I find excitement about food on a number of fronts. The smell of a soffritto gently crackling on my stovetop, the excitement of trying a local specialty, returning to my grandmother's house for her chicken potpie or an engaging academic discussion about authenticity in food all bring a smile to my face.
Imagine, then, my excitement as doors started opening to embed this passion for the multi-disciplinarity of food into my scholarly work as a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) in the department of Health and Human Kinetics. In 2011 I taught a course examining the social, cultural and environmental factors related to obesity, and the class traveled to Italy to compare these factors with those in the United States. During that time we visited the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche, UNISG) in Pollenzo, Italy. UNISG was begun by Slow Food and its founder, Carlo Petrini, and is aimed at the interdisciplinary academic development of the gastronome: "skilled in production, distribution, promotion and communication of high-quality foods" (UNISG, 2012). This was where I was introduced to the Granaries of Memory (Granai della Memoria) project.
The mission of the Granaries of Memory project is to collect food-related memories and traditional knowledge from around the world using video interviewing. "It is necessary to collect the memories ... before they are lost. Once, there was the oral memory that guaranteed the transmission of this treasure," Petrini said regarding the importance of the project. "Today, we need authentic 'granaries' to fight such a famine of ideas, to contrast the dominant and massified culture that has silenced the precious knowledge of our fathers."
My exposure to this work while in Italy led to another course I have offered on two occasions at OWU. The course focuses on contributing to the Granaries of Memory project by collecting stories and traditions from Ohioans for inclusion in the Granaries database. Over two semesters, my students have interviewed 16 individuals from Delaware County, Ohio, examining their family histories, food traditions, memories about food and how these were woven into and across their lives.
The stories they shared could fill volumes. One theme that united them, however, was their engagement with food. It was clear across all of their stories that these individuals have a passion for food, and that their lives are enriched by this involvement and engagement.
For one individual, engagement with food was exemplified through sharing. Even looking back on her younger years, she reflected on an instance when sharing French sorrel helped to build a connection with the military officers ranking above her husband. For another couple, the key to engagement with food was wholesomeness. They maintain this wholesomeness through long-standing gardening work and provision of garden food for family and neighbors alike.
For each interviewee this engagement has led to traditions, both old and new. From Slovenian lamb dishes to Swiss noodle recipes that were passed down from previous generations, our interviewees have held on to their heritage while incorporating and adapting to new traditions as well.
From our research, tradition took on an entirely new meaning based on the findings of the students (see sidebar). One food tradition that was shared illustrated the complexity of the concept of tradition perfectly. The various ingredients of a daughter's rose geranium cake recipe brought together important familial food traditions. The daughter combined her own recipe for white cake with raspberry filling; placed rose geranium leaves (one of her mother's favorite plants) in the center and added her grandmother's famous white frosting to round out the connection.
While a project like this has its pedagogical and philosophical goals, one of the most enriching aspects is working with students in this manner. Students were forced to break out of their preconceived notions about food, and consider the variety of meanings that individuals hold with respect to food that move far beyond just sustenance, health and enjoyment. One student stated that the process "has helped me to gain a better connection with food overall. I also will think more about how food and culture interrelate."
I'm especially excited about this project because it's not over. In fact, we will continue to collect memories and traditions, and share them with our partners at UNISG. During our recent visit to UNISG, a special digital archive was created for this work, titled "Granaries from Ohio Wesleyan University." And while, at the core, I am still an academic in the field of health promotion, I have certainly found a complementary passion in the realm of food studies after developing this class and working on this project.
Through the lens of food I have forged a number of valuable close professional and personal relationships, and I am thrilled about the relationship with UNISG and Slow Food. It has also given me the opportunity to work side-by-side with our exceptional students on important research. It's difficult not to sound trite, but this project has truly been one of the most meaningful in my career. Here's hoping for many more years of delicious discoveries!
To learn more about The Granaries of Memory Project visit granaidellamemoria.it/ilprogetto.aspx. And to learn more about The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy visit unisg.it/en/.
The Meaning of Tradition
The term tradition (or traditional) is often used to take us back to a simpler, perhaps more pure time, when foods and lifestyles were perceived to be more wholesome and perhaps less complicated. We found, however, that while tradition indeed incorporates elements of the past, that traditions aren't limited to the preservation of intact practices. In fact, they manifest themselves as specific foods, acts and/or ideologies that connect the past with the present, and aim toward the future.
