Sunday, September 30, 2012

Four hills in the rain

An orchard on a crisp clear Fall day is a bit of country magic.

This luminous apple hangs in the mist at Gould Hill Farm.
Today was wet (though not very) but with some misty magic of its own. I seized the opportunity to visit four apple farms in a quest for fruit.

Another reward: less traffic on the highways and no crowds.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Smolak Farm

Smolak Farm, in North Andover (Mass.) offers a great selection of apples and ancillary activities in a beautiful setting.

On Fall weekends the joint is jumping with families attracted by acres of you-pick trees, plus ice cream, car shows, cider donuts, duck races, and celebrity chef dinners.

Way to pack them in! The draw for me, however, is Smolak's heirloom orchard.

These heritage apples are not always available on a pick-your-own basis, but on a recent visit I got some Esopus Spitzenberg and, just for grins, a Sheepnose at Smolak's on-site farmstand.

Visit midweek to avoid the crowds, or on a weekend in the fall for all the hoopla.

Friday, September 28, 2012


I'm used to thinking I've had every variety from farmers market that vendors are willing to sell there. So I did a double take when I spotted Kendall, then unknown to me, at this week's market.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pitmaston Pineapple

I am looking at 3 small apples, all classically shaped with only the slightest detectable ribbing. They are a muted green with a fine network of russet like the craqueleur of an old oil painting.

It's worth clicking on the photo for a close-up.

Two of these have small patches that are smooth and overlaid with a faint coppery orange (perhaps the blush) but mostly Pitmaston has a rough russet texture. All have at least a touch of sooty blotch, a superficial sign of a peel flora that is common on low-spray apples.

Beneath the russet layer some regions are more yellow, and some grayer, than others. The peel smells faintly of sugar and hay.

I try to start each tasting without preconceptions, but it's hard not to expect at least a whiff of pineapple.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Second nibble

I was underwhelmed, last year, by Lamb Abbey Pearmain but decided I should give it a second chance if that became possible. Fortunately I found another this year.

This sample, like last years', is small, less than 2 inches high. Compared to the earlier examples it is less blushed and more-typically pearmain shaped, slightly conical and with a little ribbing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Holstein *

This big apple with the bovine name is slightly ribbed with a layered, variegated peel.

Start with yellow-green with streaks of spring green.

Add a thin red blush for an orange-brown effect covering maybe two thirds; put streakey dribs and drabs of more-saturated red inside the blush. There's an O of coppery russet around the base. Light lenticels are barely visible except where russetted over. The shiny peel gives a satiny finish.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's Ashmead

Today I recognize the distinctive russet apple Ashmead's Kernel with three stars. It's the highest honor in my rating system, reserved for apples that are "exceptional...worth a quest" to find.

This post also completes my introduction of this qualitative system of ranking apples based on how good they are for eating of out hand. (Someone else will need to rate baking and cider apples.) In many ways I have saved the best for last.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The best of the early Macs

Left to Right: McIntosh, Novamac, Paula Red
By the time summer rolls around most of us have been living on a diet of supermarket apples for half a year, and it feels like forever. We are ready for the real thing.

The iconic McIntosh, that vinous, crisp apple native to the Northeast, does not ripen until September. Its fans are wooed in July and August by apples with the promise of Mac goodness, as with Jersey Mac or the various generic "Early Macs." Many of these fall short.

The best to my taste buds are Paula Red and Nova Mac, and last year these two varieties overlapped briefly with the true McIntosh.

Monday, September 3, 2012

More three-star apples

Today two more apples get three stars, the highest rank in my qualitative rating system. One star is "very good, worth choosing," two are "excellent, worth seeking," and three are "extraordinary, worth a quest" to find.

What sort of quest I leave to the judgment of the reader.

The stars rate only the eating qualities of apples, which is unfair to some spectacular cider and cooking varieties that don't happen to shine when eaten out of hand.

There is no accounting for tastes, so I trust you will treat these as advisory and keep your own list of favorites. Still, you may rely on these ratings and my reviews as a guide to something new, if you are in an adventurous frame of mind.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Empress vs. NY 652 smackdown

Once upon a time, at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, the apple known only as NY 651 earned a name: Empress.

Its close companion, NY 652, did not.

Ovoid Empress (L) and her consort, NY 652. Empress began life as NY 651.

Here's how they compare.