My mother and I found the apple identification worksheet at the Common Ground Fair last week. I was home for a visit, and Fedco was interested in identifying old apple tree varieties. Homeowners with un-named trees were asked to send in any information they had on the fruit.
At the fair, the seed company showcased an entire table of old varieties they’d turned up in American orchards.
Winter Banana: Indiana, c. 1876, one tag read. Coles Quince: Cornish, ME, 19th century. The list went on, with names like Twenty Ounce, and Winthrop Greening. We’d talked about reviving the old apple trees scattered through my parents’ woods before, off-handedly, but the worksheet got us started.
The next afternoon, we ventured beneath the pines with flagging tape and pen to uncover what we could of the orchard. There didn’t seem to be much pattern to the trees—they arced around the property in strange, mangled pairings, making it difficult to discern what the original organization might have been. It was clear there were at least two varieties: a soft, sweet-smelling yellow cooking apple and a tart, green keeper.
As we stumbled through the underbrush tagging the trees, we picked an apple from each and labeled it by number. One, two, three…before long we had circled back to the house with a grand total of twenty-three. All these years, there’d been an orchard at work beneath those pines.
In the morning, we headed to the market. Dick Keyough was there, selling plums and apples from his truck flat when we strode up with the basket. He offered several guesses for the fruit right off: Wealthy for a rogue red striped sweet, translucence or yellow transparent for the soft golden. The tart green, he said, could carry any number of names.
“Go back and plot out the trees,” he advised. “Old orchard patterns are set in 35 foot squares.” Anything outside that grid, he explained, had sprung up from seed, cross-pollinated and wild. These new varieties might be keepers, but they could also be sour. Whether or not we held on to them would depend on our taste.
I went out into the orchard that afternoon to collect a few of the greener fruits for baking. We had a dinner party to attend, and I could think of few things better for a crisp fall evening than a dessert of stuffed baked apples.
Back in the kitchen, I cored the fruit. Out came stem, seeds, and toughened marrow, but the bottom stayed, a last layer of protection for the stuffing to come. While the oven warmed, I mixed together maple syrup, dried cranberries, and a handful of oats, and stuffed the apples full.
It seemed to take ages for the apples to soften. When they finally emerged, wrinkled and tender, I plated them for dessert, topped with a dab of whipped cream and a melting puddle of vanilla ice cream. Perhaps one of these days, with the orchard revived, we’ll bake enough to feed a Friday night supper.
STUFFED BAKED APPLES
Wash and core 4 crisp, sweet apples, making sure not to cut clear through the fruit. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup dried, fresh, or frozen Cape Cod cranberries, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and (optional) 1/4 cup oats. Pack into apple cavities and place in a shallow baking pan. Bake 1 hour at 375 degrees; serve warm topped with vanilla ice cream.