FRANK CARLSON twists a Mcintosh apple off a tree, holds it at eye level for a good long second, then launches into it. Crunch - a powerful bite. This is one apple that won't go through his cider mill's squeeze-box press.
Here in Harvard, Mass., all eyes are on apples as the harvest hustles along. Wholesale apple packers, such as J.P. Sullivan Company, are shipping more than 1,500 bushels a day to markets across the United States and overseas. Carlson Orchards Cider Mill, family-owned and operated since 1936, is pressing thousands of gallons of cider. Westward Orchards, a third-generation apple orchard, is welcoming pick-your-own crowds.
Home of Johnny Appleseed, Massachusetts ranks 14th in apple-producing states. More than 2,000 acres of apple orchards generate $12 million. Some 80 cider mills produce 5 million gallons of fresh cider each year.
This particular day, the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture is conducting a tour of apple country for reporters, followed by a harvest-inspired luncheon and cider taste-off.
As we shuttle from packing plant to cider mill to orchard, the topic of discussion is, not surprisingly, apples. On the serious side, we scoff at the great apple makeover - all that brushing, waxing, grading by color - and ask why Americans buy with their eyes and not their stomachs. In the orchards, planting smaller trees is the current trend. Exports are up - especially to Mexico.
On the lighter side, we talk about varieties of apples, compare recipes, and begin to wonder what's for lunch. (Lest we forget, apples are for eating, after all.)
Back at Fruitlands (a group of museums dedicated to 19th-century American art and history founded by Clara Endicott Sears), chef Jerome Picca, owner of the Seasoned Chef restaurant, orchestrates lunch. Each of the three courses will have an apple component.
Chef Picca is a Granny Smith man. That may not sit too well with people here in Mac-land, but for cooking purposes, he prefers Granny Smith's size, firmness, flavor, and its ability to keep its color and shape during cooking. For eating uncooked, he likes many kinds, including Mcintosh, Macoun, and Northern Spy. He wrinkles his nose when asked about Red Delicious. ``It's the iceberg lettuce of apples,'' he says.
The lunch Picca and his staff created began with a salad of organic baby greens with a vinaigrette dressing topped with julienned apples soaked in lemon. Next came herb-grilled chicken with grilled eggplant and pan-fried apples, wild rice, and asparagus. Dessert was an apple cream pie with fresh raspberries.
``People tend to think of apples as a dessert ingredient only,'' Picca says in an interview back in the kitchen. That's a shame, he says, because apples can be complimentary to many dishes. ``I like to use apples in soups and as garnishes to show people you can do more with them,'' he says. Apples can add a mild sweetness and texture to savory dishes for a nice contrast, he adds.
For example, pan-fried apples are excellent as an accompaniment to chicken and certain types of seafood such as salmon, says Picca, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. All you do is peel the apple, cut it into wedges, dredge the wedges in flour, and brown them in a pan with butter.