Review: Shizuka apple

Last weekend we all went apple picking at Parlee Farms in Tyngsborough, MA. My favorite part of that farm is the goats, which have an elaborate climbing structure. The apple picking was a decent experience, although it being a busy weekend, there was a certain amount of crowd-control going on. (Get on hayride to trees, only pick from rows with cones, get on hayride back, thank you for your visit). I think that all in all it’s a fine place to visit, but in some ways it’s more clearly a place that was designed to give an experience than a farm that over the years has figured out how to take visitors. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so? It’s definitely getting people out to where actual things are being grown and actual animals raised, and I really can’t call that a bad thing.

Anyway, they had an apple I haven’t had before, a Shizuka.

Shizuka tasted 10/16/17, from Parlee Farms

This is a large green apple with dark rough lenticels on it. It has some peachy pink blush, and mine in particular had a nice leaf shadow on it. It’s apparently related to the Mutsu, which I could see in its overall size and shape. When cut it smells like a sweet Granny Smith. The flesh is pale white-green. It is an easy bite – it gives the bite you’d like in a bitey apple, without having to do any work. Taste is sweet and pear-ish. All in all, a good apple. Like

These apples be a-dragon

Two new supermarket apples, one snagged for me by my sister at Stop & Shop and the other spotted by me at Whole Foods. Why do people name apples after dragons? And why these two relatively new ones?

Snapdragon – tasted 11/2/16, from S&S

A big apple, bright red painted over green. Some browning – an older apple? Russety lenticels. Has a bit of a glue-y smell (K said wine-y?), and the flesh is pale with yellow lines on it. It’s mostly a pale sweet taste with a bit of tart. K liked it and said it had good texture and perfumey flavor. I’m not excited about it. 2nd chance.

Green Dragon Apple – tasted 11/2/16, from WF

Light russet over green on a big apple. Rough green lenticels. White flesh. Smells like tart yellow delicious. Tastes mild, tastes soft and a bit odd. Meh.

A disappointing set of apples

S and R and I went on an orchard crawl last weekend in the Stow area, to see what was there and to see if we could find any interesting varieties. I came home with Empire, Spencer, and Davey apples, and unfortunately none of them were that exciting. So here are the reviews:

Empire – tasted 10/17/16, from Carver Hill Farm, Stow

A bright deep red painted over yellow with small white lenticels that get tighter towards the bottom. Nice tart scent when cut, white flesh. VERY tart with a sweet tannin aftertaste. Might use it for cooking to balance out a pie. Meh.

Spencer – tasted 10/17/16, from Carver Hill Farm

Pale orangy red painted over yellow with minor russetting on top. Lenticels rough with cloud of underlying color around them. Very pear scented. Pale green-white flesh. Softish. Sweet-tart. Meh.

Davey – tasted 10/17/16, from Derby Ridge Farm, Stow

A flat shaped apple (wider than tall). Faded red painted over green. Cloudy lenticels get more abundant towards bottom. Almost no scent, slightly pear-y? White flesh. Tastes soft, odd, hint of tannin. Meh.

Cedar Hill Farm, Amesbury MA Apples & Reviews

This weekend we all (J&S+R and P&K) went up to check out Cider Hill Farm on the recommendation of a friend of Sylvia’s. After a nice lunch of savory crepes at the Noshery in Amesbury Center, we were on our way. The weather was warm enough, and there was mist of varying lightness all afternoon. This orchard was not kidding when they included the word “hill” in their name! As the baby wearer, I was definitely aware of a lot of upping and downing over wet grass and dirt. This would have been much easier if the weather had been drier. The fields are labelled by row, but it was at times challenging to be sure you had the apple you thought you did. I wish the labelling had been better, but I’m pretty sure we figured it all out. We rounded out our trip with a visit to the chickens and goats (the chickens have a special underpass from the main chicken coop area to a field nearby!) and the farmstand, where we picked up apple donuts, cider, and a nice sized blue hubbard to keep us through the winter. The cider donuts are reputed to be the best, but I still would hold out for Smolak’s when they are freshly warm. The farmstand is “full service” with produce, grocery items, gifts, and – my favorite – labelled bins of apples. FROM NOW ON, Sylvia and I have resolved to check for bins like this when we go picking, because then we can just pick out the taster apples at the stand and then go picking for pie apples without having to use a map to find individual varieties.

Marking the apples in the field was not going to work this trip because everything was wet, so instead we took pictures of the apples and made notes about which picture went with which apple. It made for some detective work when we got home but was a good solution.

