Apple Season is Here – Buy Local- Sept. 2010

Apples are beautiful and smell good but the sight of a bowl of apples on display  makes Larry Lutz, whose own family farm goes back to the 1860’s, want to cry.

“Just put them in the fridge, definitely in the fridge”, says Lutz, who is the Vice President of Agricultural Services for Scotian Gold Cooperative based in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. The best way to store apples is in a perforated bag in the refrigerator says Lutz , “The worst place to keep apples is on a bowl on your table, it is absolutely horrible”.

Robert Bourgeois agrees, he also runs a family-owned fruit orchard, (Verger Belliveau Orchards located in the Memramcook Valley), with an impressive history; his father bought the orchards from the local priest in 1967 after working there for many years.  Bourgeois says keeping apples in a cool place like your cellar or the refrigerator in a bag that allows in some air, will keep them from drying out. “ Apples breath, they are alive” says Bourgeois, “So  If you leave them out,  you are going to have more people eating apples, but they will start to go bad more quickly”.

Bourgeois says that some of the new varieties of apple have a longer life on the table. “We still sell mostly Macs, they are most popular, and Cortlands” says Robert, “but there are a lot of new apples coming in that are, to me, a better apple, like the Galas and Honeycrisps, they are a little sweeter and have a different texture”.  

Apples are changing with the times, and although an orchard may look pastoral there is a science behind those rows of fruitful trees.  New varieties are constantly being engineered that suit the taste of the demanding consumer.  And according to Euclide Bourgeois, one of four owners of La Fleur du Pommier in Cocagne, among their 12,000 fruit trees they have some older varieties that are beginning to lose their customers.

“A lot of the old varieties we don’t grow anymore”, says Euclide, “because we can’t sell them. For one thing the tastes have changed and for another the market has changed. It is definitely a combination of both”.  People want sweeter, harder and bigger apples, and fruit farmers have found that old varieties like Duchess of Oldenberg and Dudley Winter, known as good cooking apples, are losing popularity. “We still grow them”, says Euclide, “but every year it gets harder and harder to sell them”.

Sometimes managing an orchard means you are going to have to cut down a perfectly good apple tree.  Robert Bourgeois says that they have some trees “from the old establishment that were perfect, there was nothing wrong with them, they were planted in 1932, and  we took them out about 15 years ago because they were too big and hard to handle. An apple tree can live for an hundred years”.

Apple growing is a big business with a long history. Lutz says that many of the 55 growers in the Scotian Gold Cooperative go way back, “A lot of our farms, our grower members, go back over a hundred years, and quite a number of them go back two generations, about fifty years”.

According to Lutz, the Scotian Gold Cooperative is the largest packer in Eastern Canada, packing, storing, and supplying farmers with stores, fertilizer, and marketing.  Things have changed in the business of growing apples says Lutz, but although his grandfather would not have used the term “vertically integrated’, he would have understood the business paradigm.  

One challenge that apple farmers face that remains the same no matter what generation, is the weather. This year the warm winter and hot summer have brought forward the picking dates and left some orchards scrambling for itinerant pickers. 

“Picking is starting a week earlier than usual”, says Lutz, “and it is not too bad now, because we are still in the early apples, but the problem is that we are going into the main apple season very shortly, like Macintosh,  and that  is when we need the harvest help”. A lot of the pickers, who come from as far away as Jamaica  (through a government sponsored program) and as close as Quebec and Newfoundland, are not set to arrive until  a few days after the orchards actually need them.

Once the apples have been picked, the best route to your kitchen is the fastest one.  If you want your apples to last, storing them properly is only part of the process. The other side of the story is to buy them as fresh as possible. There are many U-Pick farms if you are into a family adventure, but it is also possible to buy locally from your market or supermarket.

“At the market the apples have been picked  the day before”, says Robert,  arguing that at a store, even with the best of efforts, the apples will have been stored and moved around more than the fresh ones at your local market. Local cooperatives, like the one that La Fleur du Pommier belongs to, Really Local Harvest, make it easy for consumers to buy fresh apples from local farmers.

Lutz says that Gravensteins we are ready to be picked right now and that they are “the best eating apple for this season, as well as being” good for apple sauce and apple pies if you like a soft slice”.

If you are looking for organic apples you won’t find much a selection.   The east coast climate has a lot of moisture that creates many problems for the apples.  “We can grow (organic) apples but they don’t look like anything that anybody would buy because they are all covered with black spots and insect holes”, says Lutz.  However, there are new varieties of apples coming along that are resistant to some of those things. And when it comes to pesticides Lutz says the chemicals used are better than they used to be, “A lot of the new pesticides are not necessarily organic but they are very selective for the pests that you are looking for and every new generation of pesticides that comes along is less harmful to people and to non-target organisms”.

Early Summer Apples:

Early summer apples are softer, less crisp and less juicy than fall apples.

Summer apples are good to eat fresh but do not store as well as later harvested varieties.

Summer varieties include: Sunrise Apple, Transparents, Summer Reds, Ginger Gold, Sinta Apple, Royal Gala and Macintosh Apples.

Fall Apples:

Varieties include: Honeycrisp, Empire, Golden Delicious, Ambrosia, Spartan, Mitsu, Jonagold, Ida Red, Fuji and Granny. The later the apple is to harvest the longer they last in storage.

Storing Apples:

Small apples are better for storing.

Keep in perforated bag in refrigerator or store in cold cellar (wrap each individual apple in paper to save them from bruising. Do not store apples that are already bruised).

The temperature of your garage could fluctuate too much for storage.

If you have too many apples to store consider freezing or drying the fruit.

Freezing Apples:

Apples that work well for pies and sauces are best for freezing.

Peel, pare and slice apples. As you slice them, drop them in about 1 cup of water with about one teaspoon of lemon juice to keep the fruit from getting brown.

Place the amount for one pie in each air tight bag or container.

Did You Know?

There are 7500 varieties of apples, with 2500 types grown in America. Only 100 are grown commercially. The five most popular apples are: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji and Granny Smith.

Apple Recipe for a Fall Harvest:

 

Acorn Squash with Apple and Beef Stuffing:

Ingredients:

2 medium acorn squash

I pound of lean ground beef

1 ½ teaspoons sale

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups chopped apples (2-3 apples)

¼ cup raisins (optional)

Sale

4 tablespoons brown sugar, firmly packed

2 tablespoons melted butter

Preparation:

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut each squash in half: remove seeds and fibrous pulp. Place the squash, cut sides down on an ungreased shallow baking pan. Add water to the depth of ¼ inch and bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until squash is tender.

While the squash is cooking, brown the ground beef in a large skillet. Drain off excess fat. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the salt, cinnamon, raisons and chopped apples.

When the squash is cooked, turn them so that the cut side is up; remove them to a platter.  Drain off any remaining liquid in the pan and dry. Scoop out the pulp of the acorn squash, making a shell that is about ¼ to ½ inch think all the way around. Sprinkle the shells with a little salt. Mash the pulp and stir into the ground beef mixture. Return beef stuffing mixture to the hollowed out acorn squash shell, piling them full and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar on each serving. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake, uncovered for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until apple is tender.  Serves four.

(About.com: Southern Food)

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