How many kinds of apples are there?
If you’re like most people, you can think of a half-dozen or so: Gala, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Red Delicious…you know, the ones you see in the grocery store. You might even guess that there are a few dozen more varieties that you don’t see that often. Not even close! There are 7,500 apple varieties in the world, and over 2,500 in New England alone.
In the nineteenth century, every Vermont farm had some apple trees—a good-sized farm would have a whole orchard—and every variety of apple had its purpose. Firm, low-sugar apples that wintered well; tart apples that made the best pie; sweeter, softer apples that were easily reduced to rich, dark apple butter. And of course, juicy varieties for making cider, which was a mainstay of New England farms.
Many of those farms are gone, but the apple trees are still there. You find them growing alongside stone walls, or at the edge of a field, or mixed in among young maples and elms. Occasionally, you will find a single apple tree standing over an overgrown thicket of wild raspberry bushes, evidence of a vanished garden. Look closely at one of these single trees and you may realize that it is producing several different kinds of apples. That’s because the old-time farmers grafted branches of many different trees onto the same rootstock, a bit of folk-science with a magical effect.
Can’t get enough of apple cider: What kind do you like?
Thanks to the cider industry, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Vermont’s apples. Every summer, “apple hunters” comb the woods hoping to reclaim some lost variety that will give their cider a distinctive flavor, the same way certain grapes do to wine. Along the way, they’re preserving—and reviving—Vermont’s apple-growing heritage. But what makes a good cider? There are lots of varieties: fresh, “hard” (allowed to ferment longer), spiced and mulled. There’s even apple cider vinegar!
Fresh cider is the favorite for families, of course. It’s rich in vitamins. And is generally more concentrated than the apple juice you find at your supermarket. Hard ciders are mildly alcoholic (think beer) and becoming increasingly popular. They’ve even sprouted their own micro-breweries. Looking for something nice and spicy? Mulled spiced cider is a warmed spiced cider with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and/or cloves that’s extremely popular here in New England—especially during our famously cold winters! (Typical recipes include cinnamon sticks and orange slices as garnish.)
Finally, many people are turning toward the all-natural benefits of apple cider vinegar. It contains useful levels of amino acids and antioxidants, and folks in New England swear by it for many health benefits. Studies are ongoing, and you should always ask your doctor before taking any supplement.
No doubt about it, the fall is a great time to get out and explore the local fields, orchards, and roadside stands in your area. If you happen to be in our neck of the woods, apple and apple cider fans should check out The Apple Barn in Bennington, Vermont: http://theapplebarn.com for all things apple.
Mulled Apple Cider: A little spice makes it so nice
One of our favorite ways to enjoy apple cider in the fall and through the holidays is spiced, and shared with family and friends. To make your own mulled apple cider, you only need a few ingredients. Simmered on the stove-top or warmed through in a crock pot, this recipe will fill your home with the cozy, inviting scents of apples and spice. Here’s a quick recipe to enjoy all season long:
- 8 cups Apple Cider
- 2T Brown Sugar (if your cider is more sweet than tart, feel free to omit this)
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1t whole cloves
- 2-4 whole star ainse
- 1 orange, thinly sliced
- 2 apples, sliced
- Optional: Fresh cranberries
- Add apple cider to your crock pot (or to a large pot on your stove top)
- Gently add you sliced fruit, spices, and optional cranberries.
- Cover your crock pot and cook on low for 1-3 hours. The longer you cook the cider, the more the flavors will infuse. (If you’re using the stove top method, partially cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes to an hour)
- For the best mulled apple cider experience, share right from the crock pot, set on its “warm” setting.
Gardner Orton for The Orton Family