, cobblers and crisps however, thus I have found that a good simple apple sauce does a tremendous job of using up large amounts of apples while also preserving their flavor.  
With the advent of large scale refrigeration and more recently controlled atmosphere (CA) storage used by most large orchards, many people have gotten used to crispy "fresh" tasting apples year round.  Although crunching down on an Empire or Gala on a hot July day can be wonderful experience, it is a long way from an "apple season" when apples were consumed fresh, mainly during or soon after the harvest.  This gave the fresh apple an anticipatory place in the cycle of seasonal foods, where the only way to have the fruit year-round was by drying or canning it.  


Using a medley of apples always seems to give better flavor in my opinion, although there is some debate in the culinary world as to whether a one-variety sauce is more tantalizing to the buds.
Another question is always skin or no skin?  In my opinion, if you own a food mill or have access to one, go with the skins (especially if you are using organic apples).  The skin contains the majority of the nutrients found in apples and if you are using red-skinned apples, they also add a nice hue to the finished sauce.  If you don't have a food mill or are concerned about what else conventional apples might be storing in their skins aside from nutrients, peeling the apples still yields an incredibly flavorful sauce.

  1. Gather your apples.  Generally two small/medium apples or one large one will yield a cup of sauce.  I usually make a batch of 15-20 apples at a time.
  2. Wash the apples (especially if you are leaving the skin on).
  3. Peel if you wish.  
  4. Core the apples.  This is most easily done with a corer/divider, but a small knife will also work fine.  Large pieces are fine, they will just take a little longer to cook down.
  5. Fill a large pot with about an inch of water.  This will prevent the apples from burning until they begin to release there own juices.
  6. Put the cut apples in the pot on medium heat.  
  7. Once they have begun to bubble turn the heat down to a simmer, cover.
  8. Add cinnamon to taste (usually 1/2t. for every 5 apples)
  9. Simmer for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally.  The longer you cook it the smoother and thicker it will get.  As you cook off more of the water the sugars will also become more concentrated and the sauce sweeter.  I fine it nice to leave a few apple chunks in the sauce. 
  10. Let cool and eat!   (Note:  If you cooked the apples with skins put the sauce through the food mill after it cools)

 If you want to get back to basics, canning the apple sauce is a good way to preserve what you can't manage to eat strait out of the pot.  With modern-day appliances, freezing is another good option, and generally less labor intensive than canning.  As far as taste is concerned, canning will preserve the true flavor of the sauce, especially if you want to store it for a longer time.  If you plan on eating it within a few months, freezing is fine.

Friday, February 5

Apples in Mythology: The Golden Apple Part I

The apple has made its way into the traditions, stories and myths of many different cultures around the world.  The apple is more heavily referenced as a cultural symbol in the northern reaches of of our hemisphere where the historical migration of the fruit itself makes its way across lands and through time much like the silk road.  Widely believed to have originated in the heart of Eurasia in great forests of apple trees, the fruit made its westerly migration across much of Europe eventually into the new world finding a home in Greek and Norse mythology as well as the Garden of Eden to name a few.  Fairytale and folklore from many different countries are full of mention of the apple.   In this first look of many into apple mythology, I delve into some of the prominent Greek myths in which the apple takes the form of one particularly precious fruit: the Golden Apple.  

My brief investigation into the Golden Apple has led me to believe it holds great power and significance in Greek lore.  Possessing the ability to captivate gods and mortals alike, it was even believed to have the capability to grant immortality.  Sought after by Heracles in one of is great labors, it is also believed to have played a significant role in the instigation of the Trojan War.  Interestingly Greek stories involving the golden apple often also tell a story of deceit and trickery.  Not being well enough versed in Greek mythology, I am not sure if this is a common theme throughout, or whether it is something that may relate more closely to this particular fruit.  If anyone has any insight I would welcome comments.  In addition elaborations or variations on the following stories are always welcome.  Note:  The Greek hero known as Heracles was romanised into the more commonly known Hercules.   


 One of the prominent Greek myths evolving the golden apple is the Eleventh Labor of Heracles.  After his first ten labors it was decided that Heracles was to perform two additional ones.  For the Eleventh Labor he was to steal apples from the Garden of Hesperides.  The orchard belonged to Hera, the Goddess of women and the sister and wife of Zeus.  In her orchard was a tree (possibly more than one) given to her by Gaia as a wedding gift when she accepted the hand of Zeus.  On this tree grew highly prized golden apples able to grant immortality to those who consumed them.  Hera charged nymphs known as the Hesperides with the task of guarding the apples and the garden.   
The first task of the Eleventh Labor was to discover the location of the garden, not an easy task in and of itself.  Although it involved the capture of a shape shifting sea god, Heracles was able to accomplish this with little trouble.  Having learned the location from Proteus, his next and more complicated task was to actually retrieve the golden apples.  According to one variation of the myth, Heracles did not steal the apples himself, but rather tricked Atlas into taking them for him, on the condition that he would hold up the heavens in his absence.  Heracles believed Atlas would have better luck recovering the apples since he was the father of the Hesperides; a good assumption.  Upon his successful return however, Atlas pronounced that he no longer wanted to hold up the heavens, and instead would rather deliver the apples himself.  For someone who had been holding up the heavens for so long this proposition most likely seemed like a welcome alternative.  Agreeing to this condition, Heracles asked Atlas to hold the heavens temporarily while he made his cloak more comfortable, however this proved to be but a bit of trickery and Heracles returned with the apples himself leaving Atlas with the burden of the heavens once again.


