David dear DAVID…..In love and friendship

The 2009 calendar year is almost over but the vinartculture calendar marches on.  For those of you lucky enough to have the original 2009 collector’s calendar stay tuned on the blog as it morphs into 2010, in some form.  Currently it is in collaboration with artist David Dunlap.  David is a friend, artist, teacher, collaborator, performance artist and walnut farmer among other things.  The best way I can describe the genius of David Dunlap is as one big power strip, the original facebook.  His art is all about connections and connecting, people, ideas, emotions, day by day, moment to moment.  Currently he has an installation at the Cue Foundation in Chelsea, which runs through January 9, 2010.  David’s art is all about the cumulative moments of life expressed through daily drawings, observations, text and objects, how they connect and bridge human connections and ideas.  I was lucky enough to witness a Dunlap installation when I showed up to help the last couple hours before the opening.  Everyone was frantic as his installations are many, many pieces, which fit together into a towering whole lifetime of complex, intelligent, wacky, profound reverie.  I wondered how this all was going to pull together by the opening at 6:00.   David was so calm and collected, greeted me with his impish grin, excited to see an old friend and basking in the process.   We pulled things together at 6:15, the opening was at 6, David enjoying every second of it…… as David would say, this is never finished….


Fall means apples-part 2

Frost Valley


The yearning for Apple pie looms large in the American unconscious. This is our dessert, the one that speaks most of home, family, craft and community.   In the spring of 2002, the performance artist Anissa Mack set up a small white cottage on the steps to the Brooklyn Public Library.  She spent all day baking apple pies in the small structure and then set them on the window sill to cool, encouraging passersby to snatch them. Saturday morning cartoons of my era were ripe with such pie theft scenarios: Yogi Bear, Tom and Jerry, Roadrunner … they all coveted that warm pie sitting out on the windowsill to cool.

Samascott Orchards, Kinderhook, NY

My earliest memories of apples revolve around a yearly family ritual of going to an orchard where we would pick up apples and cider fresh from the press.   We were living in Michigan at the time and I remember the smells of damp leaves, wood and wool, crisp fall air and the sweet smell of apples as they were pressed for cider.  The taste of that cider was so incredibly good: all natural, pure, sweet and so very fresh.

After we moved to Nebraska the apple rituals were less abundant, since Nebraska prairie land was not designed for apple orchards.   However, Nebraska City, an area along the Missouri river south of Omaha, had an unusual “mini forest” and apple orchards. Following the Homestead Act of 1862, a Nebraska senator named J. Sterling Morton passed the Timber Culture acts of 1873, giving homesteaders an additional quarter section of land if they would plant 40 acres of trees and maintain them for ten years.  There was even a tax deduction if the landowner planted one acre with 100 fruit trees.  The same senator started the Arbor Day celebration in Nebraska City to celebrate tree planting.  Of course the settlers from the east had no idea that trees and prairie land made for strange bedfellows, and many of the trees became diseased and died.  But the ones around Nebraska City took and became an anomaly in an otherwise austere landscape.

farmers market

I don’t know if Johnny appleseed ever came as far west as Nebraska but we sang the Johnny Appleseed song for grace before meals at girl scout camp in Nebraska City. Johnny Appleseed’s legacy was a perfect Midwest cocktail of religion, conservation and fertility. Appleseed (1774-1845) was a traveling pioneer nursery man who was given seeds from apple mills that were trying to drum up more business.  He went around the Midwest proselytizing for the Swedenborgian church and planting and nurturing apple orchards. I’m sure many of the apples that ended up in mom’s pies were from this region.

Ever since I was eye height to the kitchen table I remember my mother’s pie ritual.  Pie making was an activity revered in my young mind, right up there with playdough, colorforms and fall leaves pressed in wax paper.  When mom got out the rolling pin and cloth sock for the rolling pin, the pie crimper and a vinyl mat with several different circumference diagrams for the top and bottom crust, the party was on.   She must have learned from her mother as each step was automatic and resulted in the same delicious and perfect juicy pies.

