Heirloom Apples

Apples have carried mythological status for eons, from Adam and Eve to Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman, who wandered the frontier of our newly minted nation founding apple nurseries. And then there’s the quintessential apple experience: the crrruusp as teeth pierce crisp skin to unleash a burst of ambrosial juice. Unfortunately, none of these mythical moments bear resemblance to the apples we find in today’s supermarket.


Of the nearly 16,000 types of apples that have set down roots in our country, just 3,000 are now readily available (only a few hundred of which are edible). Of those, only 11 comprise 90% of all the apples sold in grocery stores; 41% are Red Delicious alone.

The decline in diversity is due to several interlacing factors. Land where wild apple trees once bore fruit now sports strip malls and subdivisions, and consolidation within the food industry means that most apples available to us are grown on large tracts of land bearing just a few varieties. Small nurseries, which carry a far more diverse selection than the garden centers at big box stores, have taken a hit too. The number of nurseries carrying a significant variety of apple trees declined by nearly 50% between 1989 and 2009.

Yet despite the dire numbers, we’re in the midst of an apple renaissance. The alliance for Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT)  dubbed 2010 the “Year of the Heirloom Apple” as part of its Forgotten Fruits initiative, with an eye to identifying and preserving disappearing apple varieties around the country.

While an “heritage apple” can mean any apple that’s been sold commercially since 1980, the term “heirloom apple” goes a bit deeper. These varieties have become part of our local lore and scenery, and seeds or cuttings are often passed from hand to hand. Heirlooms can also, though, be “rescued” from wild or abandoned trees, as Ezekiel Goodband, the orchard manager at Scott Farm in Vermont, has been doing for 30 years.

In the beginning, Goodband found that “all around, there were abandoned orchards that were growing up into scrub. I made deals with the owners that I’d prune and care for them in exchange for as much fruit as I could harvest and a few cuttings.” Then he would pore over old reference books trying to identify the types of apples he was finding. “There were Black Hawks and Roxbury Russets. It was a bit like keying out warblers with a Peterson Guide.” Once he began growing them, though, “it was a lot of trial and error. It seemed like there was quite a gap of knowledge.”

That knowledge gap, in fact, is one of the impediments to preserving heirloom apple varieties. RAFT and Slow Food worked to overcome the issue by mobilizing local Slow Food chapters to identify, document and grow varieties indigenous to their region. And has worked. From New York to Chicago to California, individuals and small groups are rescuing wild trees and overgrown orchards (and, in many cases, the stories that accompany them) and developing creative ways to grow them (adopt a tree, anyone?) and market them to the public, often through farmers’ markets and CSAs.

Goodband’s efforts have paid off too. The land that was once a conventional orchard growing only McIntosh now has over 70 varieties of apples. Goodband’s favorite part? Sharing the fruit of his labor. “People get to taste apples that Washington and Jefferson and Thoreau grew up eating. That’s the exciting part.”

The writer in me feels like this is where a tidy, descriptive list of common heirloom apple varieties would go. But I’m not going to do that. Since the point of preserving forgotten fruit is so much about taste of place, I’ll instead encourage you to seek out local growers and try varieties you may not have heard of or tasted before. Then start a conversation. Who knows … you may just end up meeting a modern day Johnny Appleseed.

Our Back-to-School Menu

If you’re anticipating a busy weekend without lots of time to spend in the kitchen, you’ll like ending it on an easy note with our simple, family-friendly back-to-school menu.

back-to-school menuMain event:

Fish Sticks with Cilantro-Serrano Tartar Sauce is a healthy, tasty update on a classic family meal standby: homemade fish fingers. Take Lia’s advice: Double the recipe and freeze half for a quick supper later in the week.

On the side:

Paired with the fish sticks. our Garlic Parsnip Fries offer a contemporary take on fish and chips. You can pan-fry the fish sticks while these babies roast in the oven. Round out the plate with our colorful Romaine Slaw–its fresh, crunchy texture and creamy dressing make it a real a kid-pleaser.

Don’t forget dessert:

Make a batch of our No-Bake Peanut Butter Popcorn Treats–enjoy some on Sunday evening and send the rest in lunches during the week.