Atlanta was the daughter of Iasius and Arcadia.  A skilled hunter and a very fast runner, Atlanta was a free soul and wished not to be burdened down by something as mundane as marriage.  Pressured by her father, who like every good Greek father wished his daughter to find a husband, Atlanta struck a deal.  She would marry any suitor who could win in a foot race against her.  Having great faith in her ability to outrun anyone who might attempt this challenge, Atlanta felt this to be a sound compromise with her father.  Succeeding in besting many a suitor, Atlanta felt satisfied with her arrangement until the appearance of Hippomenes who, knowing he could not beat her fairly, turned to trickery.  Having first prayed to the goddess Aphrodite, Hippomenes had been granted three golden apples and told by the goddess to use them during the race to distract Atlanta, thus slowing her down.  Although Hippomenes had to run with all his might and speed, the plan went off without a hitch.  As Atlanta would slow down to retrieve each of the apples he dropped, Hippomenes would run farther ahead.  Although he gained Atlanta's hand in marriage, Hippomenes made one fatal mistake.  Having forgotten to thank Aphrodite for her generous gift,  Hippomenes and his bride were both turned into Lions.


Upon the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Zues threw a banquette to celebrate the union.  One not invited to the celebration however was Eris, the goddess of discord.  In retaliation to this wrong doing she devised a scheme to do what she did best: create discord.  Crashing the party alone did not seem like a good enough revenge.  Arriving unannounced at the wedding, she delivered a golden apple, upon which was inscribed the words "for the fairest one."  This immediately, as planned, caused disharmony as three of those present; Athena, Aphrodite and Hera, all claimed to be entitled to the fruit.  Chances are any or all of them could have rightly gone home with the apple, however Zeus unwilling to put himself in the hot seat, passed off the task of deciding to a mortal by the name of Paris.
Charged with this daunting task, Paris found himself on the slopes of Mount Ida facing the three contenders.  As seems to be the way in many Greek myths, persuasion and bribery ensued, each of the three contestants offering Paris such rewards as kingship and wisdom.  However one offer grabbed the attention of Paris more than all the rest.  In exchange for awarding her the ego-boosting Golden Apple Aphrodite granted Paris the love of the most beautiful woman.  Without question this title belonged to Helen of Sparta.  Although his decision did bestow upon him the love of Helen, it also put him in a place of malevolence as far as the Greeks were concerned.  Their attempt to retrieve Helen from Paris became the basis for the Trojan War.

Tuesday, February 2

Journey's Return

I have made my way back from the southern reaches of North America (yes, in case you were wondering as I was, the North American continent does stretch all the way to the southern boarder of Panama).  Thrust back into the cold snows of the ever lingering Midwest winters from the volcano lined shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan, Guatemala in a single day was more than just culture shock.  Having been back for several  days now, any glimpse of the monochromatic gray skies, reflecting the snow clad earth of a similar hue, does little to aid me in conjuring up any recollection of the unbelievable blue of the Caribbean coastline or the deep green of the jungle covered mountains of the Guatemalan highlands let alone the festively painted chicken buses which swerve around the small roads of same mountains maintaining a centrifugal force that could cause one to almost lose the black beans, fried plantain and hand-made tortillas that made up the midday meal.
Conversely, few things in my travels served to remind me of my own origins.  Life in an ecosystem that that never dies and renews itself, but rather sustains itself is very different.  I found myself wondering if and when leaves ever fall from trees in the jungle.  Were these some of the same leaves that photosynthesized when the Spanish encountered this land?  Most likely not.  The leaves then were in some perpetual slow shed and growth cycle.  It served as a stark contrast to an ecological system based strongly in the changing of the seasons.
In a place where coconuts continuously fall from the trees and bananas ripen on a daily basis, what a different view of food there must be than in a place where a years worth of work goes into a two month harvest of an apple crop pressed upon on one end by the cruel summer heat and the other by killing frosts and freezes.  I found myself again reminded of perpetual work that goes into an apple crop as I made my way home through the winding ridge road of the land were I grew up.  I passed workers among the trees in the late February afternoon at the end of a long row of trees under which lay the unwanted branches, clipped from the trees had left behind.   Winter pruning was in full swing.
 Glad to be back, more soon!