Up here in mcintosh land, it is a year-round struggle to make a decent profit. Apple growers battle the same kind of competitive shenanigans the steel and auto industries do. What Toyota is to Ford, the granny smith is to any New England grower: a scourge. A good apple, but a scourge.
The best granny smiths are imported, and although Nancy Law of the New York-New England Apple Institute rejects it as a fad apple, many cooks appreciate its hard, green tartness.
One brand of domestic apple also keeps the Yankee growers on their toes. Washington State produces two apples whose success makes other growers apple-green with envy: the red and golden delicious apples that are unique in size and color to the Pacific Northwest, the result of their longer days and damp weather. By banding together, Washington State growers can afford a rigorous advertising campaign each year that convinces consumers all over the country that only Washington State knows how to grow an apple.
New England growers could organize and tell the world about their cumberlands, empires (a cross between red delicious and mcintosh) and ida reds. It would take snazzy advertising and store promotions and every grower's commitment to chip in some cash.
But the Yankee grower finds it hard to cooperate. He is perfectly willing to roll his own boulder up the hill without any assistance from his neighbor.
"They are stubborn and old-fashioned," said a supermarket produce buyer who sells a treasonable amount of Washington State delicious because his customers want them. "They are very independent," the Apple Institute's Law says more tactfully. But one local grower said with menace that they'll learn quickly or see their orchards end up as housing developments.
Wagner, owner of Applecrest Farms in Hampton Falls, N.H., considers the New England red delicious competitive to Washington State's, although it is smaller and rounder. The golden delicious from northeastern orchards is very golden, but also blushes a rosy red when mature and looks nothing like the imposing apple all-American consumers have been taught to recognize as golden delicious.
Mcintosh patriotism runs high up here. In Boston, a television news show bought a daily syndicated clip on market reports. It was California made, the material ranging through the familiar fruits and vegetables seen in every local supermarket, but when the announcer got around to apples, there was trouble. He talked about the red and golden delicious from Washington State, which was bad enough, and then he started talking about pippins.
Pippins? It sounds more like British slang than an apple. The New England growers got together and marched on the Massachusetts State House. Why sell West Coast produce to the viewers? What about our mcintosh? They were shaken to the core.
Driving around the back country roads here, it's easy to see why growing apples is considered an idyllic occupation . . . the white Colonial farmhouse with its dark shutters nestling in a protected glen while all around it apple trees keep the view primitively beautiful. But to make any kind of profit you need hundreds of trees and the help to keep them in tip-top shape, the money to hire the commercial bees for pollination, the money to get the spraying done. And finding people to get the harvest picked isn't easy.
Then there's the weather. When Peter Wagner's father bought Applecrest Farms, apple growing must have looked to him like a piece of . . . pie. He signed the final papers, as the family tells it, shortly before noon on a nice crisp fall day. At 3 in the afternoon a hurricane swept through the seacoast region of New Hampshire. Apples on the tree became apples on the ground. It doesn't take a marketing wizard to know that they were worthless. Yes, apple growing can be a trial.
But, please. Have an apple. Have two or three.
These recipes are aggressively Yankee. Up at the produce store, the natives are buying mcintosh for cakes and pies. "They aren't the best selection," the owner said, "but you can't tell these people anything at all." SAUTEED APPLES AND ONIONS (4 generous servings) 4 tablespoons butter 2 large onions thinly sliced 3 large apples, cored and sliced crosswise in 1/2-inch slices 1 teaspoon sugar Salt and pepper
Melt butter in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Add onion slices and saute' until they begin to brown slightly. Place apple slices in a neat layer over the onions, dust with sugar, salt and pepper, cover the pan and turn heat down. Continue to cook until the apples are tender and onions brown on the bottom. Excellent with slices of saute'ed calves liver or a pork roast. If you are using bacon with the liver, replace the butter in the recipe with bacon fat. And if you are having a pork roast, replace the butter with pork fat from the pan. CARAMEL FRIED APPLES (4 servings) 3 large apples, peeled and sliced in 1/2-inch wedges 2 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons water
Heat butter in an 8-inch skillet. Arrange the apples in the pan, sprinkle with the sugar and add the 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook over moderate heat without stirring until the apples are soft and the sugar and butter have caramelized to a light golden brown. Watch closely toward the end to make sure that the caramel doesn't become too dark. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water and shake the pan until a syrup forms. Turn the apples over and remove pan from the heat. Serve with pork chops or fried chicken, or divide among 4 small bowls and serve while still warm with a pitcher of cream for dessert. KNOBBY APPLE CAKE (8 generous servings) 1 cup sugar 4 tablespoons soft butter 1 large egg 2 tablespoons sour cream 1 cup unsifted flour 1/2 teaspoon each baking powder, soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon 3 cups peeled apples cut in 1/2-inch slices and the slices cut in half 1/4 cup chopped walnuts 1 teaspoon vanilla Whipped cream or ice cream for serving
Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Cream sugar and butter until it is fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Stir in sour cream. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon and sift again. Fold together the dry ingredients, apple slices and walnuts. Then fold the egg mixture and the knobby mixture together with the vanilla. Scrape into prepared cake pan, smooth the top, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.