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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

John Bunker and David Buchanan on Cider Day

John Bunker and David Buchanan at Apex Orchard

John Bunker and David Buchanan gave a couple of talks on Cider Day all  about their experiences with finding and planting heritage apples. They also got to sell their books. I knew about David’s book, Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter,  but I didn’t know that John had also written, and illustrated, a book about the apples and orchards of Palermo where he lives in Maine.

Not Far From the Tree: The apples of Palermo 1804-2004

Not Far From the Tree: A Bried History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004. After his wonderful and engaging talk I was delighted to find that he had written this book (he hadn’t mentioned it during his talk) and it was being sold at the Buckland-Shelburne Community Hall Cider Day site. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and really read the book but I did get past the Acknowdedgements page, where among other things, he siad that he had finally and with  the help of “the Apple Professor Tom Burford, idenitfied the ‘Blake’ apple as a Grimes Golden. This will be a good update to David’s book in which he describes some outings searching for the Blake apple.  As John said in his talk ‘exploring for apples is a project in process. It is something you are Doing all the time.” He said those who are exploring have to act like Sherlock Holmes, and that there are two different sorts of exploring. “Sometimes you are poking around to find a particular apples, and sometimes you are trying to find a name for an apple. Related, but two different processes.”

He also  talked about the Preservation Orchard that MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners) is planting, concentrating on apples that originated in Maine. Like David, John is interested in finding locally adapted crops. One of my neighbors also attended the talk and by the time we left the Apex Orchard Farm Store where the talk was held, we had determined to talk to our own Heath Historical Society about exploring our own apple history (Heath used to have a  number of orchards) and planting a selection of those apples on the Common or on Historical Society land.

You can learn more about John Bunker and his apple CSA by clicking here.

More about John Bunker and David Buchanan to come this week.  I have to read a little more of Not Far From the Tree.

The ABCs of Heritage Apples, and Others

Apex Farm Store

A is for Apple, but if we look at heritage apples we can march right through the alphabet. Baldwin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, (Old) Delicious, Esopus Spitzenberg, Golden Russet, and on through to Northern Spy, Roxbury Russet, Stayman Winesap and Westfield Seek-No-Farther.

The Roxbury Russet and Westfield Seek-No-Farther remind us that some apples had a very local fame and audience before they spread to wider fields. In fact, Roxbury Russet was the first named apple in Massachusetts.

Even though we think of apples as a quintessential American fruit, apples originated in southeastern Asia, Kazakhstan and Turkey thousands of years ago. There are over 7000 cultivars, but you don’t usually get any sense of how many apples are grown, even now, if your only experience with apples is from the supermarket.

Fortunately we live in an area where apples thrive, and where we have a number of small orchards selling a much wider variety of apples – and cider. Last week I visited Apex in Shelburne, Barkley’s in Heath and Clarkdale in Deerfield and my husband is looking forward to apples cooked sweet and savory as well as the healthful apple a day eaten out of hand. I never get tired of apples and my father said no meal was complete without his apple for dessert.

Fuji apples

Tom Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farm said there are still Baldwin and Northern Spy trees on his farm that his grandfather planted. He said that Baldwins were an important New England apple. At the turn of the 20th century Colrain had more Baldwin apple trees than any other town in the state. The apples came out of Colrain on the trolley, then to the train in Shelburne Falls, and then to Boston where they were shipped to England. It was the Baldwin’s keeping qualities that made this possible. “Of course, this might just be a local legend,” Clark said. But it does seem possible.

In the 1930s there were winters so severe that most of the Baldwin trees were killed. It was the new Macintosh apple that took its place. This apple has a tender skin and doesn’t keep as well, but refrigerated transportation was becoming available so keeping quality wasn’t as important.

Clark grows a range of heritage apples along with the newer varieties like Honey Crisp, but he said that he liked Baldwins, and that a “ripe russet is nice.” He did say that Americans in general liked pretty red apples but that the Jonagold apple, a cross between the Jonathan and Golden Delicious is the most planted apple in Germany and France. He has heard “that Americans buy with their eyes, and Europeans buy with their mouths.”

There is a new interest among foodies for cider, soft and hard, but Clarkdale Fruit Farm has been making cider for 50 years. Many of these old apple varieties make especially good cider. My friend Alan Nichols planted a cider orchard quite a number of years ago and those apples are in demand again as the new owner of the orchard is making his own cider,

Alan Nichols’ brother Lew wrote a book, Cider: Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider, with Annie Proulx back in 1980 which is still available. Nichols and Proulx suggest a long list of cider apples for New England that includes Baldwin, Cortland, Esopus Spitzenberg (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple), Gravenstein, Jonathan, Fameuse, Roxbury Russet and Stayman Winesap among others.

