deadfall-2Have you taken a walk, in an area you thought was purely natural and untouched, only to find evidence of previous habitation? Where humans go, we leave our imprint. Very often that’s an unpleasant sight—candy wrappers or cigarette butts in an otherwise pristine landscape. But sometimes we come across a sign that humans lived here and sought to beautify their world.

If you find day lilies, a lilac bush, or an apple tree in a field, it’s a good sign that people once lived on that spot and tried to make it their own.

As I take walks in my rural setting, I love finding an old apple tree, heavy with fruit and surrounded by deadfall. I know it means that, at some point, someone planted that tree and encouraged it along, and the tree is still providing as best it can.

Some people hate the sight of deadfall. They see it as sad, because the people are gone and the tree is producing for no one. Or they see it as wasteful. I read a blog a couple of months ago, in which the author wrote, fairly indignantly, about how awful it was that fruit was allowed to sit on the ground and rot when it could feed hungry people.

But I don’t see deadfall as sad or wasteful. The tree is doing what it was designed to do and, even though the humans who planted it are gone, the fruit is feeding innumerable birds and animals, as well as re-feeding the very ground in which the tree grows. And it provides an unanticipated sense of community to any person who happens by, and recognizes the human hand behind the tree’s existence on that spot.

I love the poem “Unharvested” by Robert Frost. I don’t know if I love it because it expresses my feelings about these old trees or if my feelings about the trees derive from the poem. It’s not as well known as his other poem about apples, “After Apple Picking,” but it is a much more hopeful poem.

Unharvested–Robert Frost


A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

As humans, we plant and we harvest. We monitor the seasons and try to account for every little thing. We become difficult to surprise or delight. The discovery of an unexpected deadfall, the sweetness in the air and the color on the ground, becomes our reminder that nature still has the ability to outwit us and surprise us, and to outlast us.

So, should we see it as deadfall, and a waste, or a lively, and uplifting, lesson about being open to the unplanned and nature’s ability to catch us off guard?


Autumn Senses–Scent of Ginger

ginger choc caramels-4It’s a rainy, cool autumn morning in the North Country, the kind that engages your senses in a variety of ways. Right now, I’m most aware of my sense of smell because my whole house carries the scent of warm ginger.

Lots of people seem to associate maple with fall but I think ginger is the signature scent. Don’t get me wrong—I have maple in my blood. I grew up on a farm where we made maple syrup, but, to me, maple is a spring thing—that’s when the sap is running and the boiling down occurs, to turn that sap into heaven.

Ginger is warm and cozy—like a favorite sweater on a cool day. I love that it has a spicy zip to it, too. I’m making ginger caramels, which involves infusing cream with fresh ginger root and then adding that to the other caramel ingredients and letting the whole thing burble for a couple of hours.

When the caramel reaches the “soft ball” stage, I’ll add finely chopped crystallized ginger and let them set. They’re amazing just cut into squares—like Reed’s Ginger Chews only creamier—but I’ll dip some in dark chocolate, too, because I am of the opinion that dark chocolate makes most things taste better!

I have more fresh ginger root and crystallized ginger on hand so I think my next step is to try these Triple Ginger Cookies. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

What is your go-to fall scent? Pumpkin? Apple? Cinnamon? Or do you love ginger, too?


If you make caramels and want the details about giving them a jolt with ginger, let me know!

Early Autumn Apples–Naming Names

IMG_3133It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.Henry David Thoreau

Apples are synonymous with autumn in upstate New York. This is a place where farmers name their kids after apples—I swear I know a Cortland and a Macintosh but, though we joked about it, we never knew a girl named Delicious.

My great-uncle and aunt owned an orchard so I have apples in my genetic structure. They had just one of dozens of commercial orchards in the area that offer many varieties of apples, some you’ve never heard of, as well as hard and soft cider, apple cider donuts, apple pies, apple picking and all other manner of fall fun. (Let’s be clear, my people never made hard cider, though their descendant likes to drink it!)

Did you know that apples can’t be reliably grown from seed? You might eat the perfect apple and think that you can have more by growing a tree from the seed of that apple, but you’d be disappointed. Apples do not grow “true to variety” from seed, so all the great eating apples are created by grafting a branch that produced a great apple onto another tree.

