Taste autumn at local orchards
We’re lucky to live in New England where the seasons announce themselves in ways that tantalize all the senses and remind us how special this place is. Last month, the colors of our forested hillsides bedazzled our eyes and as October creeped toward November the first smells of wood smoke tickled our noses as it curled from chimneys.
The first hard frost waited a bit longer than usual to arrive. For me, the “killing frost” is that first morning I have to reach under the front seat of my truck for the ice scraper that’s been hiding since April. It wasn’t until the first few days of November that I had to go searching for it – a sure sign fall is sliding into winter.
I am not sure who decided a concoction of pumpkin and cinnamon spice was both the flavor and scent of autumn. I’ll take my coffee without pumpkin spice, and please don’t let it invade my olfactory system via the melting ooze of a scented candle. I like pumpkin in a pie (on Thanksgiving), and I like cinnamon on toast with a touch of honey.
For me, there is only one true taste of fall and that is a freshly picked apple – make that a Macintosh apple, please. I am lucky – especially in the fall. The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor is dotted with some of the best orchards you will find. A handful of them are within a 15-mile radius of my house.
Macintosh has been the old standard apple variety in these parts for decades, and I know I can get them at any of the orchards nearby. I put one in my lunch box almost every day and prefer them for making homemade applesauce since they cook down well.
If I can’t find Macintosh, I’ll go for my other old standby, Cortland. They are usually bigger than the Mac, firm and sweet. But it is the Macintosh that wakes up the taste buds with a loud crunch that makes me exclaim “now that’s an apple.”
In our house, an afternoon snack, or what I would call “Yankee hors d’oeuvres,” would be a slice (not peeled) of Macintosh apple with a thin wedge of cheddar cheese on top – make that cheddar made here in New England. Something about that combination on the taste buds says New England. Our family’s traditional apple pie recipe is a combination of Macintosh for tart flavor and Cortland for sweet firm slices that hold up to the cooking.
I am a chronic traditionalist and will keep to the two apple varieties that I like. Once I find something I like, I tend to stick to it. Consistency is important for me, like an old friend that you can rely on. For those of you who prefer to let your taste buds explore, all our local orchards are growing a wider variety of apples than when I was a kid. This week, I stopped at one of my local orchards and, along with my Macs and Cortland, there were several other varieties. When I got home, I couldn’t remember all the names, so I checked their website and found Macoun, Jonagold, Red Delicious, Ida Red, Fuji, Cameo and Russet also listed for sale. I have enjoyed an Ida Red and Fuji can be found in most supermarkets and the old Russet is a New England favorite, too. I never did care for Red Delicious. They sure are red, but delicious, well, not so much for me.
Another orchard I frequent lists their apples on the website in order of ripening, with 22 varieties listed. Good thing the Macintosh and Cortland ripen relatively early, but if I want an earlier apple the Macoun or Paula Red might be available. Some apples, like Baldwin, sweeten up after a frost and others, like Fuji and Winesap, ripen even later in the season.
Today there are thousands of apple varieties throughout the world and any visit to an orchard or your local supermarket will usually find many varieties to choose from. That’s fine with me, as long as the dynamic apple duo of Macintosh and Cortland are still available.
Some of our area farm stands and orchards are still open even though the season is slipping away. It’s time to get to your local orchard and stock up for the Thanksgiving and holiday season to come. Look for the “open flag” at your local orchard and make sure to stop in before the snow flies.
We are fortunate to live in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. Our land is rich in farms, orchards, forests and fields. I hope you’ll join me in patronizing our local farms and orchards. Grab a Macintosh apple, open wide, take a bite and savor the flavor of fall here in New England.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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