We’ve been making forays into Vermont’s pastoral countryside and have been thrilled to find wild “organic” apple trees growing along many a roadside.
In less than four miles from our home we have collected a sampling of very edible fruit in colors ranging from red to green to yellow or a mix of all three. The most beautiful apple we have found so far is a tiny and fawn-colored with a lipstick-pink blush.
In the past before we sampled apples from the wild, we would wipe off fly speck, tiny black dots – and no, the dots do not arise from flies but are the result of fungal disease especially prevalent in Vermont’s apple orchards as our summers and falls become more humid and wet.
Most orchards spray fungicide multiple times to prevent things like fly speck and sooty blotch – but we don’t have to worry about eating chemicals with our wild finds in hand and we don’t even bother to wipe off the spots and dots, instead biting into the apples to determine if they are tart, sweet, spicy, or too sour to eat.
One of the tastiest apples we have discovered so far is in a meadow adjoining ours. The apples are gnarly from the pecks and bites of piercing, sucking insects but all they need is a trim around the insect-damaged flesh and they are a delight to eat. We wonder if they are possibly an heirloom apple variety as they have many attributes for home use – the flesh is sweet, tart – firm but juicy. They are yellow overlaid with crimson stripes and were ripe some weeks ago.
The “meadow” apples have held up well in cooking and have found their way into a rabbit stew made rich by the addition of butter, good olive oil, a cider reduction we made and put up last year, lots of vermouth, good white wine, carrots and tomatoes picked from our garden and roasted before being added to the stew. There was an ample amount of the excellent fragrant sauce left over from the rabbit and it was reincarnated as a base for a veal stew.
The organically-grown veal came from Winsome Farm in Haverhill, NH just across the Connecticut River from our Newbury, VT home. The tender bits of newly-harvested meat were caramelized in a super hot oven and were added to the sauce as were more “meadow” apples, our own heirloom tomatoes and slowly sauteed onions, little red potatoes from one of our favorite local farms, Peaked Moon in Piermont, NH, and as more liquid was needed to keep everything moist the last half of a bottle of red wine.
As the stew was put to a simmer and the aroma filled our home, I wondered what else I could cook with wild apples and rummaged about in the freezer pulling to the front items of goodness needing to be cooked before the freezer put the burn to them. A goodly-sized package marked “stew” put a smile on my face as I silently thanked our friend Tom Kuralt who generously shared venison he had taken during a hunt last year. After thawing the rich, wild meat it was browned, like the veal, in a hot, hot oven then added to a base of homegrown tomatoes, onions, lovage, peppers, and garlic with the addition of carrots from Newbury’s own 4 Corners Farm and cut up chunks of wild apple. Cumin and dried chiles from Oaxaca — Pasilla and Chilcosle — added heat and hints of clove, anise, cinnamon and smoke. Homemade corn tortillas completed the meal!
All of this yumminess has us giving thanks to the early settlers of Vermont and New Hampshire – the apple trees they planted years ago produced a mixed blessing of progeny to inherit the wild.
A sweet heavenly fog permeates the sugarhouse. Scent memories conjure up cotton candy and caramel apples – but I am smelling something more earthy, spicy, an aromatic sweetness that makes me hungry – not for pancakes (as it must for others) but for roasted pork tenderloin and winter squash and butter and drizzles of caramelized maple syrup.
There is a roar and a blast of heat as Steve Glabach, a second generation sugar maker, opens the fire doors on the evaporator, a huge compartmentalized maple sugaring pan where just collected sap boils and bubbles. I’ve entered a scene from Macbeth – “double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
And toil doth the sugarmaker while the fire burns and the sap bubbles! Maple sugaring season is short and harried. Sap begins an annual dance in maple sugar trees, Acer saccharum (think sucrose), in late winter when days begin to warm while nights still turn to freezing. You can be assured that folks from hereabouts in northern New England will claim “it’s sugaring time!
Stately maple trees lining back roads and town greens will suddenly sport buckets.
Groves of maple trees, called a sugarbush in maple sugaring terms, will be traditionally tapped with spiles (spouts) and buckets or with a modern system of tubing (pipeline) running from tree to tree and a vacuum pulling sap to a central collection point.