Pioneer Mac – Tasted 10/4/16

Everything’s small this year with the drought, so I don’t know if this was a typical size for a Pioneer Mac, but it was on the small side. It looks Mac-ish, red over brown/green with prominent cloudy white lenticels. Smells like a Mac. Flesh off white. Nice juicy flavor – sweet-tart and not too soft (but definitely not hard). A warm cidery taste. None of the powderyness that comes with an extrasoft Mac. Nice enough. Like.

Hudson’s Golden Gem – Tasted 10/4/16

A tall apple, almost rectangular. It has russeting over yellow-brown with sparse white lenticels. A spicy smell when cut. Flesh pale warm yellow. It has a potato-like firmness but is easily chewable. Tastes sweet with a tiny bit of tart to counteract it. Not super complex, but a nice eating apple. Like.

Snow Sweet – Tasted 10/5/16

Dark pinky red over yellow, with lenticels some of which are russety and some of which are pale white. The one I tasted had leaf shadows. I remember discovering that these are sun-prints where a leaf has shaded the apple and that area remains lighter. It’s really a cool effect. It has a tart scent. The flesh is white but the red of the skin did not “leak” into it, which rightly suggested that it wasn’t going to be too tanniny. Taste – oooh, surprisingly delicious! Juicy, a bit citrusy, with a nice bite feel (not too soft or hard). It is not a “oh, hmm I’ll try it some more,” but “I want more of that. Great first inpression. Love.

Carousel (Now known as Cameo)– Tasted 10/5/16

A big apple, shaped like a yellow delicious. It tan-yellow with red painted over it. The lenticels varied from sparse to tight over the apple. When cut it smells green-tart and the flesh is pale yellow-green. Tastes tart, but not very interesting. Not too hard or soft. Meh.

Jonaprince – Tasted 10/6/16

Largish apple with red painted over green and varied white lenticels. Odd weak scent, kindof savory, like chicken (?!? – but then Sylvia does say my nose is weird sometimes). Flesh pale brownish, juicy-looking. A total lack of citrus taste, bland, odd, sweetish. Meh.

Stay Brite – Tasted 10/6/16

Dusty medium apple, red over browny yellow with cloudy white lenticels. Smells Mac-ish when cut. Pale flesh. Nice tart taste with some sweet. Perfect biting hardness. A hard-candy-like intensity of flavor, nice texture. Love.

Jonamac – Tasted 10/9/16

Medium apple, reddy brown to deep red over green. Irregular green lenticels are especially noticeable over red areas. Smells mac-ish but sweeter. White flesh soft but not unpleasant to bite, white with no red in skin. Not much different in taste from a Mac. Sylvia says would be a good cooking apple. Like.

Gibson Golden – Tasted 10/9/16

Smallish green apple with a browny red blush and dark lenticels. Pale green-yellow flesh. Nice texture, nice hardness. Sweet sharp smell, juicy. Tastes sweet but not overdone, a bit citrusy. Sylvia added that it was juicy with a lovely texture. Like.

Newtown Pippen – Tasted 10/9/16

Small green apple with subtle darker green painted over, and also subtle lenticels. Pale green-yellow flesh. Hard. tart. Not much besides that. Meh.

Stay tuned for more apples to be added to this blog as I eat them!

Practicing Household Husbandry

Google’s definitions of husbandry are:

1) “the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals.”

2) “management and conservation of resources.”

As a woman who is married to a woman I’m, probably understandably, not sure what to do with using the particular word “husbandry” for certain tasks around the house, but so far it’s the best word (let me know if you know a better one!). Here’s what household husbandry looks like:

Getting friendly with the milk

For some reason, when I was a kid, milk was either ok, or it had gone bad. But as the person given the task of deciding if the milk is ok enough for making lattes in the morning, I’ve found that milk has a whole life in the fridge, and it affects the coffee. We drink 1% because we can’t drink skim fast enough before it goes bad, so this is the life of 1% milk:

Stage 1: Plain milk – this is what we think of when we say the milk is ok.

Stage 2: Not as great milk – this is the first dip in the taste. It’s still fine, but not as tasty as stage 1.

Stage 3: Sweet milk – I often don’t put sugar in my lattes, but I definitely don’t have to during this stage.

Stage 4: You’re pushing it but it’s still ok – You might not want it on your cereal, but put some espresso in it and it is fine.

Stage 5: Ptooi ptooi I wish I hadn’t tasted this – at this point, it goes down the drain.

I’m still trying to figure out what the stage is when the coffee is just rich tasting. It might be stage 1-2. The husbandry part here is about knowing what the milk is up to, making sure we don’t run out, and trying to use it up before it hits stage 5. Proper husbandry of the milk helps us spend less money at Starbucks (although we love the baristas at our local), and appreciate the stages of the milk for what it does to our coffee.

