By David Fried
“Apple scruffs, apple scruffs, how I love you, how I love you” – George Harrison
It’s been raining apples since August. I can barely walk across the hill.
Dark red, pink blush, yellow and crimson striped, green and red, russet.
What an artist could do with all these colors! What a chef can do with all these flavors!
Most people like a crisp tart apple. What many do not know is that all apples are crisp and tart if you pick them at the right time for these qualities. A bunch of apples will get sweeter and softer as they get riper or sit longer on the tree. The same is true after they are picked and sitting in the fridge or on the table.
It’s November 23rd and I am up a 12-foot ladder reaching for Bethel apples. Bethel is a really hardy apple that originated in Vermont a long time ago. Its easy-to-grow qualities and its usefulness have kept it around a long time. It shares a tough skin with the people who grow it; it can put up with a lot and not complain. Even after a long growing season it still makes excellent pies and crisps and will keep until spring in the fridge or the root cellar. As unbelievable as it may sound, after a few nights in the teens these apples are still firm, beautiful and ready to use.
I bring them inside in a clean bucket and start slicing them thin. I fill four trays in our Harvest Maid dehydrator before going to sleep. In the morning, I pack them into a half gallon mason jar and use a Sharpie marker to write on the lid: “bethel apples.” I’ve been doing this for about two months now, and the pantry is full. My daughter likes them chewy and I like them dry and crisp, like apple chips. They melt in your mouth with a concentrated apple sweetness. So I dry some longer (15 hours) and some shorter (8 hours) so that everyone has some the way they like it!
Last month I was filling Mac Free apples into a Mehu Maja steam juicer, from Finland. The red and green apple is easy to grow and is not prone to diseases, so the apples are smooth and attractive. After an hour of steaming, the juices release into a lower chamber, and I can fill jars with refreshing apple juice. The apples have now given up their juice and their color, but what is left is a lot of hot apples ready to go through a strainer to become applesauce. I added a spoonful of local Vermont honey and some cinnamon and cardamom. I froze a few pints and we feasted on the rest.
The first yellow transparents were ready in August. The Beacons were ripe and red and plentiful in early September along with the Hazens, which are easy to pick on a naturally shorter tree. We were oohing and ahhing over the burst of flavors in the Kerrand Centennial tasty crabapples in mid-September. We made cider with our friend’s Happy Valley cider press with a lot of Burgundy and Freedom apples that kept fruiting into October. Keepsake Roots Russet and Scott Winter gave us fruit to keep us appley until spring.
The amazing thing is we get all this without spraying anything. Our trees are mining the earth for what they need and do not take up a lot of space or use a lot of resources. The birds and butterflies and all kinds of pollinators like to hang out here amongst them. We do too.
All winter we will be snacking on dried apples and sharing them with our friends. We will be lifting our glass of cider to the apple trees and to the amazing universe that lets us have a taste of its preciousness.
David Fried has been keeping some wonderful apple cultivars going at Elmore Roots Nursery for 36 years.