So, apples need humans to perfect and sweeten them, just as humans have loved apples for their sweetness and perfection. One of my favorite chapters of a favorite book is the chapter on apples in Michael Pollan’s book, Botany of Desire. Pollan writes of the connections between humans and apples:

How many other fruits do we call by their Christian names?  . . . There were names that set out to describe, often with the help of a well-picked metaphor: the green-as-a-bottle Bottle Greening, the Sheepnose, the Oxheart, the Yellow Bellflower, the Black Gilliflower, the Twenty-Ounce Pippin. There were names that puffed with hometown pride, like the Westfield-Seek-No-Further, the Hubbardston Nonesuch, the Rhode Island Greening, the Albemarle Pippin . . . There were names that gave credit where credit was due (or so we assume): the Baldwin, the Macintosh, the Jonathan, McAfee’s Red, Norton’s Melon, Moyer’s Prize . . . and Walker’s Beauty. And then there were the names that denoted an apple’s specialty, like Wismer’s Dessert, Jacob’s Sweet Winter, the Early Harvest and Cider Apple, the Clothes-Yard Apple, the Bread and Cheese, Cornell’s Savewell . . . Paradise Winter, Payne’s Late Keeper, and Hay’s Winter Wine.

We stopped yesterday at a favorite orchard, Northern Orchards, in Peru, NY, and looked for apples we hadn’t met yet, whose names we didn’t know. We had recently gotten William Prides and Pristines from them, and loved them both.

This visit, we got some of the well-known, but fab, Honey Crisps and also grabbed some Silkens and Red Wealthies. Never heard of these? That’s not surprising since apples that we’ve heard of tend to be the ones in the supermarket, and the ones in the supermarket are chosen because they keep well, travel well, and fit buyers’ mainstream notions of what apples should look and taste like. No matter how lovely an apple tastes, if it doesn’t keep for a really long time or bruises easily, you won’t find it at your store.


Silkens (the yellow ones) and Red Wealthies

The Silken is a gorgeous apple, medium in size, with a glowing, creamy yellow skin color, “having a translucent appearance like white porcelain with a bright lustre.” It’s a firm, crispy apple, really juicy. It’s considered an “early” apple here and, like many early apples, does not keep well. People who know them and love them have to be prepared to enjoy them in the few weeks they are available.

The Wealthy or Red Wealthy is described as a “somewhat tender–but crisp–medium-coarse white tinged with yellow, bearing juice that is tart but not unbalanced. There is a little banana, lemon-lime citrus, something like tart strawberries, and some fizzy acidity.” I love reading descriptions of apples that treat the taste and texture with the serious given to a fine wine! And I love that the name came, not because the farmer had hopes to become rich off it, but because his wife’s name was Wealthy!

The Wealthies are described as a near-perfect apple but I never seem to see them in stores, only at farm stands, and I’m not sure why. Have you seen Wealthies at your supermarket?

When we go out, we only buy a few apples at a time so we can eat them before the next varieties become available. But we got more than usual yesterday because the orchard had four experimental apples that they were inviting people to take. The woman at the stand couldn’t tell us exactly what they were, although one is a honey crisp/gala mix. I worry that I’ll love one, or all, of them and never see them again!

Experimental apples, as yet unnamed.

Experimental apples, as yet unnamed.

These are gorgeous apples!

IMG_3145This one, in particular, makes me think of the apple the Wicked Stepmother offered Snow White. It would be impossible to resist, at least in terms of looks! The red is a sort of deep pinky cerise that fades into the yellow. It is really crispy and quite sweet (actually a little sweeter than I like) but it isn’t cloying at all. I wish I knew how to find it again!

It’s fall—go get some apples! If you want to experience apples at their finest, try looking beyond the grocery store and your usual favorites. The farmers’ market, farm stand, the co-op, or, ideally, the orchard—all of these will open your eyes to apples whose names and tastes will make you want to get to know them better!

A Break from Chocolate

Blondie appleI’ve been making candy pretty much non-stop for the last four days and, as appealing as that might sound, it also means I have been eating a LOT of sweets and was pretty hopped up on sugar.

I needed a break. Something healthy to eat, maybe some protein and fruit. A few minutes to sit down before I went back to the kitchen.

Ah, just the thing. An apple, some crunchy peanut butter, a beautiful lake, a crisp day.

I’m feeling better already!

By the way, the apple is a “Blondie.” I’d never heard of it before I bought it last week at an orchard here in upstate New York. I found only a little information about it, which compared it to a Gala but yellow. It’s a very nice apple—a beautiful color, quite crispy, good juicy flavor. It’s a little sweeter than I would normally choose but not super-sweet like a Golden Delicious. If you see them, they’re worth a try! Since they’re early apples, you should probably refrigerate them.