Steve Glabach and his wife, Maria, of Dummerston, Vermont use both systems and their children, Ted and Theresa, work alongside them during the short season as do other family members, friends, and volunteers.
I spent part of a day following the frenzy and was exhausted watching a young volunteer crew rushing through the sugarbush gathering sap from buckets and sloshing off to fill a storage tank pulled by a tractor.
The tractor took off down the road and pulled behind the sugarhouse where a gravity fed line brought in all the watery goodness.
The Glabachs, like many other sugar makers, use a reverse osmosis machine to assist in making maple syrup – it concentrates the sap for processing in a evaporator set over a heat source – an arch, or combustion chamber. The Glabachs use wood to fire their arch and it is the combination of wood smoke and steam escaping from the sap that smells so delicious.
Days are long and nights are longer during this short sweet season. The fire must be stoked to continue the boil drawing water from the sap and as the sap turns to syrup a constant vigilance must be kept to keep the syrup from burning and to draw off the syrup as it finishes.
Vermont’s forests are filled with maple trees, approximately 1:4. The higher sugar content in the sap, the less sap needed to make syrup – the rule of thumb is 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Maple syrup is good for you: calcium, manganese, potassium, and magnesium and full of antioxidants too!
Please ask Jane Booth for permission to reproduce her copyrighted photographs and/or writing. Email email@example.com or call (802) 866-3329. Jane has spent a good part of her career photographing and writing about gardens and small farms for Gardens Illustrated, Yankee Magazine, Country Living, Country Living Gardens, Better Homes & Gardens, Old House Journal’s New Old House, among others and Cape Cod Home where she produced an ongoing column and feature stories.
David Tansey founded The Landmark Trust USA in 1991. He is the past president of The Landmark Trust USA and The Scott Farm and was involved in every step of revitalizing Landmark Trust USA and Scott Farm properties.
It’s lunch time and poor us, all we have to eat is a fresh-baked apple pie filled with the last of the apples gleaned in the fall — Bramley’s Seedling, England’s favorite baking apple originating in the early 1800s; Northern Spy a 1800s seedling from New York; and one of my favorite baking apples – Rhode Island Greening, a colonial apple from about 1650 discovered in Green’s End, Newport where a Mr. Green ran a tavern. The farm’s cooler has been turned off since December, yet these old timey apples are still firm and have held up wonderfully in long months of storage.
My husband, David Tansey, loves making pie and because he is such a good pie crust maker I have stayed away from the task until now. I begged him for his recipe at breakfast and parcel it together but ask him to roll out the dough as it seems too wet (he knew it was just fine).
When my mentor left for work, I forged ahead with the filling making things up as I went along. In the refrigerator I found the balance of a small bottle of iced cider from the Monteregie region of Quebec and used it to moisten peeled apple slices letting them mull around in the sweet scent of concentrated fermented cider while I fiddled with the dough. Just before topping the pie I realize I haven’t added any flour or sugar to the mix of apples and sprinkle a tablespoon of each over the mound of slices. Simple.
The pie, much to my delight, is a success. My husband admires the way it looks it from the time he arrives home for lunch. Admires it more when he tucks into a slice. And says all things yummy when I suggest he try a bite with a piece of Grafton’s clothbound cheddar attached to his forkful of apples and crust. We are both beaming. The cheese adds a sharp tangy crumbly bite cutting into the sweet sureness of apple, flavors melding into a taste sensation. We try the same effect again with a creamy cheddar from Shelburne Farms, not as sharp but just as nice with the pie. Tasting the clothbound cheddar again I tell David the cave-aged mushroom mustiness would be an excellent foil to the carmalized sweetness of a tarte tatin made with Calville Blanc d’Hiver, a fine French cooking apple dating to 1598. We vow to do just so when the new crop of apples are ready for harvest.
Please ask Jane Booth for permission to reproduce her copyrighted photographs and/or writing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Jane has spent a good part of her career photographing and writing about gardens and small farms for Gardens Illustrated, Yankee Magazine, Country Living, Country Living Gardens, Better Homes & Gardens, New Old House Journal, and Cape Cod Home where she produced an ongoing column and feature stories.
David Tansey is the founder of The Landmark Trust USA and past president of Landmark and The Scott Farm. He was involved in every step of revitalizing Landmark Trust USA and Scott Farm properties and loves using heirloom apples when he bakes a pie.