Win a Free Copy of “Sustainable Sushi”!

Confusion over seafood sustainability comes to the surface whenever you eat sushi. The names of the fish are different, and it’s difficult to know whether they’ve been sustainably caught (if it’s wild) or farmed. Casson Trenor’s book, Sustainable Sushi (North Atlantic Books) makes it easy to dope out whether you should order the awabi (abalone). (Yes, if it’s farmed; no, if it’s wild.)

This week, we’re giving away a free copy of Sustainable Sushi!

Trenor is just the guy to write this guide. He has dedicated his career to marine stewardship, including efforts to end illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean. He has been named a Time magazine Environmental Hero and an Ocean Protection Hero by Save Our Shores. He’s also a serious sushi lover. Sustainable Sushi tells the story behind the fish on the sushi menu and offers clear guidelines for what to order so you can continue to enjoy your shiromaguro (as long as it’s troll-caught from Pacific waters) and other fish.

But, friends, you have to play to win this clever guide.

So here’s the deal. Only NOURISH Evolution members are eligible to win, so now’s the time to join if you haven’t already! Then, head on over to the Thursday Giveaway group in our community area and leave a comment to be entered to win (important: be sure you’re signed in to NOURISH Evolution so we can find you).

Lia will announce the winner in next Friday’s Friday Digest!

Kouun (good luck)!

Apple Pie with Chinese Five Spice & Hazelnut Crumb Topping

A few things set this apple pie apart. Sauteing the apples in browned butter, then letting them cook down with sugar, a touch of lemon juice and Chinese five spice results in a filling reminiscent of caramel apples. Chinese five spice powder is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns, and it lends the filling a bright note. You can substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon each of ground ginger and cloves. Because the filling is cooked, this recipe calls for blind-baking the crust. You can use blind baking beans or dried beans (which you can cool after baking and reuse for future blind-baking). A sprinkling of crumb topping adds extra texture and sweetness.


Toasted Nut Pastry Dough

By Kathleen Kanen

Ground nuts and a touch of whole-wheat pastry flour give this pastry dough recipe a healthier edge. It also has less fat than traditional pastry, yet there’s enough to make it satisfyingly tender. As with any pastry, handle the pie dough gently (so it doesn’t get tough) and don’t skip chilling it for 30 minutes. That helps the gluten relax and makes a more tender crust. Use the chilling time to peel the fruit and assemble the filling. This dough is terrific for seasonal fruit-filled pies, such as our  Apple Pie with Chinese Five Spice and Hazelnut Crumb Topping in fall or our Kathleen’s Fresh Peach Pie in summer.


Seventh Generation + Walmart

Last week, Lia posted a link to a New York Times article about Walmart’s far-reaching sustainability efforts, including sourcing more local produce and developing a “sustainability index” to help the company evaluate suppliers and guide consumers’ purchases.

Today, this commentary from The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based market research firm, highlights a subtle but powerful indicator of Walmart’s commitment to sustainability: the world’s largest retailer now carries products by Seventh Generation, the company that produces green home- and baby-care products.

“For some, Seventh Generation’s entry into Walmart, after several years of gradual debunking-of-Walmart’s-intentions-toward-green by the company’s co-founder and Executive Chairperson Jeffrey Hollender, is a watershed event, though of the sort that might short-circuit not just a few well-meaning, green-oriented minds,” notes The Hartman Group. “From various circles that have condemned Walmart for its effects on community economics, worker’s rights and a host of other perceived impacts, the several-year evolution in thinking from aversion to acknowledgment described by Mr. Hollender in his blog, has been a bit like watching a company formerly portrayed as Darth Vader having a well-meaning Jedi Knight over for tea on a regular basis–and then signing up the well-meaning Knight to work among the ranks of imperial storm troopers.”

Of course, as the commentary notes, Walmart has had green cleaners and other products, such as Clorox GreenWorks on its shelves for some time now. But the entry of Seventh Generation, a company with a strong commitment to sustainability, is a particularly sought-after stamp of approval for Walmart’s green efforts.

