When I was a kid on Cousins Island, we had crab-apple trees in our yard. My childhood is marked by following those trees through the seasons, from the first bloom of the white flowers to the snow-like blanket the petals made when they fell to the ripening of the fruit to the ground littered with leaves. I’d always look for ripe apples to eat, the ones without too many wormholes. I liked climbing into the little nook of one of the branches and reading.
Apples, apple trees, and apple picking are distinct joys of living in Maine. Cider from Sewall’s orchard graces our dinner table every night in the fall — and we stock up on frozen cider to last through the winter. Cider doughnuts are a Saturday morning staple. My mother-in-law’s apple pie is a coveted treat. For most of my life, though, I thought an apple was an apple was an apple. Until last year.
We belong to Hatchet Cove CSA, a great farm-share in Warren. Every Tuesday from May through October, I pick up our shares at Pen Bay Medical Center, just down the road from the Down East offices. Then, come mid-September, our CSA partners with Out On A Limb, an heirloom-apple CSA based in Palermo (outonalimbapples.com). We get a bag each week with five or six different heirloom varieties, plus instructions on how best to utilize them. The CSA pickup night is an event, with my family tasting all the different apples and comparing notes.
Over the years, Out On A Limb has grown and shared more than 100 kinds of apples. A few of my favorites from last year include Sweet Sixteen, Hidden Rose, Spartan, and Newt Grindle. That last one, says the Out On A Limb website, originated in East Blue Hill: “It was discovered by Newt, who was the caretaker on the farm where the tree happened to put down its roots. He cared for the tree as it grew, with the intention of using the apples to feed his hogs. One day, on the way to the pigpen, he tried a bite, only to discover he had a pretty tasty apple on his hands. He suddenly wasn’t so keen on sharing them all with the pigs. Luckily for us, he must have shared some of the scionwood around the Blue Hill Peninsula.”
You can sample a few a varieties on October 14 at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardners Association’s Great Maine Apple Day, which we’ve highlighted on page 33. This whole issue gives you a taste of fall in Maine — my favorite time of year here — but to really sink your teeth in, I encourage you to explore its apples. There are Maine stories and farmers and traditions behind every delicious bite.