The students identified three key facets of tradition: heritage, identity and transmission. These facets were consistent with the academic literature on tradition, and were illustrated throughout the interviews.
Heritage was described as links to the past that were mostly intact—such as a recipe for lemon pie that was handed down for generations, and described by one of our interviewees.
Identity was the connection to the present, as the acceptance and description of a tradition (such as eating wholesome foods as a family) creates an identity that differentiates the tradition holder from his or her social surroundings.
Finally, transmission is the bridge to the future. Without transmission, traditions are lost. Preventing this is at the heart of this project, as well as a key feature of tradition that demonstrates its movement beyond preservation of the past.
Tradition, by nature, is something that we expect to last and continue. Our interviewees all demonstrated this through their hopes that their children and families would carry forward their recipes, ideologies and other food-related practices.
Soffritto Makes a Tasty Beginning
Recipe courtesy of Christopher Fink
The Italian soffritto is a close relative of the French mire poix—a mix of onions, carrots and celery slowly cooked in butter in a 2:1:1 ratio. Although mire poix is the base for many successful French recipes, the Italian version seems to have more variant ingredients, including some that I particularly like. I also enjoy the soffritto because of the instant sensory gratification: Very little stirs the appetite like this simple recipe starter. As an added bonus, any dinner guests will be greeted with its scent, which kicks off the culinary compliments straight away!
A soffritto recipe can be tricky to find in a cookbook, because each Italian cook seems to have her or his own version, and regional differences abound. Even the fat that is used can vary—I've seen butter used in the northern reaches of Italy, and olive oil in Tuscany, Umbria and points south. Aromatics can vary as well, so use your imagination (and your garden).
The soffritto serves as a wonderful base for pasta sauces, vegetable sautés and soups, and can also be an excellent topping for roasted meats.
My basic recipe (for a small batch) looks like this:
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium sweet onion*
2–3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped*
1 stalk celery or 1 medium fennel bulb*
1 teaspoon dried green anise (my secret ingredient—not Italian, but really fantastic)
* The classic ratio here is 2 parts onion to every 1 part garlic and celery (or other vegetable), but precision is not critical to a good soffritto!
Pour the olive oil into a sauté pan and heat on low-medium heat until the oil starts to bubble slightly. Be careful not to heat the oil too quickly, as olive oil has a relatively low smoke point. Add the onion and sauté until slightly softened (2–3 minutes), then add garlic and celery to soften the remainder of the way.
At this point, you should cook on low heat (patience!) for upwards of 30 minutes, at which point the vegetables and aromatics will combine into a synergistic base for your sauce or soup recipe. If I am planning to add this to meat, or to sauté other vegetables with it (such as zucchini, tomatoes, etc.), I will often go with a shorter cooking time, so that there is still a distinct texture and profile to the ingredients.
Many like to add other fresh herbs to the recipe as well; I particularly enjoy using thyme. In that case, I would likely substitute for the anise, but you can follow your taste preferences.
Al Dolder grew up in Columbus, far from rural life. Nevertheless, he dreamed of becoming a hog farmer. He is a man who finds poetry in pigs.
On our way to Al's Stonefield Naturals, photographer Catherine Murray and I drive south, then east of Columbus, meander along country roads and eventually pull up to a long driveway flanked by old stone pillars. At the end of the drive stands a faux Tudor home, modest but well landscaped.
The day is beautiful with birdsong, sunshine and wildflowers. We pass two black pigs in a field before we arrive at our destination, where Al, wearing overalls and a welcoming smile, climbs down from his red truck and greets us as we unload cameras and muster notebooks.
After high school graduation in 1974, Al moved to the farm that his father had purchased to grow nursery stock, working with him in the landscaping business and raising commodity hogs on the side. In 1982, he married wife Bonni and sold his animals.
Landscaping was steady, but Al still dreamed of hogs. After 9/11, when landscaping business began to slide, Al and Bonni decided to focus on a business centered on need—food—rather than want. In 2003, he purchased an "old-line genetics" (see sidebar) Hampshire sow named Miss Annie from Joe Malone of Lancaster, Ohio.
