‘Apples of New England’ Coming Soon

AppleNEi1.jkt.DesCompApples of New England: A User’s Guide, a new book by Russell Steven Powell, will be published by The Countryman Press in September. Photographs are by Bar Lois Weeks.

The volume features color photographs and descriptions of more than 200 apple varieties grown, sold, or discovered in New England, plus a history of apple growing in the region spanning nearly four centuries, including a chapter about the contemporary orchard. In addition to extensive research, Powell interviewed senior and retired growers and leading industry figures from all six New England states, and obtained samples of many rare varieties at the preservation orchard maintained by the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

A chapter on John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”), for the first time links him with another Massachusetts native, Henry David Thoreau, as the fathers of American wild apples, Chapman for planting them, Thoreau with his pen.

Apples of New England is intended for use by all apple lovers, whether they are visiting the orchard, farm stand, grocery store, an abandoned field or a back yard — or in the kitchen. The descriptions include detailed information on each apple’s flavor and texture, ripening season, and best uses, as well as age, parentage, place of origin, and unusual histories.

Powell has written about apples since joining the New England Apple Association in 1996, and in 2012 published America’s Apple, a comprehensive book about apple growing in the United States, soon to be available in paperback.

Apples of New England, which lists at $19.95, will be officially available September 8, but is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Vermont’s oldest name in publishing, The Countryman Press began in Taftsville, Vermont, in 1973, and in 1996 became a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. The Countryman Press retains editorial and production offices in Woodstock, Vermont.

Powell will be reading/signing/selling Apples of New England at a number of events this fall. Here is the current lineup:

Keep Museum, Monson, Massachusetts, Sunday, September 7, 1:30 p.m.

Massachusetts Building, Eastern States Exposition, West Springfield, Massachusetts, Friday, September 12, through Sunday, September 28, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary, Wales, Massachusetts, Saturday, October 4, at 1 p.m.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, Massachusetts, Sunday, October 5, 12:30 p.m.

Mount Wachusett AppleFest, Saturday, October 18, 10 a.m.

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Speaking, Signing, Sampling (Fall Events)

 

The heirloom American Pippin apple

The heirloom apple, American Pippin

I WILL BE speaking, signing books, and sampling apples at a number of events in the next few weeks. In addition to copies of America’s Apple, I will have the 2014 New England Apples wall calendar for sale, featuring beautiful photographs of the region’s orchards and descriptions of some of its most interesting apples. All events are open to the public.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“Everything Apple:
 How the Apple Changed America and How America Changed the Apple”

Keep Homestead Museum, 35 Ely Road, Monson, Massachusetts

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“Heirloom Apple Tasting”

River Valley Market, 330 North King Street, Northampton, Massachusetts

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, 7 p.m.

“Apple Growing In America”

Cheshire Public Library, 104 Main Street, Cheshire, Connecticut

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19, 11 a.m.

“Great New England Apple Pie Contest”

Applefest

Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, 499 Mountain Road, Princeton, Massachusetts

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“Readings from America’s Apple

New England Mobile Book Fair, 82 Needham Street # 84, Newton Highlands, Massachusetts

 America’s Apple can be purchased in hardcover or as an ebook at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Silver Street Media, and numerous bookstores and orchard stores.

Cider Craze

Cider apples on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays

Cider apples on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays

AT TIMES, CiderDays had the look and feel of a religious revival, with impromptu tastings on lawns and sidewalk vendors like Sue Chadwick of Second Chance Farm in Greenfield, Massachusetts, who displayed several dozen heirloom varieties on tables with obscure pedigrees like Deacon Jones, a late 19th-century chance seedling, and Pennock, an even older variety, both from Pennsylvania. There were local apples named for Bethel, Vermont, and Northfield Beauty from nearby Northfield, Massachusetts, as well as Mother, discovered in Bolton, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s.

 A high point of CiderDays was the sold-out Saturday night Locavore Harvest Supper at Old Deerfield, a feast of dishes featuring locally grown food prepared by chef Paul Correnty. Hard ciders from around the country were served throughout the meal, and a dazzling assortment of mostly brown quart and liter bottles of varying shapes stretched along two tables against the kitchen wall, reserved for the occasion by the dozens of producers in the crowd.

