Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Apples of New York

One of the glories of New York State is its apples.  The Hudson River Valley is blanketed with apple orchards, including many of the "pick your own" variety.  We have one near us at Darlington House, Philip Orchards, that we visit at least several times each autumn to load up on its delicious pears and apples.  Philip Orchards is owned and operated by Mrs. J. Van Ness Philip, whose family has owned the property on which the orchards stand since the 1700s.

Apples, gourds, and squash on the kitchen table
 at Darlington House

We enjoy filling large antique bowls with apples from Philip Orchards at Darlington, and we place them about the house where they fill the rooms with their sweet and heady fragrance.  We eat as many of these apples as we can, but we are never able to consume all that we pick.  Once they start to turn, as they inevitably do, we throw them in the fields at the back of our property, where animals that live in the area feed upon them.  They don't go to waste.

The Apples of New York -- the definitive textbook on the subject

We also bring baskets and bags full of apples back to the city at weekend's end.  We share them with the staff in our city apartment building, and we also bring apples in to our offices to share with the people we work with.

Apples are not native to New York, but were introduced by Europeans when they settled there almost four hundred years ago.  There are over 700 known varieties that have been cultivated over the years.  With the ascendency of the local food movement, many of the old-fashioned, or "heirloom", varieties that had not yet become extinct have been reintroduced to the apple-eating public, often in farmers' markets.

The Apples of New York is beautifully illustrated with color plates 
(Mrs. Blandings take note of the name of this apple!)

One of the great textbooks on the fruit that Eve tempted Adam with is The Apples of New York, a two-volume, profusely illustrated encyclopædia of apples published in 1903 by the State of New York Department of Agriculture.  We are fortunate to own a set here at Darlington House that we bought at a charity auction several years ago.  It takes pride of place in our horticulture library, where it is joined by--among other books on topics of interest to gardeners--other early twentieth-century horticultural encyclopædia published by the State of New York, including The Plums of New York, The Cherries of New York, and The Wild Flowers of New York.

A gorgeous red Macoun picked at Philip Orchards

Did you know that it was not until the twentieth century that apples were primarily grown in America to be consumed as food, rather than for their juice?  Until Prohibition, most of the apple production in this country was dedicated to the making of cider, much of it fermented as alcohol.  It was not until after Prohibition was repealed that beer surpassed cider as the alcoholic beverage of choice for many working Americans.

A New York state apple orchard, circa 1900, as depicted in The Apples of New York

Many apple growers were bankrupted during Prohibition, and it was during that misguided period of supposed temperance in this country that the jingle "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" was coined to promote the consumption of the noble fruit.

A Red Delicious--no wonder this is America's favorite apple

When Reggie was a boy his parents owned a country house in rural Maryland, where his family went most weekends.  It was a working farm, with much of the land planted with fruit trees by prior owners, covered with apple, peach, and cherry trees.

A color plate from The Apples of New York

The farm was spectacular in the spring, when the trees were covered with blossoms, and it was magnificent in the summer and autumn, too, when the trees were covered with fruit.  My parents let the property to a local farmer who harvested and sold the fruit.  One of Reggie's joys as a boy was exploring the farm's cavernous stone root barns, where the farmer stored apples over the winter in large wooden crates, stacked to the ceiling.  The scent of the apples was almost overpowering and is a great sense memory of mine, much like Proust's madeleines.

A pretty Jona Gold, sitting on our New York server 
at Darlington House

My parents sold our farm in the early 1970s to a man who then sold it to a developer in the early 1980s.  It has since been turned in to a "town home" development of luxury properties for commuters to suburban Washington, D.C., office parks.  What a far cry it is today from the plain farm that I knew and loved as a boy.

Another plate from The Apples of New York

Living in the Hudson River Valley as I do today, I appreciate the fragility of the farming culture in areas where economics have shifted to favor development over agriculture.  I respect and value the men and women who farm these lands and who choose to do so in the face of great obstacles, when it must be tempting, indeed, to sell out to weekenders from Manhattan or commuters to Albany.

And yet one more plate from The Apples of New York

I cherish the farms here in New York, and I feel it is my obligation to support them with my patronage.  But that is easy for me, since what they produce is so wonderful.  Not only do I enjoy consuming their bounty, I like giving gifts of it.

