Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Orchards in the news...

An orchard near Glastonbury, England (part of the Shepton Mallett cider mill) has been cited as being eco-friendly in its efforts to encourage wildlife and encourage sustainable models for planting. I have been to this area (I took this photo in 2002) and it is renowned for its many lovely orchards, and some very delicious locally-produced cider.

Northward in Ireland, the Irish Times published this fascinating article on heirloom apple grafting in County Clare. It's nice to see heirloom apple preservation efforts happening worldwide.

Stateside, orchards in Washington State are desperate for workers to help bring in their apple harvest. Many American orchards are dependent upon migrant and immigrant laborers to harvest their crops. The shortage of workers in Washington is blamed on a late harvest due to unusual weather conditions. In some parts of Washington, prison inmates are being put to work picking apples due to the shortage of civilian workers, and it seems to be working out well for all: the apples are getting picked and the inmates are enjoying some time outdoors.

In other harvest-related news, the apple crop in New South Wales, Australia was decimated by severe hailstorms, and will lead to a spike in prices.

And of course, you have probably already heard about the couple who got lost in an apple orchard who were forced to call 911 to be rescued. At least they were apologetic and somewhat sheepish about it, unlike the folks that got lost in the corn maze...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cider, Cider, Cider

My fellow apple loving pal Rosanna shared this with me, from Mother Jones: resources for learning to make your own hard cider!

It's not easy and is a skill that seems to need some time to hone, but what could be more satisfying than making your own? You could also try making apple wine, which is delicious and somewhat easier. But be sure you get cider that has no preservatives added! Also it's best to get cider that has not been pasteurized, which some farm stands that press their own can make available. I have friends who made their own apple wine from apples, without a cider press, which tasted amazing.

This article offers recipes for using apple cider in marinades for meat: yum!

And here's another recent piece on the Hudson Valley Apple Project, an organization seeking to make hard cider more popular.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Find the Cider!

My friend Rosanna, a fellow lover of orchards and all things appley, found this terrific website: Hudson Valley Cider Route. The site provides a guide to places to buy cider, and the site includes information on orchards who produce and sell sweet and hard cider. The interactive map lets you find an orchard or farm stand near you.

The website was created by the wonderful folks behind The Apple Project, which promotes heirloom apple growing in New York state. There are many, many working orchards in New York, and the Hudson Valley in particular is rich with them. I know an orchard not far from me in Castleton-on-Hudson even has an event with a contest for the best home-brewed hard cider! It doesn't get better than this for those of us trying to keep old foodways alive and celebrate and promote the preservation and revitalization of orchards. So when you're seeking some autumnal pleasure, be sure to include a jaunt or two in search of delicious cider!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Moon, Rich Harvest

I haven't posted here in a long time. Sumer solstice and Lammas have both gone by, in fact. It was both a wonderful and a difficult summer. I'm looking forward to the autumn. Classes start tomorrow and my new teaching job begins Tuesday. The apple harvest should be amazing; we're having our annual Heartsong Harvest Festival at Brushwood and after two years in which a late spring freeze killed the blossoms on the wild apple trees, we will have a bumper crop of apples this year, despite a very hot summer and partial drought.

I always enjoy the shift of late summer into autumn, and truly feel summer does not end until the last week of September, regardless of when people stop going to the beach or when school starts. I intend to enjoy the warm weather, dreamy afternoons and pleasant evenings as much as possible in the coming weeks.

This new moon is coming right on the heels of Mercury going direct, so here is hoping it renews our energy and sense of purpose. Now is the time for new ventures but also new approaches to old problems. Seize that summer day!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Visit to the blossoming orchards

We went to Indian Ladder Farms today. It was cloudy and it rained a tiny bit, but the blossoming orchards were still delightful to behold. We walked around, took photos and bought donuts. Walking in the orchards recharges my soul. The sight of the Helderberg range, awash is subtle shades of spring green, rejuvenates my senses. Even the spraying couldn't sully this day.