Cider is such a fashionable drink right now that we celebrate locally with Cider Days, scheduled this year for November 3 and 4. This event will take place at a number of locations in Greenfield, Deerfield, and Shelburne. You can find a full schedule of tastings, apple butter making, a locavore harvest supper and more on the website www.ciderday.org.

Apex Orchard in Shelburne also grows a wide range from Baldwins, Spitzenbergs, Macouns and Fuji as well as Reine de Pomme and Ashmead Kernel that they grow for West County Cider.

I cannot say I was surprised to see that West County Cider’s Redfield was a featured recommendation in the November issue of Martha Stewart’s Living. West County Cider makes several varietal hard ciders, which only use a single apple variety, like Redfield as well as a Heritage Blend Cider. Many chefs are now thinking about pairing a cider with a particular dish, the way wines have been paired in the past.

Apex Orchard cooler

I was talking to Sarah Davenport at Apex Orchard and she said she liked Macoun and Fuji apples, but it was hard to choose a favorite.

Tim Smith of Apex refused to limit himself to one favorite apple. He said he liked them all, but he said his grandfather, Lyndon Peck had a favorite – the large Pound Sweet. “He had a baked Pound Sweet with his breakfast every morning from late September until March,” Smith said.

I am so happy to have all these apply choices. Sue Chadwick, who had a huge collection of heritage apples in Buckland when I was librarian there, told me the secret to her famous apple pies was using several apple varieties. I start with Northern Spy because there is an old saying “For the best pie, use Northern Spy.” Other good pie apples are Roxbury Russet, Baldwin, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Golden Delicious and the new Honeycrisp.

I also just learned that Cornell University sells apples from their experimental orchards in vending machines on campus. Those smart university people appreciate the importance of an apple a day!

Between the Rows   October 20, 2012

Good Berry – Bad Berry

Cotoneaster

When I walked through the garden the other day I realized how many red berries I have in the fall. Three years ago I noticed for the first time that my holly, ‘Blue Princess,’ and my cotoneasters had finally started producing berries. That berry production has gotten more prolific and beautiful each year.

Hollies are dioecious plants, which means they need separate male and female plants to cross pollinate and produce fruits. While there are many holly cultivars I chose Ilex x meservae ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ because they are among the hardiest of the hollies and ‘Blue Princess’ is considered one of the heaviest berry producers.

Both of these hollies are hardy in Zone 5 which is winter temperatures down to minus 20 degrees. They like moist but well drained acid soil and sun, although they will tolerate some shade. Full sun will give the best berry production. ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘Blue Prince’ will both attain a mature size of about 12 feet or more with a spread of up to ten feet. Fortunately they grow slowly only about six inches a year. In six years my ‘Blue Princess’ grew to about four feet tall and three feet wide. The ‘Blue Prince’ is smaller.

I love being able to prune off a few berry-laden branches for Christmas decorations, but I planted the hollies because I wanted more shrubs in the Lawn Bed. I am not ready to give up perennials, but as I get older I am looking for ways to cut down on the labor of maintaining perennials, dividing and cutting back, and weeding. Shrubs are so various with countless foliage forms, textures and colors, and even colorful blooms and berries that I think they add great richness to the garden.

About the same time  the hollies I planted two cotoneasters as groundcovers to provide a foil for the conifers I had in the Lawn Bed. They don’t grow very tall, only one or two feet for most varieties and the leaves are small and dark green. They are hardy and very attractive in every season.  I couldn’t wait for these to cover the ground individually and planted them much too close together. They have now merged and I’d be hard put to say which is which. One of them produces large quince-like blossoms in the spring. I just learned that the name ‘cotoneaster’ comes from two Latin words meaning similar to quince.

All cotoneasters (cuh-TOE-knee-asters) produce small red berries in the fall which will attract birds, if they are very hungry. They will not attract deer which makes me very happy.

Highbush cranberry

A third red berry that attracts birds in my garden the American highbush cranberry, the native Virburnum trilobum. This shrub is about 12 feet high in my garden and gives me no trouble at all. In the spring it produces flat airy blossoms that contain both fertile and infertile flowers. It is because of the flowers that I planted the highbush cranberry next to the Cottage Ornee. It also has very attractive palmate leaves.

The berries turn red in September and they are really beautiful. The birds love them, but I recently learned that they are not only edible for humans, but that they will make a very nice jelly.The berries are easy to pick because they grow in thick clusters and there are no thorns.

