September 10, 2012

North Country on brink of apple season

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.

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