(By the way, Indian Ladders uses minimal spraying and integrated pest management for their apples and are known as growers of Eco-Apples)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Opal: The Jewel of a Washington Orchard

I've eaten apples called "Opalescent" and they're not only tasty (crunchy and sweet with a touch of tartness) but beautiful to look at. Now a recent introduction from the Czech Republic, which has been growing in Washington State, the Opal, is poised to make one orchard very special, possibly wealthy. The Broetje Orchards have been selling the Opal apples locally and are looking to gain exclusive rights to market it in Washington. Consumers have been willing to pay almost an extra dollar a pound for these beauties. Word of mouth has spread about this delicious apple and in recent months the Opal has also been sampled at Whole Foods markets in Michigan.

Unlike the Opalescent, which is green flushed with red and pink, the Opal is a bright yellow color. It's said to have a very complex flavor, even drawing comparisons to wine. It's a cross between a Golden Delicious (itself a surprise discovery that proved very popular) and a Topaz.

Washington apple growers have been diligently introducing newer varieties to the local markets, some of which have been seen in the Northeast, like Jazz, Pacific Rose and the popular (and premium-priced) Honeycrisp. The Honeycrisp, according to this article, commands high prices not just because it's delicious, but because it requires special care while growing. Honeycrisps are available more widely now, but some Washington growers want to be able to grow and sell varieties unique to them, and new licensing laws are making that possible.

Given the growing interest in reviving heirloom apples, it's exciting to see the same interest aimed at developing new varieties. Whether through discovery (the Granny Smith was found randomly in a New Zealand orchard) or breeding, the introduction of "different" apples is definitely having an impact on the worldwide marketplace.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Gala: Britain's Most Popular Apple? Say It Isn't So!

Don't get me wrong; I like Gala apples. Sweet, firm, and juicy; they hold up well in winter storage, too, even until spring when the pickings of apples in the grocery store are starting to look sad. But if given a choice, I'll go for an Empire or a Braeburn, or that once-exotic but now pedestrian Granny Smith.

The most popular apple in the United States has been and still is the Red Delicious, despite the fact that most people have never eaten a decent one. At their prime, this apple has dark, sensual notes of wine and maple to its sugary juice, and can be as firm as any of the crispiest varieties out there. But normally it is mushy, bland and insipid.

Britain's most popular apple for many years has been Cox's Orange Pippin, but this story in the Guardian claims that the top apple is now the sweet Gala. The writer goes on to encourage readers to sample Britain's heirloom varieties, some of which have continued to be sold at greengrocers for years, and some of which are slowly being re-introduced on the wave of love for heirloom apples that is also sweeping the Unites States.

The Guardian has published some terrific articles of interest to apple and orchardist enthusiasts in recent years, like this one on cider apples, or this one that suggests that mistletoe may become scarce as its favorite habitat, the traditional country apple orchard, becomes a thing of the past. This writer praises the English apple and all its variety, and this piece bemoans the British trend of importing most of its apples instead of relying on local abundance.

Nature loves diversity, and, as Michael Pollan describes in fascinating prose in his book The Botany of Desire, apple trees reward human intervention on their behalf with sweeterm more delectable fruit. Let's help them along, shall we?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Prune Old Apple Trees

My friend Joey spent some time today pruning some old apple trees, and found this Youtube video series on pruning overgrown standard apple trees. I've been told one should not do major pruning in spring, but rather in late autumn/early winter when the trees go dormant. But you can trim smaller branches at any time.

I did a lot of pruning this past fall at the Brushwood Folklore Center, and hope this will help the wild apple trees to bear more fruit. Plus to pruning: you have plenty of apple wood for burning, and and it smells great in campfires, or imparts a nice fragrance and flavor to your barbecues! Just add apple wood chips or branches to your charcoal fire to flavor your food.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March wandering

The weather forecast promised sleet and snow today, but surprise! After a few hours of off and on rain, the day became warm and even sunny. I went for a nice long walk to Washington Park (pictured above in late April of 2008) and enjoyed the burgeoning signs of spring. Plenty of robins and starlings crowded the trees and I saw plenty of daffodil shoots and even some clusters of crocus in bloom!

This poem by Archibald Lampman, one of my favorite poets, sums up the subtle and joyful changes of the season.