Mom used winesap apples for her pies and would peel them in one perfect spiral. We could play with the left over dough and make little pies if there was enough, and I loved forming it into various shapes.  I tasted the ingredients every step of the way: the dough, bland and smooth, then the apples tossed in lemon juice and spices, crisp with an inkling of flavor that would soon be transformed through baking.cider

Years ago I was visiting a friend on Vashon Island outside of Seattle.  She made a wonderful applesauce by slicing apples from her trees with one orange and one lemon sliced thin. The fruit was laid out on a cookie sheet, baked, and then smashed together.  This is my variation on the recipe.  This uses no sugar, in fact I put a dash of salt on the apples.  Also I zest the lemons as rinds can be tough and I added some chopped ginger.  The skins add a great texture and are very healthy.  Along with Gastronomeg, most of my generation tend to forgo the apple peeling, I guess we are just too busy or into the health factor.  My farmers market carries many heirloom apples. I try different ones each time, usually a combo of sweet and tart baking apples: Rome, Gingergold, Empire, Fuji, Ashmead Kernels.

I serve this sauce with marinated pork chops, pork roast, or chorizo and it’s also great with potato pancakes with crème freiche.   The addition of chopped ginger and citrus really brighten up the sauce.marinated pork chop and roasted apple, apple sauce

Roasted Apple Applesauce

6-7 apples, a mixture of sweet and tart baking apples

juice and zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

2 T. chopped fresh ginger

pinch of sea salt

Quarter, core and cut the quarters of the apples into 3 or 4 slices and cut the slices in half, leave the skin on.  Zest the lemon and orange, chop the zest and put it aside and toss a small amount of lemon juice with the apples and add the chopped ginger.

Take a large baking sheet with sides, rub it with butter, and put the apple slices down. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes

Put into a bowl and mash with the zest, add more lemon and orange juice if needed.  It should be chunky, the consistency of a chutney.

Marinated pork chops

4 pork chops

1 lemon

½ cup olive oil

chopped garlic


red chili flakes

sea salt

marinate pork chops (using the rest of the ingredients) for 1 hour before cooking

sear in hot pan for 3-4 minutes each depending on thickness, deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine or cider and pour over pork chop, serve  with applesauce.

A perfect fall dinner complemented with sautéed spinach, a bitter green or brussels sprouts paired with an  Alsatisan white, either pinot blanc or riesling.

fall moon

Fall means apples – part 1


Scott Farm


Fall means apples, of course, but specifically to me it means bright pink applesauce. Every year in recent memory, we’ve made batches of applesauce from the red-veined apples that fall (copiously in good years; in less auspicious ones we have to be quick to beat the deer to the punch) from the tree that grows behind the old barn cellar at my mother’s house. For years we referred to this tree as the “Duchess Apple Tree.” But lately,  with further research, we discovered that it probably isn’t a Duchess, after all.

At any rate, it is a good thing that this tree’s apples make such good sauce, since they aren’t good for much else – they’re too small to eat, have mealy flesh, and are not good keepers. But the apples cook down easily and the sauce is brightly colored from the red veins, with a nice balance of tart and sweet – it doesn’t need more than a touch of sugar (in some years none) and never more than the merest whisper of cinnamon. More seasoning would cover up the great apple flavor, but a tiny bit serves to bring it more sharply into focus, like salt does in baking or with savory food

As I learn more about apple trees, I am increasingly curious about the origin of this and other fortuitous old backyard apple trees. Who knows what variety it really is (if any ‘variety’ at all). We suppose that it was planted deliberately (the placement beside an old barn seems unlikely to be accidental), but whether it was a lucky seed or a carefully grafted cutting, it is now impossible to tell.

Scott Farm

The first thing you learn when  you learn anything about apple varieties is that apple trees do not breed true from seed.  Since they (necessarily, as they are not ‘self fertile’) cross-pollinate with other nearby apple trees, an apple seed winds up being a random sampling from a large sea of genetic soup. You never know what exactly you’re going to get from a seed. This explains why apples in the woods are hit or miss, and mainly miss – what in cider making would be called ‘bitters.’ But I recall, from childhood equine rambles, occasionally coming across a tree with sweet, reasonably edible golden-fleshed apples that had resulted from a happy mingling of wild apples with the remnants of old cider orchards that are found near ruined house cellars all over the Vermont woods.

The only way to be sure that an apple variety is going to be what you want it to be is to propagate vegetatively – that is, to take a cutting from the tree you want and graft its living tissue (cambium) onto the cambium of another tree’s rootstock. The tissues will grow into one another and, above the graft, you will have an exact genetic copy of the tree you wanted to propagate. It is possible to graft as many varieties onto a rootstock as it has branches, creating a novelty tree of multiple varieties.