Tending the dried bread, soup stock scraps, and compost

As you know, I do have a garden during the warm parts of the year, but I continue to tend other crops even during the non-gardening season.

BREAD – It’s the curse of bread. If you get the stuff that lasts forever, you wonder why it does (Michael Pollan was quoted somewhere saying “even the microbes don’t want it”.) However, if you get the stuff that doesn’t last forever, you waste good bread. We like bread, but just can’t eat it up fast enough between the two of us. So we have two solutions. First, when we get good sliced bread, we put pieces of paper towel between the slices and immediately throw it in the freezer. A quick trip to the toaster will nicely warm up the bread for sandwiches. Second, if we bought bread especially for a particular meal, as soon as we can see that we are not going to have a chance to finish it, we cut it into 1″ cubes and put it in a paper bag to dry. Once it is safely dry we add it to a bigger paper bag that has already dried bread. When the bag is full enough, we can make breakfast strata (like a giant French toast) or a savory strata (with veggies and cheese) in the crockpot, or my Dad’s bread pudding recipe. (see below for recipes)

SOUP STOCK SCRAPS – This is something we’re still discovering, but S. has recently started throwing kale stems, fennel ends, brocolli ends, etc, that come from prepping food, into the freezer in one big bag. When the bag is full, she puts them all in the crockpot with water and a couple dried mushrooms. After a full day of cooking on high, we have veggie soup stock, which we then freeze in freezer safe mason jars.

COMPOST – Years ago my Dad read the entire compost bible, something I have not done myself. I’ve mostly only gotten as far as knowing what to add and what not to, and trying to stir it when we add to it (although our stirrer went missing in the move). When we moved this summer, my compost bin – and all its contents – were definitely coming along, because we’d spent years “growing” that dirt. With just the two of us, it’s taking a while, but we are definitely starting to get some black gold in the bottom of the pile.

What husbandry do you do in your house?


French Toast Strata

From Crockpot 365, modified with blueberries, serves 4 (or possibly more)


½ loaf of bread, sliced in large chunks (1 medium paper lunch bag of dried bread chunks) – may be pre-dried

7 eggs (12 if you double it)

1 t vanilla

2 cups milk

1/8 t salt

1 t cinnamon

¾ cup frozen or fresh blueberries (or more!)

Grease the inside of the crockpot well with olive oil. Put bread in the crockpot. In a large bowl, mix everything else together with a whisk. Pour on top of bread. At this point you can put the whole mess in the fridge, and then take it out to cook when you are ready. Cover and cook low for 5 hours (full batch 6-8). Done when liquid is soaked up and egg is done. If there is still some liquid, cook another ½ hr or so with the hat off.

Savory Strata

Same as above recipe, but:

– no vanilla, cinnamon, or blueberries

– break the bread into smaller (1-2 inch) pieces

– add layers of mixed veggies and leaves, and cheese (mozzarella or similar) between layers of bread

=> we use kale or collards or chard, chopped up, summer squash, or other veggies we have around

=> for the cheese, use 1 cup total for the whole thing

– add dried parsley and crushed red pepper to the egg mixture


My Dad’s Bread Pudding


5 cups bread pieces

1 qt scalded milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter (melt)

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup total of chocolate bits and/or raisins and/or dried cranberries

Soak bread crumbs in scalded milk. Set aside to cool. Add other ingredients. Bake 1 hour in buttered pudding dish at 325ºF.


Book Review: Not Far From the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004, by John P. Bunker, Jr.

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 9.44.18 AMJohn Bunker moved to Palermo in the 70s and fell in love with apples. He went on to become the coordinator of Fedco Trees, the division of Fedco, a cooperative seed company in Maine. A quick Google search makes me realize that Bunker deserves an article of his own at some point, so I’m going to stick to reviewing the book today.

I had discovered this book while reading the Fedco tree catalog (in black and white on newsprint with illustrations and mini-articles everywhere, this is a great catalog to have around), but only recently was able to get a copy from my local library (they had to order it from somewhere VERY outside the system). Now that I’ve read it I’ve gone ahead and bought a copy because it’s that good. Using the town of Palermo, ME and anecdotes from the residents as a lens, Bunker tells the history of apples in Maine, while describing many of the varieties he has encountered. He includes his own illustrations of orchards, trees, apples, and maps of the region.

