We are officially into fall here in Connecticut. The foliage has become really bright and beautiful. The air is crisp and, here and there, you can catch a whiff of burning leaves. Almost every house that you pass has at least one pumpkin and one mum on its doorstep. The chilly mornings and temperate days mean that no one is quite sure how to get dressed in the morning (“If I put warm boots on, will my feet be too hot during the day? Should I pack shoes to change into? Should I wear a sweater? Fleece jacket? Winter coat?”); and the weekends are filled with football games, hayrides, corn mazes, and of course, apple picking.
New England grows so many different kinds of apples. I am amazed each year at the abundance of choices and how knowledgeable everyone else seems to be about how to use each kind. Some are great for pies, some are great for making applesauce, and some are best to simply eat plain. You will usually find me just nodding along during these types conversations, possibly looking very overwhelmed because I eat McIntosh apples. I eat them plain. I cook with them. McIntosh is my apple comfort zone, and I stick to it.
This weekend, I went apple picking at Averill Farm and there weren’t any McIntosh’s available. The weather pattern in the late summer and early fall had been out of the ordinary and had created a very short season for the early/mid fall produce, like McIntosh’s. It had, though, created a great season for mid/late fall produce. Averill Farms had tons of apples in other varieties, so it was time for me to try something new.
I had heard recently that many orchards were starting to bring back varieties of apples from historical periods. The one that had caught my attention was the Roxbury Russet. It is named for Roxbury, MA, not Roxbury, CT, but I liked the name nonetheless. It was prevalent in New England in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s; and Averill Farms had it. I probably would have missed it if “Mac’s” were available because I would have just gone straight to that section of the orchard without a second glance at what else was available; and I would’ve missed out on a small, but pretty cool opportunity.
I have always enjoyed learning about history. I love antiques and old houses, and things that are rustic and imperfect. I have always felt like these things have a story and character, and can give us little glimpses into the past. The Roxbury Russet is definitely rustic and imperfect. Its color is brown and green. Its skin isn’t shiny or smooth. It isn’t as sweet or tart as most other apples; and its texture is just a little bit grittier.
Just looking at it made me think about how far agriculture has come since the days when this little apple was one of the only varieties and probably grew in the woods or a field instead of an orchard. I was pretty amazed that people were able to take the best parts of this gritty little apple and overtime, cultivate it into the bright, smooth, sweet apples that we eat today. It’s pretty amazing right? And, for the most part, these people were able to do it without libraries or anything that taught them about apple genetics. They just had to figure it out and they did.
So, although, I will still be going back to my beloved “Mac’s” next fall, I did really enjoy taking a quick moment to try something new and to think a little deeper than usual. The best days for me are the days that contain a little something unexpected. This apple picking trip was definitely one of those; and it reminded me to pay attention for the small opportunities that can come from small disappointments.