When the eating was done and after welcoming remarks, the energy in the room began to rise as the emcee announced casually that all of the bottles on the table were available for purchase for $20 apiece on a first-come, first-served basis, starting “NOW!”

Like a Macy’s sale, there was a mad scramble to the table from every corner of the room. The first to arrive at the tables clutched at whatever they could get their hands on — there was no time to stop and read labels. A second wave pushed its way to the tables, and in less than a minute, every last bottle had been snatched up, leaving many disappointed people empty-handed. Such is the growing enthusiasm for hard cider.

***

FROM COLONIAL TIMES until the mid-1800s, fresh cider that eventually turned hard was America’s main drink. For the early European settlers, hard cider was a main reason for growing apples, and nearly every landowner had a small orchard. Hard cider was inexpensive to make, and it stored well. It satisfied a desire for sweetness, and was mildly intoxicating. In some places, it was considered a safer drink than water.

Everyone drank cider fresh and hard, even children. But two things killed hard cider consumption: the rising popularity of beer around the mid-1800s, and the temperance movement in the late 19th century. As America’s rural population began migrating to cities, and new immigrant populations, especially Germans, brought a talent for brewing good, cheap beer, hard cider was unable to compete. Yet hard cider endured as a symbol of America’s widespread use (and abuse) of alcohol, becoming a target of the temperance movement and in the late 19thcentury.

The market for hard cider has never fully recovered. Since so many of its apples had been used to make juice and hard cider, the apple industry had to reinvent itself by promoting apples for fresh eating. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” an updated, Americanized version of a Welsh proverb from the mid-1800s, became the United States apple industry’s slogan after horticulturalist J. T. Stinson used the phrase in an address at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The term “cider” was redefined as the sweet, fresh, unfermented apple juice. “Hard cider” became the new term for the alcoholic drink. 

 From America’s Apple, Chapter 5, “A Multitude of Juices”

Counting tote bags in the apple packinghouse (photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

Counting tote bags in the apple packinghouse (photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

TODAY IS THE FINAL DAY for the special, one-time e-book sale of America’s Apple. Featuring nearly 50 full-color photographs by Bar Lois Weeks and a photographic index of 120 varieties grown in the United States, America’s Apple takes a detailed look at how apples are grown, and the people who grow them. America’s Apple can be downloaded through today for the discounted price of $2.99 (regularly $9.99). The e-book can be purchased through Amazon for Kindle or as a Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book. The hardcover is available through these sites, numerous bookstores and orchard stores, and Silver Street Media.

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Who Will Pick Our Apples?

An apple picker kneels by a Fuji tree in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley (photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

An apple picker kneels by a Fuji tree in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley (photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

HENRY CHILES, the third generation owner of Crown Orchard in Covesville, Virginia, grabbed his keys and ushered us to his sport utility vehicle at his apple packing facility off Route 29 late one sunny October afternoon. He told us in his slow, raspy drawl that the director of a local food bank wanted to see if he could glean apples from one of Henry’s orchards.

Henry, 77, said that he had told the food bank director that he did not think the apples were any good, but the director insisted on seeing for himself. We met him in a parking lot, and the four of us rode out to one of Henry’s orchards in and around Covesville, 20 miles southwest of Charlottesville. The roads kept getting smaller, the houses further apart. It would have been difficult to find the orchard on our own, hidden behind a border of deciduous trees on a winding hillside.

Henry, though, eventually turned onto a rutted track of red clay soil that led to an orchard. It was a scene of fantastic abundance. Row upon row of lush green foliage trailed away before our eyes, drenched in late-afternoon sun. The trees were positively dripping with perfect-looking, bright red apples.

This seemed a little unusual, since most of the apple crop is picked by late October. But every year and every region is different, so we just soaked in the view. Henry eventually pulled onto the grass next to a row of these apple-studded trees. He slowly walked to the nearest one, cradling one of its luscious-looking crimson fruit in his hand.

He squeezed the apple. It exploded — into dry, mealy pulp. Henry picked several apples from neighboring trees and repeated the process. Beautiful on the outside, every one was rotten beneath the surface. The food bank director searched for a solid one. Eventually he found an apple worth trying, but after one bite he spit it out.