Apples had been a thriving business for many years in that region of Maine, but by the time Bunker was there many of the orchards were gone or had fallen out of use. The man who would later become a champion for finding and preserving heirloom varieties of apples got his start in Palermo as he drove his old truck around getting permission to pick apples for eating, cooking, or cider. He started to document the varieties he’d find and try to figure out the “mystery trees.” In a way, this is an autobiography of Bunker, but it happens in the background as he tells the stories about apples.

I enjoyed reading Bunker’s impressions of the varieties, as well as the stories and uses for particular apples. I now know that whenever I do finally get a chance to try a Ben Davis, I probably won’t like it – it seems to have been the Red Delicious of its time, shipping and storing nicely but having a taste and texture that was compared to cardboard or cork. And yet, I’m still looking forward to the experience. If someone thinks that apples are apples and that one is just as good as another, with perhaps only a few distinctions for cooking versus eating apples, this book would set them straight: “Our ancestors did not need to have all their apples fit a particular mold as we are apt to do. They made use of soft, tender-fleshed apples as well as hard, crisp ones. For these farmers apples were not a single fruit so much as a category of fruits of nearly infinite size, shape, texture, flavor, use and season.” (p 89)

One of the sets of varieties I have not yet had much experience with is the “sweet” apples, apples with “sweet” somewhere in their name. Now I have a better sense of what to expect and look for: “All these sweet apples taste strange to our modern palates. They lack the acidity that we usually equate with a good, fresh-eating apple… Take a bite of one of these varieties, and you might wonder why anyone would ever want to eat such a fruit. The answer is simple: they did not, at least not without first applying heat. Sweet apples are for cooking, not for pies but for baking, for apple sauce, for apple butter and for a molasses-like sweetener common before cane sugar was cheap and readily available.” p 44

I already knew apples originated in Kazakhstan and travelled along the trade route known as the Silk Road. Bunker adds, “Of the five spices most often associated with the Silk Road trade, four are key ingredients in a New England apple pie: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.” (p 21). So something so familiar to us comes “from away” as well as from here. And in fact that’s true of the apples in another way, because although apples were brought to New England, a great number of the varieties that we know now were developed here, or at least somewhere in the U.S. (… and by “developed” I mean, for the most part, discovered and propagated, because that’s how it works with apples).

This book is a nice addition to an apple library because of the in-the-orchard and on-the-table anecdotes, as well as the local history. The illustrations and maps were interesting, although I wish there had been more detail about how to read a diagram of an apple – many of the cutaway drawings looked similar to me. I will definitely use this as a resource when I am tasting a new apple, especially since it comes with and index (hurrah for books with indices).  This book is available from MOGFA and FedCo, among other locations, but if you know me offline you might be able to look at my copy. All quotes are with permission from the author.

Zestar (TM) vs Unpacking

Test-Drying ZestarZestar (TM) (Minnewashta) – Tasted 8/29/13, from Dick’s (?).  A pale green apple with a red blush and occasional light russetting, and pale lenticels. Gives off a nice apple scent when opened, with some green backnotes. The flesh is a pale off-white/tan. Something about this scent reminds me of my Dad making applesauce and juice when I was a kid, although he couldn’t have used this variety – it was developed in 1999 at the University of Minnesota (and is another trademarked apple). It is pleasantly bite-into-able, soft but not at all mealy. I actually worked my way through all but one-eighth of the apple (saved for S. to sample later) while writing down my review notes – it was that tasty. The taste is a sweet-tart combination – not a competition of tastes that resulted in a tie, but rather a synergy. And this from someone recovering from a head cold! A very flavor-ful apple. Clearly it is a good eating apple, possibly a good drying apple because of the intensity of flavor (reminds me of a Melrose, which dries well). Might be good to cook with.  Love

Question to readers: any suggestions on a quick mini-recipe to test cooking-ness with apples with easily at-hand ingredients and without investing the whole afternoon? 

This is one of the great things about reviewing apples – each new variety is potentially a new favorite, a new surprise. I wasn’t expecting anything from this apple, but now it is the first apple being dried in our new house. As you can see from the picture, we are not moved in (in fact we are not completely moved out, but I’m not allowed to go carry more things and kick up more dust when I’m coughing already). There are boxes all over the place, the kitchen is fractionally unpacked, and we have no idea where we are going to keep the food dehydrator. I’ve set it on a rolling butcher block table that was a necessity at our previous kitchen but useless in the new one, and will probably go into the (also unfinished) barn to help with parties. Its current destination is the basement. But that will have to wait because it is a) the right size to hold the dryer and b) close to a plug.

