Harvest Gold: Apples
by Deborah Taylor
I began my meditation on apples quite by accident. I was driving home in the late afternoon and decided to explore another route. It was in the warming promise of April that I found myself ascending a hill in the last of the day’s light. As I approached the hilltop, a most spectacular sight revealed itself: Backlit by the golden glow of the orange setting
sun were creamy white apple blossoms balanced on branches reaching to the last of the blue-domed sky. The leaves had not yet unfurled and it was as if the orchard had been dipped in gold dust as it glowed and shimmered in the light wind.
I am sure I discovered Eden in my own neighborhood—a more perfect shrine to nature’s beauty did not exist than at the beautiful Nagog Hill Orchard in Littleton.
I have returned to this spot—at the crest of a hill on a country fourcorners road—many times to watch and note the changing sets of the orchard’s spring and summer scenes. The final act—about to start its crescendo as I write—is the harvest. Each and every variety will perform as the last curtain rises in August and the final curtain call ends in late fall—into our waiting hands for eating, cooking and excellent winter storing. A total sensory delight awaits.
With over 7,000 varieties on the international apple stage, our American beauties are uniquely distinct. Started by the first European settlers, who cultivated their favorite OldWorld varieties with our native crab apples, New Englanders have grown and improved our unique heritage apple varieties for over 300 years.
And there is a reason this humble workhorse is so popular, versatile and tempting. Whether cooked or eaten from the hand, the apple promises and more than fulfills on the storage, nutritional and culinary stage. With proper keeping, some apple varieties will last far past the gloom of short winter days into the light of spring. Nutritionally, apples
are a high-fiber food, high in potassium and low in sodium with— applause now—a rich source of natural energy and less than 90 calories per medium-size sphere.
What’s more, apples are a multitalented performer with an expansive kitchen repertoire. For sharpness, versatility and wit, include apples with fatty meats and fish or stuff into sausages. For the classic supporting character role, look for apple’s excellent show as a juice, wine or cider beverage; an accomplished dessert star in crumble, cake, cobbler charlotte, brown betty, pandowdy or pudding; deep fried in fruit fritters; preserved in sauces, jellies and butters; savory in soups or stuffed and baked; a salad accompanist; whole on a stick dipped in caramel or slices dipped chocolate; or as the scrumptious heroine in the most popular American role—apple pie—just a few script changes away from the favored raised pies of medieval Europe.
Now as in ancient times, apple flavors are as decidedly distinctive as cheeses or wines. The four main types are:
• Cider apples: used for cider making
• Dessert or eating apples: crisp, juicy and most often found at your market
• Cooking apples: distinctively tart when raw, balanced when cooked with a firm flesh shape
• Dual-purpose apples: best eaten older and more mellow, and cooked young and tart. Even after picking and dry storage, the fruit will evolve with perfume-like aromas from the skin and a mellower flavor with continued storage
I invite you to partake in the last act of our apple play by coming onto the orchard stage at one of many PYO (pick your own) farms where all the grand dames, current stars and talented ingénue varieties will be vying for your attention.
Talk to the knowledgeable farmer and staff, sample new varieties and expand your apple palate. Review, renew or realign your personal favorites by noting the balance of acidity and sugar and varying notes of flavor and scent.
The harvest curtain is about to rise; the scene is a rich, green New England orchard with dashes of reds, oranges and yellows; the air is fragrant and there is a slight breeze. People carrying baskets are entering from stage left… See you at the opening!
Apple Day Trippers
An easy tank away from Boston and you are in another world of rolling farms and the rich bounty of our New England apple harvest. The countryside is full of wonderful PYO (pick your own) farms.