The Red Delicious apples should have been picked nearly three weeks before, Henry told us, but the labor contractor he had relied on for years was not able to deliver enough pickers in time. Apples must be harvested by hand, and a block of trees this size would normally take a crew of 30 to 38 experienced pickers up to two weeks to harvest, depending on weather. That is about one-quarter of the apple pickers Henry needs on hand during the fresh harvest, or else he loses the fruit. Like most food crops, apples, once ripe, will not wait.

Henry tried to line up a deal with a local prison so inmates could harvest the apples, but it fell through. For the first time in a lifetime of growing apples, he had no choice but to watch the perfectly good fruit rot on the tree. His available pickers were needed elsewhere.

 “Sometimes you just have to walk away,” says Henry. “It was a hard decision to make, but it was the right one.”

Still, it was painful, especially given Henry’s philosophy: “I don’t plant a tree unless I know where I can sell its fruit.” In all, he lost 75 acres of Red Delicious. At an average of 800 boxes per acre, that amounts to a loss of 60,000 boxes of fresh apples — not because of a weather incident or other natural disaster, but because he could not pick them. 

 From America’s Apple, Chapter 8, “Who Will Pick Our Apples?”

JUST FOUR DAYS LEFT for the special, one-time e-book sale of America’s Apple. Through Thursday, August 29, America’s Apple can be downloaded for the discounted price of $2.99 (regularly $9.99). The e-book can be purchased through Amazon for Kindle or as a Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book. The hardcover is available through these sites, numerous bookstores and orchard stores, and Silver Street Media.

With nearly 50 full-color photographs and a photographic index of 120 varieties grown in the United States, America’s Apple takes a detailed look at how apples are grown, and the people who grow them.

In Search Of Heirlooms

Sheep's Nose, or Black Gilliflower, discovered in Connecticut in the 1700s (Photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

Sheep’s Nose, or Black Gilliflower, discovered in Connecticut in the 1700s (Photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

THE SPECIAL, ONE-TIME e-book sale of America’s Apple continues. Now through Thursday, August 29, America’s Apple can be downloaded for the discounted price of $2.99 (regularly $9.99). The e-book can be purchased through Amazon for Kindle or as a Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book. The hardcover is available through these sites, numerous bookstores and orchard stores, and Silver Street Media.

With nearly 50 full-color photographs and a photographic index of 120 varieties grown in the United States, America’s Apple takes a detailed look at how apples are grown, and the people who grow them.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 3, “In Search of Heirlooms (and Other Varieties)”:

The apples commonly found in supermarkets represent a fraction of the varieties cultivated in America’s orchards (there are more than 7,500 apple varieties grown around the globe). Before refrigeration, orchards typically planted many varieties to extend the fresh harvest as long as possible, and apples were highly valued if they remained firm and flavorful through the winter months. With refrigeration, commercial orchards had less need for apples that might be good for a few short weeks, were difficult to grow, or bore heavy crops every other year.

Some of these older, commercially flawed varieties have died out, while others may survive in a single orchard. But a number of heirloom apples are still being grown, and finding new life as people take an interest in their unique culinary or historical qualities. Apart from their distinctive flavors, colors, and textures, these old varieties are rich in history, sometimes across continents and over centuries.

Some heirlooms, like America’s oldest apple, the Roxbury Russet (1635), named for the Massachusetts town (now a Boston suburb) where it was discovered, are valued for their superior flavor. Roxbury Russets evince regional pride, too, like two 18th-century apples named for other Massachusetts towns: Hubbardston Nonesuch and Westfield Seek-No-Further. Some heirlooms draw attention to distinctive physical characteristics like color (Black Oxford, 1790; Blue Pearmain, 1800s), or size (Twenty Ounce, 1840s).

Many of these apples have one major flaw that keeps them from the mass market. “Some varieties have nine good qualities out of ten,” says Kevin Maloney, an apple breeder at Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, “but the tenth one is a killer.”

An apple variety may be difficult to grow, susceptible to disease, or bear poorly. Some larger apples are lacking in flavor, some sweet-tasting ones have huge cores or tough outer skins. A visually stunning variety might yield little juice. Whatever reasons a variety does not become a commercial success on the scale of Gala or McIntosh — whether due to changing consumer tastes, horticultural issues, or because it does not ship well — it may flourish in an orchard or region where the growing conditions are just right. 