Al had always been intrigued by Hampshires, which the National Swine Registry calls "possibly the oldest, early-American breed of hogs in existence today." They are a black-skinned hog with erect ears, belted in white around the middle and forelegs.
"I wanted sows that could raise piglets outdoors," says Al. "Modern hogs can't—their legs are too short. You need a sow with mobility."
Meat packers want conformity. "On the kill floor, every hog needs to be the same, because it's mechanized," Al says. "My hogs are not all the same." Butcher Dale Phillips from Zanesville processes Al's hogs.
We walk out to the field to meet some hogs, who turn out to be the two black pigs we passed earlier in the car. Their white belts are hidden by the mud they've wallowed in—in that, at least, they match the stereotype—and they follow Al and a bucket of feed to a more picturesque portion of the field, so that Catherine can get a shot of pigs in clover.
But the hogs, which stand waist-high and weigh 450 pounds at this point, are curious, and Catherine and I beat a retreat over the knee-high electric fence, as Al swings a plastic bucket to discourage them from sniffing us with their muddy snouts.
"Sis," he says reprovingly to one, seeming a little embarrassed at this display of hog mischief.
Al has one boar and five sows, which he breeds in turn to produce one litter of eight to 12 piglets per month. When we step into the barn, a sow heaves herself to her feet and her piglets scatter. They are cunning at 1 month old, weighing just 15 pounds.
Al had to alter his vision of little pigs running free after he saw the coyote tracks outside the barn. He now keeps them safe inside until they weigh 75 pounds, big enough to make a coyote think twice.
Sows can weigh up to 700 pounds, and Al describes with reverence how they ease down on their elbows, listen to make sure there are no pigs underneath, then slowly lie down, careful not to crush their relatively tiny offspring.
"That's good maternal behavior, and I can select for that," Al says. Sows that are raised in confinement, of course, can hardly stand up in their close quarters, and are separated from their piglets by barriers. Maternal behavior is, in effect, being bred out because it isn't needed.
The sow silhouettes herself against the open door of the barn. "With the morning light shining," Al says, "you can see the pink of their skin." I can't see it, but perhaps the light isn't quite right. Or perhaps Al looks at his hogs through different eyes.
"Breaking Even Is Not an Option"
Despite the poetry, raising hogs is an expensive proposition. Corn costs rise. Hogs have to be trained to the electric fence. Marketing is difficult.
Al's meat has received stellar reviews from OSU's Steven J. Moeller, professor and swine extension specialist, who evaluated a carcass at the University's Meat Science Laboratory; from Adam Welly of Wayward Seed, for charcuterie; and from Jim Budros, for porchetta.
Still, Al and Bonni were ready to kiss the hogs goodbye, so to speak, when Adam suggested another route. Today Al sells at the Worthington Farmers Market and his Stonefield Naturals products include organically grown vegetables as well as pork: whole, half or by cut.
"Twenty years ago, I would never have believed the food scene today," Al says. "Thank goodness for farmers markets and the opportunity to sell people one pork chop at a time. Then they realize what pork should taste like."
He would like to expand, but not to the point where he again becomes a commodity breeder, his economic destiny determined by the whims of the packer.
"For me, satisfaction is a fine sow raising a large litter of pigs, and knowing that I have done my genetic homework."
Al cannot resist a final metaphor. "If I don't stray off the path that these Hampshire hogs have cut through the brambles of modern pork quality, they will be here for the next generation after I am gone."
The Hampshire Hog: Modern and Old-Line Genetics
The Hampshire hog developed from the Old English Breed imported to Kentucky from Britain around 1825. Good mothers and foragers, they were easy to raise outdoors.
"I always loved the history and lore of the old-time Hampshire hogs and the men who bred them," says hog farmer Al Dolder. "They were rugged and tough hogs and equally tenacious breeders."
However, in the 1990s, when food trends stigmatized fat, farmers began breeding Hampshires with the Belgian Pietrien, a heavily muscled, lean hog. In Al's opinion, "it reduced flavor and fat and made the meat grey."
That's why he raises animals bred from old-line genetics rather than modern stock.
"Genetics are everything," Al insists. "The best way to keep the genetics good is to look at the carcasses and select daughters from the sows who have the best meat qualities in their pigs."
