My favorite season is creeping toward us, at least on the calendar.
I just love the fall — with the changing leaves; the crisp, dry air; and the sense that our farm has completed another life cycle of fruits and vegetables.
My all-time favorite fall crop is one that we don’t cultivate on our farm: apples. I’m pretty particular about the varieties I like, though, and the early, tart types make my mouth water. I should probably try to expand my gustatory choices, since there are about 7,500 apple varieties worldwide. While you won’t find that extreme level of fruit diversity in our region, apples are plentiful in the North Country, making them the perfect local fruit for eating in autumn.
Only about 100 varieties of apples are grown commercially in the United States, and the apple business is a big part of our local agriculture. One of the common complaints I hear about the produce grown in northern New York is that there isn’t enough fruit. While we can work on expanding the number of farmers growing berries and other small fruit, we can celebrate the abundance of apples.
In mid-August, I start checking the local stands with great anticipation for the super crisp, tart Paula Reds. Then I enjoy a nice, long span of McIntoshes. What’s your favorite? I recommend buying a few of each variety from your local orchard and performing a taste trial in your home.
And don’t forget to bring home some cider. Here, I’m thinking of stopping by the orchard for a couple bags of apples, but as soon as I enter the storefront, I’m also captive to the intoxicating smells of cider and fresh cider donuts. Who can resist an icy cold glass of fresh-pressed cider? These days, for consumer safety, most cider is either pasteurized or ultraviolet treated. Pasteurization involves heating the liquid quickly to 160 degrees for a few seconds, then cooling it rapidly. UV treatment uses no heat, just ultraviolet light to kill any pathogens. Neither process, when performed correctly, will affect the taste of the cider. Have a large freezer? You can freeze cider to enjoy next year; just allow room for expansion with whatever containers you choose.
Another reason I love apples? Delicious applesauce. This is something that is easy and fun to make any time of year, but in the autumn, you can take advantage of the luxurious abundance of the fruit. One bushel of apples will yield about 20 quarts of sauce. Complex equipment isn’t needed; a simple sieve will suffice. But for larger batches, you’ll want to purchase a “Foley” mill or invest in a larger processor/strainer. One year, I traveled to several local schools and made applesauce with second-grade students. Most of the kids had never done this, and all were amazed at the fresh sweet flavor (no sugar added).
Take some time this fall to explore the many harvest festivals offered around our region. The autumn crops, including apples, are delectable, with flavors that have been developing all summer long. For more information about our state’s apples, visit the excellent New York State Apple Country website, www.nyapplecountry.com. You’ll find bushels of information about all the local apple varieties, recipes, nutrition and more.
Adirondack Harvest is a regional organization dedicated to connecting our local farmers with consumers and can help you in your quest for local foods. For a listing of many fall Harvest Festival events, visit www.adirondackharvest.com.
Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.