Only last weekend Boy and I gave some apples to my friend and fellow blogger Lindaraxa, who was visiting New York and invited us to a dinner that she cooked.  It was held in the apartment of her friend Sylvia, with whom she was staying during her visit.  Lindaraxa made a divine Bolognese lasagna and served it with a simple green salad, followed by a delicious autumn apple crisp.  Heaven.  If you are not familiar with her blog Lindaraxa's Garden, I encourage you to visit it.  It is a repository of marvelous recipes for mouth-watering food (including most recently the lasagna she served Reggie), and is beautifully written and presented.

A sweet basket of apples for a friend

We brought Lindaraxa this pretty little bushel of apples from Philip Orchards when we joined her for dinner.  Boy picked the apples only the previous day, and he tied it with a lovely crimson satin ribbon.   It couldn't have been a more simple or more beautiful gift.  And our friend Lindaraxa loved it.

All photographs by Boy Fenwick


  1. One of the issues surrounding apple growing anyplace (but particularly in Washington State) is that many great historic apples were really for local consumption and do not ship well. When produce stands are dominated by out of the area apples, then consumers end up with apples that frankly have all the taste appeal of cardboard. But as you say, here in New York, we have so many apple 'belts' - the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes, up on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. It's amazing what's available in our local areas. And, re: your mention of cider making. Up in the Ithaca area, hard cider is making a comeback (and it's wonderful - so much better than the UK varieties that we can find in the grocery stores now).

  2. Boy's photos get better all the time. These are quite something.

  3. My Dear Brother: I am made weak in the knees by the Mutsu apple which I declare the best hand apple I've had the pleasure of tasting in my years of living in Upstate NY. Wiki teaches us that "the Mutsu apple (also known as Crispin) was introduced in 1948 and is a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Indo apple varieties first grown in Japan, and named after the Mutsu Province of Japan, where it was presumably first grown." Fondly, Frecky

  4. Oh man, Reggie - your post makes me want to drive right out and get some locally grown apples ! There is an apple belt in the upstate of SC and a good amount in the mountains and foothills of NC. I believe I will visit one of my favorite growers this coming weekend. I think it was you who posted a few months back about going to "authentic" eateries and such. You can't get much more authentic than locally grown produce from established family growers. Great example to set.
    Best -
    - Mike

  5. As always, a beautiful posting. ... Mark

    P.S. We're looking forward to seeing The Perfect Covering for the Sought-After Chairs, Part II.

  6. As a fan of Lindaraxa's Garden, I was green with envy at your having the
    chance to sample her cooking and baking. That woman really knows
    her stuff! And I discovered her blog at Reggie Darling, so thank you
    for that.

  7. Nothing says fall to me more than the scent of apples, cider and cider donuts. One of our best family traditions was the annual trip to Schultz's Cider Mill for fresh NY cider and donuts.

  8. Dear Reggie,
    Apples, squash,pumpkins, cloves all of the fall scents so intoxicating. I would love to paint still life from the fabulous books.

    Art by Karena ,

  9. Dear Reggie, What a fascinating posting. Your apples look absolutely wonderful and the basket, decorated with ribbon, for your friend was simply delightful.Clearly, Boy has the eye of an artist.

    Heritage Apple and Pear orchards are also very much revered in the UK. Old varieties which have been used for Cider and Perry for centuries are still very much in evidence today and make the most delicious of drinks.

    For me, nothing can beat the sweet crispness of a Cox's Orange Pippin. Its russet colouring matches so perfectly the autumn tints of the orchards across the English countryside.

  10. Hello Reggie...I think it's wonderful that you are supporting the local farms in your area. What an interesting post. I never knew about the origin of "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". I always learn something new from your blog.

    Gorgeous photos...and that gift basket is so inspired! Such a lovely ribbon too.


  11. Darling Reggie,
    My fave new apple is a Pink Pearl which is grown here in Calif. Not only is the skin pink but the flesh too and it has a nice, snappy, tart taste!
    Have you seen one out your way?