With all the renovating, packing, moving, unpacking, more renovating, etc, this summer, I didn’t think much was going to happen with apples. I’ve had this vague idea of trying to get out to an orchard to check out the earlies this year, but time for field trips is scarce right now. However, I’ve got my eye on a couple day trips later in the fall for tastings. Of course I’ll report back if that comes to pass. Despite our busy-ness, it’s good to remember that pausing to review an apple doesn’t take too long, and may result in pushing the furniture around to dry apples in the living room. The first scent of drying in the house, and I think it’s going to be a good one.

Update: 9/3/13: The Zestars do not dry overly well – too bad.  

Compare/Contrast: 2 new apples

Oddly enough (or there’s something about early apples that causes this, but I doubt it) the two apples I had on hand to review today were perfect for a compare/contrast article, if only I subscribed to the idea that it would be fun to say “this vs that” over and over. First, the official reviews:

Lodi – Tasted 8/14/13, from Farmer Dave’s at the Wakefield Farmer’s Market. A pale green apple with pale lenticels. Flesh white, as are seeds (? often a sign that it’s not ripe yet but it tastes ripe). When sliced it smells like an orchard, that fall smell of apples people have stepped on earlier in the day. A soft, tart (lemonish) taste. Might be good to cut the flavor of sweet apples in a recipe. meh.

Pristine (TM)– Tasted 8/14/13, from Russell Farms in Ipswich. Yellow with a blush and pale lenticels. It smells sweet and pearlike when cut, with yellow-white flesh. The flesh is crisp, and tart-sweet like a candy. Like. 

SOoo, two early apples in one day. The Lodi is the older one, from 1942 in NY, while the Pristine is one of those trademarked apples, originating in 1994 in Illinois. Both are tart, neither taste is unusual. Both seem like their taste could add something to a recipe but are not quite plain old eating apples, although the Pristine is almost. Actually, for a lemony apple it is quite nice. Hmm. I should consider drying one. I bet it would be nice. Unfortunately, the less favored apple is the one that I found closer to home, but another trip to Russells is never amiss. Then I can visit the goats and see if they have stopped pushing their heads under the gate to beg for food.

Now I’m distracted by the thought of putting the second Pristine in the dryer before I head out to work… will report back later.

Update: Dried the Pristine, and what was left of the Lodi. Am happy to report that I was right. The apples’ flavors condensed, leaving me happy with the Pristine and still not so happy with the Lodi. Yay for a new dried apple to add to my list!

Apple Review: I Spy

Northern Spy (Northern Spice, Spy) – Tasted 10/23/12, from Russells. A pale browny-red over light green with sometimes pale, sometimes dark, but sparse, lenticels. Russetting on top. When cut, it has a sweet and quite pleasant smell. It has greenish white flesh, and this particular apple had some of those little “bruise dots” near the skin that sometimes happens – so this might not be the perfect ripeness for this apple. It has a very strong skin with soft skin, like a Mac. The taste is pleasant and sweet with just a little tart. My only complaint is that the taste is strong initially, but dissipates so quickly that it is hard to identify what flavors I’m picking up. Oh, well, I’ll just have to try more of them! Like.

Two new Apple Reviews

Roxbury Russet  (Boston Russet, Russet Golden, Leather Coat)

Tasted 10/15/12, from Russell Farms in Ipswich. Russet over light green with big sparse pale tan lenticels, more towards the base. A good sized, but irregularly shaped apple (a misbehaving sphere). Inside it does not have much of a scent, and the flesh is pale colored with green towards the skin. This apple is harder than a mac (S. says it “snaps”) but still soft. Has a tart taste (S. says sharper than expected). It browns quickly when cut. Very nice with crackers and sharp cheddar. Also, it’s a local, originating in Roxbury, MA. It is one of the trees reccomended by the Boston Tree Party, a group I hope to review at some point. Like.

Idared (Ida Red)

Tasted 10/18/12, either from Dick’s Stand at the Farmer’s Market in Melrose, or from Russell Farms. A bright red over pale green with pale tan lenticels that are sometimes hard to make out because of some light russetting. I can’t tell if it was something about this apple in particular, or about Idareds in general, but it had a strange shape – like a ball of clay someone had dimpled in with four fingers in random places. These dimples translated into lines or spots inside the apple, but there was no visible damage – everything was sealed – these were not holes in the apple. It does not have a strong scent when cut, and the flesh is a pale color. This particular apple had some interior bruising – it may have gotten too cold at some point. The apple was soft to bite, and a bit soapy to handle (and yet still wasn’t unpleasant to eat!). The taste was sweet-tart and I almost thought I detected a cherry flavor. I would like to try another one that’s in better condition, but Like.

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