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A Last Visit to the Orchard

December 6, 2011

A few weeks ago, I found myself with an apple emergency. I was on my way to work, thinking about the talk and apple tasting I was scheduled to give at the Dublin town library that evening and realized that the bag of heirloom apples that I had set out the night before was still on my kitchen counter. And since my kitchen was an hour away, near Boston, there was no going back.

I panicked for a half-second before I realized I was heading towards apples, not away from them. Yankee’s offices in Dublin are just about 20 minutes away from one of New England’s best orchards, Alyson’s in Walpole. There, you’ll find more than 50 varieties of the fruit, with new breeds being added every year. A quick call to Alyson’s orchard manager, a true-blue New Englander and generous soul named Homer Dunn confirmed that there were still plenty of antique and unusual apple varieties in storage and even some fruit on the trees.

An orchard in late fall is a beautiful thing, though the crowds have long gone. When I found Homer having lunch in his office, he showed me two McIntosh apples he had just picked, fruit that looked firm and healthy, despite several nights of frost and that late October snow storm.

Then he took me into the sweet-smelling storage barn, a chilly room where the apples are stored in large crates until they’re shipped or sold. Unlike some growers, Homer doesn’t keep his fruit in sealed, so-called “Controlled Atmosphere”  rooms, where fruit can be held in suspended animation for months at a time. Instead, he simply tries to get it all sold while the apples are still fresh. So the heady perfume of that barn was a rare treat.

I selected a few bags of Ashmead’s Kernel, Lady apples, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Belle de Boskoop, Reine des Reinettes, and Esopus Spitzenburg. Then Homer mentioned that one of my favorite varieties, Calville Blanc, was still out on a tree. This was surprising, given that it was mid-November and I had picked my last Calvilles in early October. But I went out to take a look. These are excellent cooking apples dating back to late 17th Century France, and they are the traditional apple used in tarte tatin. I love them for their excellent baking quality, their flavor, and their unusual knobby appearance.

Calivlle Blanc tree

The fruit was a bit past peak, having lost some of its crispness and acidity. But it had a rich sweetness and looked all the more beautiful for being the last of the season.

I thanked Homer for the rescue, passed on a copy of my book, and took one last look at the view, already looking forward to next season.

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