  12. Dear Reggie,
    I usually share your posts with my 14-year old daughter, but I am withholding this one; I know you will understand. She has loved apples since she cut her first upper teeth with a Honeycrisp. And now she has braces. I slice them and juice them and make her applesauce, but she misses the pleasure opening wide and taking that first, giant, BITE!

  13. Dear Toby,

    Thank you. Wish you had been there. Happy to cook for friends anytime, anywhere. I'll let you know next time and we'll make it dinner for 4!

    Reggie D, Maybe you didn't get my comment before...seems to be happening a lot with other blogs also. It was a pleasure to cook for you, dear friend, particularly after the nice invitation from you. Just name the place, have knives, will travel... The apples were divine. I only took a couple with me in case they took them away at the airport. Half of them were gone the day I left...guess Silvia took them to work!

  14. My fav to snack on is the FUJI.....
    really good! Yum.

  15. OK I'll bite, nothing better than tart and tangy-
    Yes, yes we have trees. The big one
    down next to the pony field is mostly sweet
    (but don't eat or puree the skins!) I made the mistake of applesauce without being meticulous about all peels (corners and bits) the first year...NOT good.
    Oh how I miss the farm! Oh dear-I did not want to hear what happened to it- Red and Scout- and if my memory serves - sickle pears-
    seems to me one was on the first corner
    to the left by Red's field. How many stomach aches did I get from being a little pig...
    Please could you see what you can find for old pictures ? Love and thanks-

  16. Our family too is crazy for those delicious NY apples. That basket was a sweet and lovely gift - utterly charming. The first photo is a perfect arrangement of fall delights. A terrific post and photos. And now I am off to bite into a crisp, delicious apple.

  17. Another great post, Mr. Darling! Since the Philip orchard was mentioned, i just wanted to add a plug for Leila Philip's book, "A Family Place." I assume our blogger is familiar with this book, but for anyone who isn't, it concerns the Philip family and its efforts to preserve and maintain their ancestral home (Talavera) along with its surrounding farm and orchards. I found it rather heartwarming.

  18. beautiful posting! greetings from Germany

  19. I grew up in the Finger Lakes and am convinced NY apples are the best - nothing comes close! (fun thing - Forbes just named my hometown of Auburn NY #18 for best small city to raise a family)

  20. Reggie! That is really something! I have never heard of a Shackelford apple - off to google now. That was quite a find -thanks for pointing it out to me. (Maybe I could grow them at the ever elusive "new" house.

  21. The year I lived in Paradox, NY (close to 40 years ago, oh my stars!) I would stop at a local orchard and purchase Empire apples directly from a farmer's storage shed, not even a farmstand. Last year at the neighborhood farmers' market I discovered Gold Rush, a juicy, long-keeper that does very well here in Virginia. Just today I bought several Gold Rush and some tiny Winesaps. Do you have any memory of visiting my Michigan godmother near Traverse City and walking among her family's cherry and apple orchards?
    xox Camilla

  22. How silly I was to think that I could leisurely peruse your blog whilst sipping tea and at the same time running back and forth to the door to pass out treats...I got a few quick reads in and then I was done for!

    You are so fortunate to be to have apple orchards so get to ours you must drive over the Cascade Mountains and then some. The apple tutorial was wonderful, I had no idea that growing apples to eat was such a "new" thing, that surprised me. The gift basket is sweet (pun intended), and those books are a treasure. I just baked my first apple pie of the season this weekend and it was delicious...I think it might turn into a weekly menu item.

    xo J~

  23. At Doe Run Farm, we have the entire series of "Of New York" and our favorite here is "Pears of New York." Let us see more of the Darlington House Library!

  24. I am preparing a talk on tenant farmers in New York, who were required to plant orchards as part of their lease agreements. I'm looking for an image of an orchard. May I use the photo that you took of the image from "The Apples of New York." Jane Wilcox

  25. Reggie: I've just found your Blog on NY Apples.Love it. I'm an agricultural Historian. see my web and I want to tell you that there are 7,000-10,000 variety of apples and Cornell has just introduced 2 more!!Isn't that fun. If you want to know more, forinstance Jane Fox is mistaken, purchasers of land in colonial times were required to plant an apple tree on their purchase. They didn't need to build on it or anything else, check out my book.
    Also are you related to John Darling who was instrumental in establishing the national parks?



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