In March

The sun falls warm: the southern winds awake:
The air seethes upwards with a steamy shiver:
Each dip of the road is now a crystal lake,
And every rut a little dancing river.
Through great soft clouds that sunder overhead
The deep sky breaks as pearly blue as summer:
Out of a cleft beside the river's bed
Flaps the black crow, the first demure newcomer.

The last seared drifts are eating fast away
With glassy tinkle into glittering laces:
Dogs lie asleep, and little children play
With tops and marbles in the sun-bare places;
And I that stroll with many a thoughtful pause
Almost forget that winter ever was.

~~Archibald Lampman

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Creighton Lee Calhoun: A Master Preserver of Heirloom Apples

This fascinating article from the New York Times today features a man from North Carolina who specializes in grafting heirloom apple trees from some very old and nearly-forgotten Southern varieties.

Mr. Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr. is 77 years old, and a retired army lieutenant colonel. He also seems to be on a one-man mission to preserve heirloom apple varieties, and to share his knowledge with a new generation of apple enthusiasts, orchardists and backyard growers. He currently maintains an orchard with 300 varieties of apple, which used to contain 456 varieties. He also wrote a book called Old Southern Apples which catalogs the many varieties he's helped preserve.

This in-depth article is not just a profile of Mr. Calhoun, the pomologist, but offers sobering facts on this most precious resource. Apple varieties in the United States once numbered over 16,0000, but this number has dropped to less than 3,000, and this lack of genetic diversity may be bad news for apples, just as it is for other species who have seen their diverse permutations dwindle in recent years.

The apples Calhoun champions have names like Blacktwig, Carter's Blue, Magnum Bonum, and Summer Orange. He offers to graft trees for their owners, and give them a new tree from the graft to plant. His enthusiasm and knowledge, not to mention a sensitive palette that can differentiate among hundreds of apples, just may create a whole new legion of heirloom apple enthusiasts.

Mr. Calhoun, I salute you! And I'd love to get one of those Magnum Bonum trees to plant out at the Brushwood Folklore Center, where we gather apples for fresh cider in September.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Art and inspiration

I randomly found an image I liked online and decided to post it on Facebook and use as my newest profile pic. This painting is by Jessie M. King, from the Oscar Wilde story "A House of Pomegranates." (I also have a framed print from this book on my wall that I found in a thrift shop years ago.)

I also found this great blog full of pre-Raphaelite images.

Then, a few minutes later, I randomly decided to check out Terri Windling's blog and found this post on inspiration and art. And lo and behold! there is the same image by King that I found and posted today. Many of the images were already familiar but I was also delighted to discover some new ones.

I am a very visually oriented person and yet not really an artist. I enjoyed art when I was younger, and was even considered prodigiously good at until I was about 12 and other kids caught up. I didn't enjoy my high school art classes and got involved in other activities in college, but I did enjoy a calligraphy course I took and still do calligraphy on occasion (and have taught classes in it myself). And I worked as an art model for, oh, at least twenty years.
But illustrations and paintings greatly inspire me: especially those images that tell a story, that seem infused with mystery, history, magic or folklore. The pre-Raphaelites' pictorial depictions of mythology, legends and nature are a particular source of wonder, as well as the fairy art of Arthur Rackham, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Sulamith Wulfing and Margaret Tarrant, and the dreamy watercolors of Andrew Wyeth and Jessie Wilcox Smith. And so Windling's collage of images naturally contain some of my own personal favorites.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Orchards in the news

From traditional apples and stone fruits to sunny citrus, orchards all over the world are making headlines this week! From Salisbury, England (a lovely historic town I have visited twice; it's not far from Stonehenge, and has a delightful pub in a medieval-era building called The Haunch of Venison), comes the news that two orchards totalling twenty-two trees will be planted for the benefit and pleasure of the community: twelve apple trees in one location, and a mix of apple, plum and cherry trees in another. Given the recent concern over loss of orchards in various parts of England, this is wonderful news! Well done, Wiltshire.

And in Arizona, a bumper crop of citrus fruit has area food banks near Phoenix offering to "glean" fruit trees for free so that the extra bounty can be distributed to those in need. This is a forward-thinking and environmentally-friendly, not to mention compassionate, initiative and should be applauded!