The berries can be harvested as soon as they are red, even though they will be crunchy at first. Freezing them before preparing them for processing will soften them up. I have been told that they taste very much like the cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, that are so indispensable on the Thanksgiving table.

The birds are certainly thankful. Most of my berries, without any help from me, are gone by Thanksgiving.

Autumn olive

While I welcome holly, cotoneaster, and viburnam berries in my garden I have other red berries that are a source of dismay and frustration. The first is autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, which we bought from the Conservation District many years ago. I planted three or four at the edge of the lawn, happy that they were fast growing and produced berries for the birds. They actually produce berries for me too, but I have never used them even though many people cook them up into a jam.

It did not take us long to see that the wind, or the birds, were seeding autumn olive in the field east of our planting. Over the years our planting died out except for one remaining bush. We are trying to eradicate the autumn olives in the east field.

The other dismaying berries are hips of the pasture rose which was here before we bought our house. We are constantly removing these briary, prickery roses and it is a never ending battle. They are very pretty and I have used sprays of their small red hips in holiday decorations, but mostly I arm myself with a heavy shirt and dungarees and leather gloves and try and cut them back at the root. Again and again.

Shrubs that produce beautiful berries give our gardens a long interesting season, and may attract our beloved birds, but if we are wise, we will be careful when we make our choices. We don’t want to invite trouble when we plant for color and for the birds. ###

 

Between the Rows   October 29, 2011

Seen in Seattle

As we 74 garden bloggers have toured Seattle we have visited private gardens, public gardens, and semi-public gardens to admire and learn about plants and Seattle’s history. Here is a mock orange at the Dunn Gardens.

All kinds of lavender everywhere.

Bicyclists on their own path.

Fabulous fruits at the Farmer’s Market. Cherries, peaches, all kinds of berries – vegetables, too.

Magnificent trees, towering.

Potted plants everywhere, in the gardens and on the street.

Fountains in the Mall where kids can play.

AND roses, and more roses. This in one variety growing in the enormous beds arranged around a beautiful big fountain at the University of Washington.

You will see lots more about Seattle’s gardens, and the clever ideas people have to add interest and convenience to their gardens. Stay tuned.

Black Knot on My Plum

It’s been raining for almost a week. This means the conditions are good for the spread of black knot.

Plum tree with black knot

We have slowly been removing the plum trees from our orchard and the time has come to take down the last tree.  I loved the occasional harvests of Stanley plums which I mostly canned, but I think we will just content ourselves with the three semi-dwarf apple trees.

Black knot gall

This gall, one of several, is about 6 inches long and a little more than an inch in diameter.  I don’t know how this disease got a toe hold because there are no wild trees in the vicinity, but obviously once disease began, it has continued to spread.  The first galls can be quite small and difficult to see, but they don’t take long to grow. We have cut out and burned the galls as they appeared, but we never succeeded in eradication. Over time the tree weakens, the gall grows, and there is no cure but removal of the tree.

Apple blossom

We will remove and mourn the plum tree, but I will concentrate on the apple trees that are just beginning to bloom.

Winterfare in Greenfield

Red Fire Farm greens

It didn’t take long to use up all the wonderful fresh veggies I bought at the Northampton Winterfare, but the Greenfield Winterfare, a winter farmer’s market is coming up on Saturday, February 5  from 10 am – 2 pm at Greenfield High School on Lenox Avenue.

In addition to all delicious food, bread, fruit, veggies, meat, yogurt, jam, pickles, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, there will be a variety of workshops on canning, growing grain, seed saving and more.

There will also be a Barter Fair and soups from area restaurants including Hope & Olive, Barstow’s Longview Farm, Bart’s Cafe,  Green Fields Market and McCusker’s Market and the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Something delicious for everyone.

Spry’s Fresh Bouquets

Photo Courtesy of Debra Prinzing

Constance Spry found beauty in places others had not noticed. The unexpected drama of the plants she used surprised and delighted people. She turned to the vegetable garden and found one of her favorite plants – kale – but used other vegetables and fruits to brilliant effect.

Her arrangements would not have the same  startling effect today, because the ideas she propounded, her cry to forget about the rules and have fun, to see beauty in the commonplace have actually become commonplace today.

Garden author and blogger Debra Prinzing is working on a beautiful book,  A Fresh Bouquet, with photographer David Perry. Their journey among flower growers, the flower industry, and floral designers is being captured in their A Fresh Bouquet blog. There I found instructions very similar to what Constance Spry was following and teaching in the 20’s and 30’s.