According to Al, Smithfield Ham "destroyed the hog market in 1988" by refusing to buy commodity pork from farmers and becoming "vertical integrators," raising and butchering the hogs themselves. "A lot of family hog farms went out of business."
When a huge company like Smithfield controls the quality of pork, Al says, "after a while the consumer doesn't know what pork should taste like."
With his old-line Hampshire hogs, Al is working to change that.
Author's note: On May 29, 2013, Smithfield Ham agreed to be bought out by China's largest meat producer, Shuanghui International Holdings, for $4.72 billion.
The Willow Farmer
On a 300-acre historic farm in Roseville, Ohio, sits the creative home of Howard Peller and his wife, Maddy Fraioli. Howard and Maddy own 30-acres and share a portion of the land with local farmer, who grows certified organic row crops. While Howard raises vegetables, runs a number of small beehives and cultivates an orchard for personal use and occasional local market sales, he is an artist at heart.
They came to the land in the 1990s to raise their family amidst farm life while owning and running multiple creative businesses, namely as partners for 25 years at Fioriware Art Pottery in Zanesville, Ohio, and Howard's formal role as vice president of product design and development at the Longaberger Company.
Among many artistic twists and turns, what has remained constant for Howard is his respect for the land. As a little boy, he describes how his family lived on the edge of a field, and as he walked past it everyday he longed to have a farm one day. That innocent desire ("It wasn't very practical," he chuckles.) translated into wanting to influence his kids "to have chores and have a relationship to nature."
While his kids are all grown up now, Howard's desire to live in rhythm with the place he calls home is still strong. The seasons live in him. He lives in the seasons. And it's this regard for the Earth and its daily offerings that led Howard to become a willow farmer and basket maker.
It was also a trip to Europe, where he saw willow baskets and fell for their warm glow, lovely look and
"The baskets feel like they're still growing," says Howard as he remembers those first few encounters. "You feel the spirit of nature in them."
And it was a series of trips to Haiti, India and Jamaica that planted in his imagination the seed of farming willow. For the last six years, he's lived among local artisans in these regions, "working to aid their designs and improve techniques for making handcraft goods."
"In Haiti I fell in love with the idea of reaching into the forest, pulling down some bamboo or taking some reeds to work with," he says.
His passion led to the question: "What can I do here at the farm that I can grow that's not just food, that I can make something with? I wanted to see how life can have that rhythm where you grow something, harvest it and then make a product from it."
So amongst his orchard, beehives and plot of vegetables, Howard decided to make his own forest—a winding two acres of colorful, wispy, elegant willow. In his third year of willow farming, Howard has 6,000 willows of about 60 varieties. Willow is a great crop for erosion control, it helps stabilize the soil and some are studying its potential as a renewable source of energy. It's also, second to oak, one of the top insect-diverse species; the bugs find its chemistry tasty, making it good for the birds and the ecology of Howard and Maddy's farm.
It takes a couple of seasons to get the willow growing to a height and tension where Howard can cut it and prepare it for basket weaving. The willows are planted in the spring and harvested in the winter to be stored and dried for up to two years. "I harvest willow using a coppicing method," he says, "of cutting the whips near the ground, leaving a growing stool."
Howard then has to soften the willow back up in a warm bath to make it tender enough for the delicate handiwork weaving demands. Once the willow has its bath, Howard has about two to three days to work with it before it hardens again. He leaves the bark on the branch, unlike many European willow basket makers who strip the skin to reveal a creamy finish. Howard waits for the willow to breathe while making sure the bark is clinging just so to the bone of the branch to allow for that warm, earthy look.
"The way I appreciate nature—my respect for it, my honor for it—I don't like to bruise the material," he says as he talks about his process and the time he takes to make a basket. "I like to go in a slow, methodical pace. I'm not trying to hustle it. I honor the spirit of the material."
Howard taught himself the craft of basketry, spending time training with several basket makers in Germany, France and Denmark—places where the tradition of basket weaving with willow is well-regarded and woven into the culture. Basketry is one of the most widespread and oldest crafts in human history. Here in the United States, willow basket weaving was a part of Colonial times, but it "just never caught on," he says, to the point that it became a mainstay in American crafts.
Today, from Howard's experience, there is a small group of willow weavers in the US compared to the many groups in Europe, making his venture unique.
