A is for Abundance

IMG_2706

What does your region have in abundance?

I love where I live, in upstate New York, because of the abundance of water, open and free places, splendid scenic wonders, reminders of America’s history, feelings of nostalgia for my own family roots.

On the other hand, there’s an absolute dearth of shopping opportunities. We have the dollar stores, drug stores chains, and Walmart. We don’t have a decent bookstore or any place to buy clothes beyond J.C. Penney, really, which explains why my wardrobe mostly arrives in the mail, from L.L. Bean.

One small aspect of our local shopping scene, however, makes me ridiculously happy—we have an abundance of apple orchards. I can think, off the top of my head, of 7 or 8 big orchards within a 25-mile radius.

We have an orchard for every occasion!

We have an orchard for apple cider donuts. These donuts are very important to my happiness, with their crunchy, spicy, fall-tasting cinnamon and sugar coating. The same orchard is also where we go, in general, for baked goods (crumb-topped apple pie!) and for taking photos of small children in a big pumpkin patch. But we don’t buy apples there.

IMG_0011

We have an orchard for hard cider. They have a number of different ciders, from sweet to dry, and they have a tasting room. You gotta love a tasting room! We like their cider with Thanksgiving dinner, but we don’t buy apples there.

We have an orchard for nostalgia. One of the local orchards was started and run by my family for years. It’s no longer in our family but they keep a photo of my grand-aunt and uncle on the wall, and honor those roots. We go there to soak up the good feelings and buy Christmas wreaths. But we don’t buy apples there.

We have orchards known for “pick you own” apples and for corn mazes or hayrides. We have big-time commercial orchards—you may be eating apples from our North Country orchards!

We have orchards that are also garden centers in the spring and summer. We have orchards that sell lunch. We have orchards that sell Christmas trees and wreaths and homemade jams and gluten-free baked goods. And chocolates and veggies and maple syrup.

And, of course, they all sell apples but we only have one orchard for apples. One local orchard offers newly-minted, exciting, experimental apples that have not yet been given a name. Every year we try apples known only by their numbers and we wait to see which ones make the cut to be honored with a name. We knew the yummy Autumn Crisp when it was only known as NY674.

This orchard has the old apples, the most-favorites apples, the apples you might see in the supermarket, and apples I never see anywhere but this one stand.

Every trip there is an adventure because something new has just ripened and been brought in off the tree. Sometimes, they will walk out to the trees and pick the apples we want, while we wait !

Last week we got Pinovas and Irons and SnapDragons and RubyFrosts and Spartans and Silkens. In weeks to come, we’ll look forward to Autumn Crisp and, especially, the supercalifragi-apple, the Northern Spy.

Did I say we have a dearth of shopping opportunities here?! What was I thinking?! The rest of the world can keep their high-end malls and their Fifth Avenues; I can get pretty much everything I really want or need at a local orchard.

________________________

Can you get what you really want in your immediate locale?

Unharvested

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?

deadfall-1

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.

IMG_3131

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!

Fall Fixations: I Have a Few

foliage-2Like many of you, I find autumn exhilarating. I look forward to it all year for very particular reasons. I have four main autumn obsessions (well, five, but I’m not going to rhapsodize about college football here):

1)   Foliage—This is the most obvious and probably universally-shared of my obsessions. I’m lucky enough to live in leaf-peepers heaven—in what’s being called the “Adirondack Coast” of upstate New York. With the Adirondack Mountains on one side and the Green Mountains of Vermont on the other, and lovely, lovely Lake Champlain right in the middle, this may be one of the best places in the whole world to be obsessed with fall colors.

We take leaf-peeping seriously at my house. We check the foliage report to plan outings. When we drive around in other seasons, we take note of special vistas, to come back to in the fall. We have our go-to routes that we drive every year. We plan outings on weekdays, so as not to be disturbed by amateurs! And we would never, ever plan a trip away from home at this time of year! Miss foliage season? I don’t think so.

If you stay tuned you’ll be seeing my fall photos!

2)   Apples—My part of paradise is also home to many, many apple orchards so autumn becomes a chance to try new varieties and re-visit old favorites. When you’re surrounded by dozens of unusual apples you’ve never heard of, it’s easy to become a bit of an apple snob—don’t be talking to me about boring old Red Delicious.

Northern Spy, Autumn Crisp, Pristine, Spartan, Winesap—aren’t the names wonderful? And the taste! So far beyond what you’re going to find in the grocery store! One of our favorite orchards keeps an industrial-strength apple quarterer and corer on hand so we can taste any (or all!) of the apples before we buy! And they’ve been known to walk outside and pluck the apples directly off the trees for us so we get them extra fresh. Add to this the fresh-pressed cider, the hard cider, the apple cider donuts, the caramel sauce for dipping apples  . . . yes, I love fall.

If you stay tuned you’ll be hearing about apples!

apples3)   Snow geese—I know nothing about the migratory habits of snow geese except that they love the bay in front of our house. For a month, usually starting in mid-October, gazillions of gaggles of geese gather here and make a mighty sound! They are joined by Canada geese, who are very cool in their own right, but the white mass of the snow geese is particularly showy and astounding. To see a huge gathering of them take off all at once is like watching snow fall up!

The first time I saw them, after we moved here, I was taking a walk and could see a band of white on the far shore of the bay. It was a beautiful late autumn day—I could not figure out why there would be snow on the edge of the lake! I looked harder and listened and it finally dawned on me that those were geese! I ran home, we jumped in the car, and followed the lake shore until we found them.

Now I stalk them. And like any good paparazza, my camera is always clicking.

If you stay tuned you’ll be seeing snow geese in your dreams!snow geese-4

4)   Chocolate—This isn’t, perhaps, the normal person’s autumn obsession (although I know lots of people who would call it a four-season fixation!) But I make and sell chocolate candy. I can’t make it or sell it between May and mid-September because it is impossible to temper real chocolate if the temperature is warm (and never mind the difficulties of shipping it!)

So, for me, fall brings the added excitement of the beginning of candy season! All the high holidays of candy seem to fall between October and May, so those months find me tempering pounds of silky chocolate and stirring pots of burbling caramel. And beyond the making of chocolate, I obsess about new concoctions and combinations, packaging, pricing, photos—all chocolate, all the time. Not a bad way to live, huh?

If you stay tuned you’ll be hearing about chocolate! (I’m truly not trying to sell you anything—it’s just that chocolate is such a huge part of my world, I can’t imagine not writing about it here!)

new dark fleur-1Just writing about these things whips me into a frenzy of anticipation! The early-harvest apples are already available, the chocolate listings on my shop have begun to reappear, the leaves are just beginning to perk up with hits of red and orange, the snow geese will make me wait awhile. But it’s coming, fall is coming, and I can’t wait!

I look forward to sharing these autumn delights with you, as well as other “loving hands” meanderings. Is autumn a special season where you live? What do you like best about it? I hope you’ll be using your blog to tell us all about it, too!