Body. Soul. Planet. Part 2

This series was inspired by the blockbuster book Eat Pray Love. Like the book’s author Elizabeth Gilbert, we all have our journeys, and we all have our epiphanies along the way. Here are some postcards from mine that led me here. Now. Nourished. This is Part 2 of 3. Click here for Part I: Body.

body-soul-planet-in-greeceMemories of Greece … and a lingering memento of a rockin’ good tzatziki recipe


My soulful awakening around food happened during a year abroad in Europe. The reverberations, though, lasted decades.

One would think, when I say that I lived in Paris, that I could credit that country with my first food epiphanies. Not so. While there were many high points during my year at the Sorbonne, food, for the most part, wasn’t involved in most of them. I was a student on a tight budget living on cafeteria food (as uninspiring in France as it was in the U.S.). The impressions that did get through were more observational than participatory. Walking through open markets on the way to class and having my senses rattled awake by pigs heads, spice bins and cheese that smelled like dirty barn stalls. And the relaxed, unselfconscious way people savored coffee or a meal, rather than the obligatory rush I was used to in America.

But it wasn’t until I landed semi-permanently in Greece that my paradigms were really jarred. Friends and I had stopped in Corfu on our summer travels and I (does this sound like a Nora Ephron movie or what?) fell in love. Alexi and his family owned a souvlaki joint a few blocks off the main beach. I ended up living with the family over the summer and working in the restaurant.

One of my first realizations that all food was not created equal was a simple breakfast … What I didn’t get until later was that it was an egg that had been laid by a neighbor’s chicken no more than a few hours earlier and fried in olive oil pressed from their own olives at the local mill.

One of my first realizations that all food was not created equal was a simple breakfast. Mama fried eggs and I literally swooned at first bite, it was so rich and crisp and oozy and delicious. I thought she’d done something to make those eggs taste so incredible, so I blurted, “How did you do this?” To which she responded (with a suspicious glance), “I fried an egg in olive oil.” What I didn’t get until later was that it was an egg that had been laid by a neighbor’s chicken no more than a few hours earlier and fried in olive oil pressed from their own olives at the local mill.

Everything there was simple and real and over-the-top delicious. Wine was fizzy and fresh and kept in an old Coke bottle in the fridge. The olive oil, stored in the ouzo bottle by the stove, was cloudy and pungent. Whole lambs hung flayed by the roadside, waiting to be spit-roasted for one summer festival or another … and I’d actually find myself looking forward to the butcher hacking off a chunk for me. (When I later returned to the States I remember being repulsed by all the Styrofoam packages of meat and chicken. It felt disrespectful to eat meat so removed from what it had been.)

There were guitars and bouzoukis and chortles and cheers and messy fingers and greasy chins. What there wasn’t amongst that crowd was guilt or fat gram counting.

But I was also realizing that food did more than just taste good. In Greece, it was the centerpiece to the experience, the glue between people. After work at the souvlaki stand, at midnight or so most nights, we’d gather with Alexi’s friends at someone’s house or restaurant for dinner. There would be platters of lamb or fish stew, always a big salad, hearty bread and feta, and a big bowl of tzatziki. There were guitars and bouzoukis and chortles and cheers and messy fingers and greasy chins. What there wasn’t amongst that crowd was guilt or fat gram counting—it was just pure joy.

During that time food took on a language of its own. Alexi’s father, Spiros, had a heart attack while I was there and I was put in charge of caring for him at home. There was a total language barrier. But he took it upon himself to teach me vocabulary by showing me how to cook. I still remember scalding my hands on hot potatoes as we (he) peeled them for skordalia. We pounded them with so much garlic that when I snuck a taste it was like someone had socked me in the nose (Spiros just laughed).

We’d never spoken more than “this is a potato” and “this is a table,” but we’d come to know and trust and love one another during our time in the kitchen, and both of us read it in the others eyes.

When he had a second heart attack and had to be moved to Athens, I sat with him at his bedside as the family conferred in the hallway with the physician. We squeezed each others hands until they were white and stared at each other with tears streaming down our cheeks. We’d never spoken more than “this is a potato” and “this is a table,” but we’d come to know and trust and love one another during our time in the kitchen, and both of us read it in the others eyes.

