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Falling in Love with Apple Picking

The sweet smell of apples in the fall air always brings a mouth-watering smile to my face. Many chilly and wonderfully lazy afternoons spent apple picking have produced some of our best family memories.

There is something about the gnarled branches of an apple tree, the fluttering leaves speckled with shining drops of red, that sets the perfect New England backdrop for great family pictures. As you may guess, any orchard in the Mount Washington Valley and neighboring towns boasts amazing mountain views as well. Despite the short growing season here in the Valley, the apples are in no hurry. They are right at home, and can only reach perfection in the cooler temperatures of early fall.

I’ve always thought it oddly beautiful the way orchards are planted in perfect lines. I know there are practical reasons, but to me the irony lies in the trees themselves. The wild twisted branches grow any which way, their rugged bark flaking off like dragon scales, carelessly scattering perfect juicy fruits all over the ground below. Oddly—when you are picking—you don’t follow any planned path, but wander this way and that, taking a little here … a few more over there. The apples always seem riper, crisper, juicier—the next row over. The planting of those trees in absolute straight rows arranges the mess, creates even more beauty in the chaos.

The amazing productivity of an apple tree is a visual reminder of just how wonderful apples really are. One tree can produce up to 20 bushels per season, with a bushel weighing about 42 pounds. Worldwide, there are about 7,500 varieties of apples, 2,500 grown in the U.S., and about 50 varieties are grown here in the MWV. The one variety most of us don’t consume is the only variety native to the U.S.—the crab-apple, which is most commonly made into jelly.

The apples we regularly consume are considered dessert apples, being much sweeter than their tart ancestor. Similar to the human body, apples are made up of 85% water. Besides being a perfect source of dietary fiber, they also contain vitamins: magnesium and potassium, calcium and phosphorus.

I don’t think I have ever bit into an orchard-fresh apple and not become intoxicated with pure happiness. I prefer a traditional Mac or Cortland fresh from the tree—organic, of course. There are local orchards that grow organic apples, and some spray less than others. If this is important to you, just call ahead to ask about growing methods. Apples are so versatile; their potential is endless! They are most popular baked into pies, crisps, apple brown Betty’s, fritters, baked apples, caramel apples, dried in rings, and as cider doughnut. You must not forget to enjoy a homemade cider doughnut, which most local orchards offer.

After you are finished baking your way through a bushel, save the scrap skins and cores, and try making a couple of old-time recipes, starting with apple cider vinegar. There was a time when every New England farmhouse made its own batch. Cider vinegar is amazing, as it is very effective in helping with many health-related ailments. It can help reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, kill infections, tame acid reflux, soothe itching and burns, promote healthy gut bacteria, clear up allergies and congestion, cure hiccups, and detoxify the liver. Cider vinegar also can be used externally and around the house to freshen your laundry, deodorize, whiten teeth, or to detangle and condition hair. You can use it as salad dressing, facial toner, or mix it with equal parts water for a natural anti-bacterial, all-purpose cleaner. Making your own is super cheap, and takes very little effort!

The recipes I am sharing are made using lacto-fermentation, which is a safer and more nutritious method of preserving food than canning. The process uses lactic acid bacteria, one of the many beneficial bacteria already living in our digestive systems, and is present on every living surface. Lactic acid is also known as whey—the clear liquid that sits on top of your yogurt before you mix it. It is produced when fermenting yogurt or kefir, and happens to be one of the “good” probiotic bacteria we seek in yogurt. Fermentation is not only the oldest method of preserving food, it is also very nutritious. Naturally occurring by-products of fermentation include improved digestion, and higher intake of friendly enzymes, omega 3 fats, probiotics, and vitamins! This may be new and strange to you, but it has been around for hundreds of years. Check out these very simple recipes, which are perfect for beginners. It’s finally time to grab a bushel basket and go apple picking!

Apple Acres – South Hiram, ME

Apple Acres

Apple Acres Farm is a 6-acre pick-your-own fruit farm, with a gourmet food and gift store, cafe, playground, and a 1903 oak rack and cloth cider press. Operated by the Johnson family since 1949, The farm also hosts weddings, school programs, birthdays, events, yoga, workshops, and more.

Open daily 8 a.m. -5 p.m. from the 3rd weekend of August until Thanksgiving. 45 minutes from Portland or North Conway

363 Durgintown Road, South Hiram, ME 04041

(207) 625-4777

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