He hopes to move from decorative and functional willow baskets to more sculptural experiments using other materials such as metals, other woods or found objects. What underlies all of that, though, for Howard is a philosophy about making things from the "forest."
"I hope to demonstrate some values, a way of living," he says as we talk about how going slow, living off the land and the traditions of craft seem lost on the Western world.
"I'm always looking at things in a lot of multiple ways. It's from a life of observation and stewardship. It's about making something really honest with your hands and the verticality of life."
Mount Vernon Barn Company
During the 17th and 18th century, Ohio was so dense with forest that a squirrel could jump from tree to tree and make its way across the state without ever leaving a branch. That's the story Doug Morgan—lawyer, woodworker and owner of Mount Vernon Barn Company—will tell you when you walk into one of his repurposed modern-day barns.
With his palm resting on a beam of aged oak and a twinkle in his eyes, he'll take you back in time, telling you things about wood you never knew, inviting you to appreciate what a forest thick with timber meant for early settlers in Ohio: beautiful barns.
Doug is a dreamer and saving old Ohio barns, and the craftsmanship it took to erect them, is his dream. Every Saturday for the past 25 years, he has relocated, restored and repurposed historic barns and log houses in Ohio to develop a 85-acre homestead in Knox County, "so that my family could spend time in the country and walk in the woods and play in the stream, and I could plant trees, have a big garden and do woodworking."
When Doug talks about this dream, his wife, Beth Morgan, stands beside him, smiling as they show me photos of those first few years of Saturdays. Theirs was a shared vision of creating a homestead from old barns and log houses to one day create homes, recreational spaces and more for other families and communities.
Beth and Doug met in first grade in Clintonville. Doug developed his love of woodworking in junior high school where, in the 1970s, it was still part of the required curriculum. This love, coupled with Doug's interest in history, was the true beginning of Mount Vernon Barn Company, a business that readapts historic Ohio barns for new purposes.
For the same reason a farmer farms the land to have an intimate connection with the place where he lives, Doug and Beth are drawn to Ohio's old barns out of tremendous respect and awe for the people who created them. They want to better marry the values of old with the present moment by bringing these old structures back to life.
"When we dismantle and work with historic barns and log houses we feel a real connection with the men who built them," says Doug. "We are amazed that they were able to cut and transport the huge foundation stone, fell 80-foot-plus trees, hew the timbers, do such precise mortise-and-tenon joinery and erect the timber frames by hand with the use of a few hand tools and simple devices that utilized oxen and draft horses."
Beth notes another important detail: The construction of these barns left zero carbon footprint back in the day. Mount Vernon Barn Company continues that tradition by using "a minimal amount of fossil fuel to dismantle, move and re-erect a barn. In this day of green initiatives, it is important to note that the early-19th-century barns that we move and repurpose have a zero carbon footprint," says Beth. "The timbers were cut down, hewn and erected by hand without any fossil fuel. In fact, these structures were built prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine or the advent of electricity."
Beyond the artisan effort it took to construct an old barn, there is something in the hardwood oak, chestnut, beech, walnut and cherry that speaks to Doug and Beth's souls. The barns carry the feeling of the forest in them with their first-growth timber.
"These trees grew very slowly and therefore the wood was dense, strong and full of character," says Doug. "When we take down a barn and handle the timbers someone usually comments, 'Trees like this haven't grown in Ohio for over 100 years.' Ohio's hardwood forests are a rare treasure."
Richard Morey, a longtime woodworker, preservationist and longtime friend and mentor of Doug's, will tell you the same thing about the old barns: the wood has character. When asked what he loves about repurposing barns with Doug, Richard talks about the constant challenge of honoring the wood. He explains the way one beam's grain will spiral and pool while another beam's grain reveals line after line, and how he works to position them in a re-adapted barn so the character of both is enhanced.
Doug's dream of Mount Vernon Barn Company offers a creative home for craftsmen like Richard, Amish woodworkers and others who want to preserve Ohio's past and contemporize it to keep it alive in the 21st century. Doug says there are an estimated 35,000 barns dotting Ohio's countryside, but 20 years from now he thinks it'll be difficult, if not impossible, to find one of these barns to repurpose and restore for continued use. The wood in the barns is so prized, Doug gets calls from builders around the country looking for first-growth timber.