All of these experiences lay somewhat dormant once I returned to America, still in full-swing fat phobia, until the double-whammy with my own health. As I grasped for ways to heal, something in me went, “Wait … you’ve seen how food can nourish not just your body, but your soul. You know food is about more than just food.”

In Europe, I’d unwittingly discovered a different kind of emotional eating; one that, rather than being a crutch for tuning out, was a tool for connecting and reflecting several times a day.

In America, emotional eating connotes mindless binges—an attempt to soothe, or cover up, hurts rather than face them. In Europe, I’d unwittingly discovered a different kind of emotional eating; one that, rather than being a crutch for tuning out, was a tool for connecting and reflecting several times a day.

The woman nibbling a croissant and sipping a café au lait at a sidewalk café was giving herself the luxury to let her mind wander where it may. The friends gathered over feasts laughed and sang together, yes, but they also comforted, celebrated and encouraged one another during their time around the table. The simple family meals made and shared in love brought sustenance and space for disagreements to be aired and opinions to be shared.

By being soulfully nurtured through food several times a day, people seemed to have less of a need to go overboard and more of a propensity to come away from a meal balanced and content.

As all of this swirled about my psyche during the years of healing, how I ate became as important to me as what I ate, which is why mindfulness plays such a big part in the Nourish message. I discovered that if I was at war with my food—because made me feel fat, or sick, or it tasted awful—then I’d never be truly fed. In the end, as it is with most people, my food journey was more about making peace with food as it was learning what to eat.

Stay Tuned for Part 3: Planet, where I realize that the choices I was making about food not only nourished or depleted my body and soul … but the planet as well.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

This dish is the epitome of comfort for me (it’s also a great example of my “double-up/halvsies” guideline) and is a tradition for Christopher and me upon returning from the road. For us, any season of the year really, this bowl says “welcome home.”

1 spicy Italian sausage, removed from casings
Sea salt, to taste
3 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1/2 pound orecchiette pasta
2 bunches of broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Finishing salt (such as Maldon salt) OR grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Sauté sausage in a large pot over medium heat until browned, breaking up into pieces with the edge of a spatula. Set sausage aside to drain on paper towel and wipe out the pot. Fill the pot with water and bring to a boil with a generous pinch of salt.

While waiting for water to boil, mash the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt. Whisk in chile flakes, olive oil and chicken stock, and set aside.

When the water comes to a rapid boil, pour the pasta into the pot. Cook for 8 minutes and add broccoli rabe to pot. Cook another 3 minutes, until pasta is al dente. Drain pasta and broccoli rabe, return to the pot and toss with the garlic and olive oil over low heat. Add sausage and toss well.

Top with an extra dose of sea salt (Maldon is our favorite) or a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serves 4


If you’d like to show people the impact they have when they buy from a local farm or join a CSA versus sourcing food solely from the supermarket, here’s a great opportunity. We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about FRESH: The Movie. Now here’s your chance to see it yourself and show it to others. The FRESH folks are offering NOURISH Evolution members a 20% discount on any of the screening prices – that means you pay just $24 to host your own screening at home or $80 for a community gathering. Here’s how it works.

1)   Sign up to host a screening (enter the discount code: nourishnetwork)

2)   Make a plan. If you want to host the screening at home, plan a potluck or themed dinner and send invitations (evite.com and ping.com are great tools). If you want to host it at your church, local theater or other small venue, find out details and set a date.

3)   Get the word out. FRESH’s website has all kinds of ideas and tools on how to promote your screening. Step-by-step social media guidance and downloadable postcards, press releases, posters and web banners are just a few ways FRESH helps you get the word out.

4)   Keep the conversation going. FRESH has a terrific discussion guide for translating the messages in the movie into tangible changes in your own community. And if you have questions or want to share ideas or your own experiences, join the FRESH discussion group here on NOURISH Evolution.

Get your FRESH today!

Wal-Mart’s Going Local

Wal-Mart has surprised and impressed many through their sustainable initiatives. Like, for instance, developing a ‘sustainability index’ that would make purchasing decisions more transparent for their customers, and help the company evaluate suppliers (FDA could take a lesson from that one).

Now, according to this article in the New York times, they’re pledging to double their sourcing from local farmers (defined as in the same state) in the next five years (to 9%). Read the full article here.