Sex And Graft

IMG_2609BEGINNING TODAY and for the next two weeks, the e-book of America’s Apple can be downloaded for the discounted price of $2.99 (regularly $9.99). The e-book can be purchased through Amazon for Kindle or as a Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book. The hardcover is available through these sites, numerous bookstores and orchard stores, and Silver Street Media.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1, “Sex and Graft (the art of growing apples)”:

A word of caution to those entering an apple orchard for the first time: the experience can be overwhelming. Apples are seductive; anyone who has ever spent time where apples are grown knows why they symbolize temptation in the story of Adam and Eve. Apples are irresistible, appealing to all the senses.

The sheer scale and conceit of the orchard is impressive, humans harnessing nature’s wildness in a symmetrical, leafy grid. Even dwarf trees tower over the average person, and standard-size trees, while planted rarely these days, still dominate many orchards. Their 15- to 30-foot canopies gently swallow up the visitor in a colorful, symmetrical forest running up hills or down gentle slopes, often continuing as far as the eye can see.

Entering the orchard is like walking into a well-proportioned painting, with the view broken into three roughly equal horizontal bands. Beneath your feet are the mixed greens of grasses carpeting the orchard floor; above is blue sky. The middle is dominated by the deep, dense greens of the trees, and from this leafy sea bursts thousands of pieces of round and oblong fruit in hues ranging from burgundy to gold to lime. Some apples are a single, solid color, some striped or russeted (having a brownish skin and rough texture), and many are a kaleidoscopic mix of shades. Many orchards are planted high on hillsides; when you look up from picking you take in a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.

If the orchard experience were strictly visual, its grandeur alone would captivate. But these orderly rows of apple trees work on all the senses. The orchard is a quiet place. Noise is muffled within the confines of grass and trees, distant from traffic. The main sound is the trilling and chirping of songbirds. The orchard invites contemplation.

The fragrance is intoxicating. While some apple varieties are more aromatic than others, the collective scent transmitted by thousands of pieces of hanging fruit, mixed with soil and fresh air, is an olfactory rush.

The best is yet to come: the tactile pleasure as your hand reaches around a ripe apple and twists it gently off the tree. When you sink your teeth into the apple with a loud, satisfying crunch, it is as if all the orchard’s sensory pleasures are distilled in that single bite: the soft crunch, the heady aroma, the explosion of flavors, the rush of juice, the intense, brilliant colors of the outer skin contrasting with the creamy white, yellow, or lime-green flesh. 

E-Book Sale Begins August 15

Jeff and Jennifer Crist of Crist Brothers Orchards, Walden, New York (photograph by Bar Lois Weeks)

Jeff and Jennifer Crist of Crist Brothers Orchards, Walden, New York (photograph by Bar Lois Weeks)

Jim Hill, Hill Brothers Orchard, Alpine Township, Michigan (photograph by Russell Steven Powell)

Jim Hill, Hill Brothers Orchard, Alpine Township, Michigan (photograph by Russell Steven Powell)

TO CELEBRATE the 2013 fresh apple harvest and make America’s Apple more accessible, I will be launching a one-time e-book sale beginning this Friday, August 15. For a two-week period ending August 29, people will be able to download the e-book version of America’s Apple for just $2.99 instead of its regular price of $9.99.

The e-book will be available at the discounted price through Amazon’s Kindle or as a Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book. The hardcover is available through these sites, numerous bookstores and orchard stores, and Silver Street Media.

Evan Darrow, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (photograph by Bar Lois Weeks)

Evan Darrow, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney, Vermont (photograph by Bar Lois Weeks)

Anyone with an interest in apples and agriculture will find this an interesting read. Stories about the people who grow apples are interspersed among chapters on apple horticulture, history, culinary uses, and more — including a fresh look at John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), and some of the challenging issues confronting modern agricultures, from labor to food safety.

America’s Apple includes an illustrated index of 120 apple varieties grown in the United States, and nearly 50 four-color photographs from America’s orchards by Bar Lois Weeks.

For more information, write to americasapple@comcast.net.

Roadside stand near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Photograph by Bar Lois Weeks)

Roadside stand near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Photograph by Bar Lois Weeks)