Doug also gets calls once or twice a week from farmers and landowners wanting to have their barns removed because they can't afford to keep them up. In some ways, the work of Mount Vernon Barn Company is a race against time. The question of what it will take to save these barns in time to put them back into use guides Doug's mission. One of his solutions is to inspire others to see the potential in the wood and how reclaimed timber can be used for the home as a coffee table, bookshelf or cabinet so Ohioans can have, if not a whole barn, a piece of its history and character.
"The great age of barns was an important chapter in our Ohio and human history, when families worked the land with simple implements and strong backs and were self-reliant. Our projects honor the long-forgotten men and women who built and used these great vernacular structures and serve as reminders of the value of hard work and self-reliance," says Doug.
"We hope that children for the next 100–200 years will be able to walk into our barns, or run their hands over the top of a harvest table made from a tree that began growing in 1690, and experience the same sense of wonder and awe that we do every day."
While Mount Vernon Barn Company continues to repurpose, relocate and re-create old Ohio barns, Doug has another dream up his sleeve: "to create an apprentice program to teach young people timber framing and woodworking. There is something fundamentally satisfying about working with your hands, whether you do it as an occupation or a hobby, and whether it's woodworking, cooking, gardening, etc. In my mind's eye, I try to picture a wonderful woodworking shop with young apprentices using chisels, mallets and drills to cut precise mortises and tenons for customers who appreciate and are willing to pay for skills that would otherwise be lost to the world forever."
A beautiful dream, indeed. We know what Doug will be up to on many Saturdays to come.
"Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple...."
―J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
For many people autumn is synonymous with football, but for me it is all about apples. Apples bring back childhood memories: eating Early Transparents off a neighbor's tree; picking apples at Patterson's in Chesterland, Ohio; and peeling apples in preparation for making applesauce and pies.
This fall marks the 32nd year that our family has picked apples at Lynd's fruit farm. Our children grew up with apples in the fall and our granddaughters are just beginning their lifelong relationship with apples.
Eating an apple is a very sensual experience and everyone has their preferences. What is your favorite apple, and why? Is it sweet, tart, acidic, with hints of pineapple, melon or pear? Is it crunchy, juicy, creamy? Maybe the apple's perfume draws you in—a nod to the apple's cousin, the rose.
I wonder: What did the first apple taste like? Who was the first to cultivate and select tastier, prettier, bigger fruits? While we do have native crabapple species, most of the apples we eat today—Malus domestica—are complex hybrids bred from species that originated in Asia Minor. European colonists brought the apple to North America in the 1600s. In Colonial America, the apple was often valued more for its products of cider and applejack than for fresh eating and cooking.
We have John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, to thank for the spread of apples throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. He planted apple seedlings in areas that were ripe for settling. Thousands of varieties originated from his apple groves; most do not exist today.
Growing apples—conventionally or organically—can be a challenge. There are many pests and diseases that attack apple trees and their fruit, yet when we buy apples we have come to expect them to look perfect and unblemished. Fortunately, there are many references that can help you if you decide to take the leap and try growing your own.
The first step is to look for cultivars that are resistant to the big three apple diseases: apple scab, fire blight and cedar apple rust. This guided my selection of Liberty (1955) and GoldRush (1973) for my own garden. This year, after three years in the garden, my trees will yield 8–10 apples each: I will not stop picking apples at Lynd's anytime soon!
Apples are propagated by grafting a desired cultivar onto a rootstock. Rootstocks have been developed to influence the growth of the preferred apple cultivar. They can control the tree size, disease resistance, productivity and stress tolerance. My trees are on one of the dwarfing rootstocks, which will keep the trees small and allow me to stay closer to the ground when picking from the mature trees. One other growing note: It is best to have at least two different cultivars that bloom at the same time. Apples, especially heirlooms, "prefer" to be cross-pollinated. Many of the newer cultivars are pollen-fertile, meaning that they can self-pollinate.
Depending on whom you consult and what period of time you reference, there are or were anywhere from hundreds to thousands of apple cultivars. As Liberty Hyde Bailey said in The Apple Tree (1922), "Why do we need so many kinds of apples? Because there are so many folks." He gleaned 878 cultivars from nursery catalogs in 1892, and then rated 107 of them for where they would best grow in the United States. The names of these cultivars are snapshots of people who grew or found them, apple and tree characteristics, apple "parents," bloom or ripening time, and places. Scott Chaussee (orangepippin.com) has posted notes for approximately 700 apple varieties. His descriptions may entice you to search out apples that are less common.