Photo Courtesy of Debra Prinzing

“Use twigs and branches as well as more common foliage, conifers  and broadleaf evergreens.

Use fruits and berries, and maybe vegetables.

Use other natural materials, seedpods, pine cones, grasses, moss.

Use commercial flowers with restraint. Flowers are not always necessary.”

For the full post click here.

Winterfares Coming Up

Winterfare Northampton 2010

Have you been longing for fresh greens and the chance to meet the farmers in our area?  Long no more. It is time for Winterfares!  This Saturday the winter farmer’s market will be held at the Smith Vocational School in Northampton on January 15 from 10 am to 2 pm.  Fresh greens, apples, honey, yogurt, root veggies, local grain, bread, the Soup Cafe (bring your own cup) and workshops.  This is a delicious and healthy event – pure delight.  Don’t forget to bring your own shopping bags.

Also, mark your calendars for the 4th Annual Winterfare at Greenfield High School on Saturday, February 5, again from 10 am – 2pm.  More fresh food, more workshops, more fun.

Fall’s Fruitfullness

Lots of people in Heath have an old apple tree or two. Sometimes the apples aren’t beautiful, but they certainly can make good eating. I’ve been using the generous harvest from this unnamed tree to make apple sauce and apple butter.

Apple butter and apple sauce (L-R)

French toast with apple butter or apple sauce makes an easy  and nutritious breakfast.

Black walnuts in their hulls

My neighbor called me to say he and his wife had collected three big buckets of black walnuts from their two back yard trees. They had never gotten a harvest like this. Usually the squirrels got what nuts there were. So, they didn’t know how to handle the nuts, but they knew they could stain hands badly.

Black walnuts hulled

I didn’t really know how to handle them either, but I knew it was hard work. I found out that Iowa State University had good directions, and slightly humorous, on their website. If you want to know what to do with your black walnuts, click here.

Black walnut with its split hull

After putting on good rubber gloves and  three hours of splitting the hull, pulling out the shelled nut, and scraping away ‘stuff’, then washing the nuts, and setting them out to dry, my neighbor gave up. The other two buckets are up for grabs. Not for the squirrels.  In two or three weeks, when the nuts are dry they will get out their little sledge hammer and shell them. According to Iowa State University they can be kept in the freezer almost indefinitely.

Grapes climbing an old apple tree

The dark tangle is the grapevine, with many grape clusters, that is climbing an old apple tree. I can’t get a good photo but the grapes are climbing at least 15 feet or more up the tree.

Wild grape cluster

The grapes are not very big, although there are a lot of clusters within reach. They are not terribly sweet. Will that change if we get a hard frost this weekend?  And of course, there are the thick skins and big seeds.  What to do? What would you do?

That’s my Three for Thursday – apples, black walnuts and grapes.  To see more threes visit Cindy over at My Corner of Katy. Thanks for setting this up, Cindy.

Fruit as Salesman?

It makes sense that the cover of  The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot by Chip Brantley should be a still life of luscious fruits. The book is a history of the San Joaquin Valley in California, fruit farming, and hybridization told by a charming young man who meets any number of fascinating characters during his investigations. I learned why the plums I buy at the supermarket in the summer vary so in quality (plums only have a two week harvest period, so the plums of July are not the plums of August) and that there are many delicious pluot or plumcot hybrids, a combination of plum and apricot, that I will be happy to put in my market basket this summer.

It is less understandable why Where the God of Love Hangs Out,  Amy Bloom’s collection of interconnected short stories about the vagaries and varieties of Love, should feature a cherry and a peach.  Apricot?  There is no hint in this book, as sublime as it is,  that life is a bowl of cherries.  Do the fruits compel us to pick up the book and carry it out of the bookstore with us. Or has the bowl of beautiful apples and plums on the cover of her wonderful best selling novel Away become a talisman, promising best sellerdom for this book as well?

Nicholson Baker’s new book, The Anthologist, is about a free verse poet who has put togetehr  an anthology of rhyming poetry. He needs to write the introduction but he is blocked.  In his obsessive peregrinations about poetry, rhythm, popular music, the lives of other poets and his predicament, he has driven away his girl friend and found any number of ways to avoid his desk. The book is a disquisition on poetry and where we find it, learned and often hilarious. It drove me to my bookshelf and the library to reread some of the poets he mentions. Maybe it is not so far fetched that there is a perfect plum on the cover of this book. Maybe he was thinking of William Carlos Williams irresistable plums:

This is just to say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Just thinking.