New varieties can be selectively bred, of course, and this is what is done these days (and these days more likely under a microscope than in the field). But in olden times, new apples were more often the result of happy accidents than careful breeding, either when a roadside or hedgerow tree from a dropped seed was found to produce especially good apples or when a batch of seeds (usually planted by settlers for cider-making) turned out a tree that produced something better than the run-of-the mill bitters. A new variety was then declared and reproduced from cuttings. “Heirloom” varieties can be traced back to these chance happenings, although fine trees were often reproduced mainly on a local scale. It is fun to think that when you eat a Baldwin apple today, you are eating an apple that has genetic makeup that is essentially identical to the original tree that was found in Wilmington, Massachusetts.*

These ideas (and more) were rehashed for me at Scott Farm’s annual heirloom apple tasting over Columbus Day weekend. We tasted 15 different apple varieties (out of the 70 that are grown on the farm!) and were regaled with stories of their origin by Zeke, the orchardist, who is a wealth of information (and whose sense of humor is as tart as some of his apples).  The favorites among our group, which included the California contingent of my family, here on a baby-worshipping mission, were the spicy/tart Esopus Spitzenburg, the creamy-fleshed and sweet Roxbury Russet, and the sweet/tart Ashmead’s Kernel. We acquired two bags of  mixed apples and proceeded to churn out apple desserts (pie, and a delicious crumble) for days.  Per Zeke’s urgings, we limited our cinnamon usage to the bare minimum (actually, he advised none at all, but our habits die hard. We used only a dash, we swear!) to enjoy the pure apple flavors of the old varieties.  These desserts were a revelation for the complexity of flavor given by using multiple kinds of apples, and interesting apples at that, in a dish.

pumpkins and apples

Of course none of these fine apples went into something as lowly as applesauce, but my summation of applesauce advice works along the same lines. To get good applesauce (and by that I mean flavorful and interesting), use good, preferably sweet-tart, apples. If you don’t have something wonderful (like my mom’s formerly-known-as-Duchess apples), use a mix of apple varieties. Last year you could get big bags of mixed apples for $2 at Union Square. Sadly, due to an early-summer hail storm, most growers decided not to turn on their coolers for winter storage, so they were selling apples off at fire sale prices. We profited from the loss with many good batches of applesauce. If you go to ‘pick-your-own’ places, you can also ask about getting a crate of seconds or ground-falls (in the country sometimes called ‘deer apples,’ which I thought sounded nice until I saw some rather unsporting hunters loading them in their rifle-bedecked truck).  At any rate, no fancy apples are needed for applesauce; just cut off the bad bits.

When making applesauce, I always leave the skin on since it adds color and a bit of flavor. Plus, who wants to peel 5 pounds or more of apples?  So here’s my applesauce recipe:  Cut the cores out of  at least 5 pounds of apples. Put the cut apples in a deep pot to steam, with a few inches of water in the bottom (if you can keep the apples out of the water, all the better; I find the pasta insert of my pasta/stock pot works well). Cook until the apples are soft (they’ll start to puff up off the skins), turning a couple of times to make sure they’re all evenly cooked.  Then run the cooked apples through a hand-cranked food mill (an indispensable kitchen tool, for me – perfect for applesauce and also potatoes, which can’t go in the Cuisinart); you can use either the coarse or medium screen, if yours is adjustable, depending on how chunky you like your sauce. It’s the food mill that allows you to leave the skins on, since it presses the fruit off the skins for you. Taste for seasoning and add a bit of sugar and a whiff of cinnamon to taste (go easy; it needs less than you think to bring the flavors into focus without covering them up. I’ve been known to stop at 2 TBSP of sugar and a dash of cinnamon for two quarts of applesauce, and often don’t sweeten at all). Applesauce can be easily frozen or canned (pack into sterilized jars and process pints for 20 mins in a boiling-water bath).

October in Vermont

* Or nearly so, depending on how many generations your tree is removed from the first tree. There can be slight mutations as the tree is reproduced from subsequent iterations with different rootstock, etc. But since “heirlooms” have never been widely reproduced for commercial use, they generally tend to be close to the original.