My father never felt dinner was over until he had eaten his apple. The apple was a ritual. He loved cutting an apple in half around the equator to show us, or any available children, the star hidden in the center of the apple. And he proved the adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. He rarely needed the services of a doctor until his short final illness.
With news coverage of the H1N1 flu, we are all looking for ways to stay healthy. I haven’t heard that the beneficial properties of apples will help in this instance; frequent thorough handwashing is the main prophylactic, but keeping all systems strong and healthy is never a bad idea.
Apples have all sorts of nutritional benefits providing antioxidants, Vitamins A and C, fiber, and boron which helps strengthen bones. All this and only 81 calories for a medium sized apple. It is important to remember that the apple skin is a vital part of these benefits.
Perhaps the ancients knew of these benefits because apples have been cultivated for thousands of years. Apples are thought to have originated in Kazakstan. Their culture spread throughout the Fertile Crescent and by 6500 B.C. archeological finds show they were grown in the Jordan Valley.
The Greek Homer wrote of the pleasure of apples; the Romans Cicero and Pliny the Elder encouraged the growing of apples. Right here in the United States we have our own historic apple planter, Johnny Appleseed.
Johnny Appleseed was born as John Chapman in Leominster on September 26, 1774 which seems an appropriate month for the birth of a man who gave his life to planting apples.
He was only 18 when he set out from Massachusetts and spent the rest of his life wandering in the Midwest, mainly Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, planting apples wherever he went.
As Michael Pollan pointed out in his book, Botany of Desire, settlers of that day were not as interested in eating an apple a day as they were in drinking apples. Cider, hard cider, was a way of preserving apples for use all year long.
Cider is still an important product for apple orchardists, and for their customers. This year Cider Days are scheduled for November 7 and 8, with tours of local orchards throughout the county, and tastings of local cider and apples. Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farm said they press cider about once a week. For Cider Days they will have a special Vintage Blend cider, made solely from Northern Spy and Baldwin apples, as well as a Russet Blend made from Roxbury Russet and Golden Russet apples.
Johnny Appleseed might very well recognize some of the heritage apple varieties that still go into good cider, and are becoming more popular for eating out of hand. Of the 50 or so varieties grown at Clarkdale, about 15 are heritage apples like Cox’s Orange Pippin and Spitzenberg. In fact Spitzenberg is thought to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple.
Tim Smith at Apex Orchard also grows several heritage varieties including Spitzenberg, Ashmead Kernel, Milton and Baldwin. Instead of cider, Apex Orchard makes vinegar. Smith says that since the different varieties ripen for harvest over the fall season they use the sweetest varieties available at any given time to make their vinegar.
As a baker I was interested in recommendations for pie baking. Tastes in pies differ as I found. Clark prefers Gravenstein and Northern Spy, while Smith says his family uses Macintosh and Cortland. He added that when he bakes the pie he always adds a Mutsu. They both agree that a combination of apples makes the best pie. That is the way I bake my apple pies as well.
Both Clarkdale and Apex also grow the very popular Honey Crisp apple, a relatively new variety. Smith said that Honey Crisp ripens over a month starting now. One of its benefits is that it keeps so well in the orchard’s storage room where the temperature is kept at 32 or even 30 degrees. Smith explained that the sugar in the apples keeps them from freezing.
I asked if I could store apples in my 50 degree dirt floored basement. Smith said yes, depending. He explained that for every degree above 32 degrees, two weeks of storage time is lost. I guess I’ll just keep using my refrigerator crisper and restock it frequently.
We all have our favorite apples. When I was a child I thought Red Delicious apples were a real treat. Nowadays I like Spencer apples for eating.
Apples are available all year long in the supermarket, but I prefer to eat them during the very long local season. Apples take me through the fall and winter, right into spring when local strawberries come in.
Tower Hill Botanic Garden celebrates the fall with their Shades of Autumn: A Family Celebration of the Fall Harvest Season on Columbus Day weekend, October 10, 11 and 12. A star of the event is the Davenport Collection of Heirloom Apples comprised of 238 trees and 119 pre-20th century apple varieties. Each afternoon at 2 pm they will hold an apple tasting, giving visitors a chance to taste some of their old apples, many of which have been very uncommon at the market.
For full information about Shades of Autumn entertainments including entry fees logon to the Calendar section of their website, www.towerhillbg.org.
Between the Rows September 12, 2009