Below are a few of my favorite apples. Some make the best applesauce. Some hold their shape when cooked while others are best eaten raw. Some store well while others should be eaten soon after picking. All are available either as a tree or as the fruit.
Cortland has bright white flesh that offers a satisfying crunch; slow to brown when cut; sweet and tart at the same time with a creamy texture when baked. Does not store well; make applesauce if you still have some after 6–8 weeks of storage, or when the texture becomes mealy.
Dolgo (crabapple) is one of the larger crabapple cultivars (crabapples are under two inches in diameter; apples are bigger than two inches). Resistant to the "big three" apple diseases. Very tart fruit that makes an excellent jelly or apple butter; ripens in late July to August.
Fuji was developed in Japan, but both its parents were U.S. apples. It's crisp, sweet and stores well. I've seen recommendation for its use as a cooking apple, but I feel that the texture and taste deteriorate; it is better eaten fresh. I look for a lopsided apple that is red and yellow with a brown undertone—there is another form with streaky skin color that tastes different to me.
GoldRush was developed by the cooperative breeding programs of Purdue, the University of Illinois and New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Stations. Their goals for cultivar development are disease resistance, long storage and good to excellent flavor. GoldRush has a complex tartness, stores for at least four to five months. It is a beautiful apple that bakes well.
Honeycrisp was developed in the early '60s by the University of Minnesota in its search for cold-hardy apples. It is very CRISP and tart initially; it sweetens as it can be stored for up to six months. It doesn't have the best disease resistance, so may not be the best choice for a home orchard.
Jonathan is a beautiful dark-red apple that has a spicy tart flavor and is one of my favorites to use in combination with other apples in pies and applesauce; often is in the cider you buy. Like Honeycrisp, Jonathans are susceptible to the "big three" apple diseases.
Liberty is a modern hybrid that has excellent disease resistance and a good flavor reminiscent of McIntosh. Can't wait to experiment with cooking them this year.
McIntosh is an heirloom and my favorite apple. The flesh is pale green with a lovely perfume. Excellent fresh, baked and in pies. It does not hold its shape, so it forms the "sauce" in pies and crisps. It has been the parent of many heirloom and modern cultivars.
Melrose, the official apple of Ohio, has yellow skin that is overlaid with red. Some may find the russetting (brown dots or netting) a bit harder to chew, but that makes it less palatable to insects, too. This is an apple from my youth that made its way in to many pies. Its slightly acid flavor deepens as it stores. Good as a fresh apple and a cooking apple.
Stayman Winesap is either one apple or two apple cultivars. It depends whom you talk to. Both are harvested late in the season, usually in October after a frost. It is a starchy apple, with a spicy-floral fragrance, that sweetens as it stores. Good for eating and for baking where the starch turns into sugar.
Yellow Transparent (Early Transparent) is the sweet-tart-crisp apple we ate off the tree in the summer. Best for sauce or cider as it doesn't hold its shape and doesn't store well.
Two excellent books that can guide your apple growing choices:
The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips and The Fruit Gardener's Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry.
Thank you to Robin Rinaca, owner of Eastern Shore Nursery of Virginia, for sharing her experiences with apples.
Local Grilled Cheese with Apples & Honey
By Tricia Wheeler
Apples and cheese—a perfect classic pairing made even better with a smear of your favorite mustard, a generous drizzle of local honey and two slices of crusty bread.
Slices of crusty bread
Favorite cheese (I prefer Canal Junction Charloe.)
Apple slices (I prefer a crunchy, tart apple.)
1. Melt butter in a heavy-bottom skillet—dip one side of each slice of bread in butter.
2. On the side with no butter, smear mustard on 1 slice of bread, honey on the other, and then layer on cheese and apples.
3. Put back in skillet and toast on each side until cheese is melted and bread is brown and toasty. Slice and serve.
By Tricia Wheeler
Dehydrate local apples for a healthy snack! Slice apples thin and dry out in a dehydrator or low oven on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. The apple slices are finished when crisp and crunchy. I like to sprinkle my apples with cinnamon or a little sea salt before drying.