We’ve all heard the old cliché, “As American as apple pie.” Of course, apple pie is hardly American, and apples themselves aren’t even indigenous to this country.
When the English settled these shores in the early 17th century, they were horrified to find there were only crabapples to eat. They also discovered that there were no bees; the insects had gone extinct about 10,000 years earlier.
By the time William Blackstone planted the first orchard on Boston’s Beacon Hill in 1625, however, most of these problems had been ironed out. Imported beehives proliferated amid the trees, and local tribesmen took note dubbing the new insect “white man’s flies.”
By the early 19th century, Americans were producing more than 15,000 apple varieties, more than anyone in the world. Those days came and went, however, and now only five breeds — Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and McIntosh — dominate the market, leaving the older, more exotic varieties in the dust
Ezekiel Goodband, orchard manager at Scott Farm, in Dummerston, Vermont, is having none of that. Under his direction, the farm presently produces more than 130 varieties of heirloom apples, bearing such outlandish names as Zabergau Reinette, Wolf River, Winter Banana and Sops of Wine.
Goodband says he’s been growing apples for over four decades, having caught the bug as a boy.
“My father (had a) small orchard of red delicious (apple) trees, and that’s what we always ate as kids,” he says. “When I got older, I realized there was a lot more out there.”
As a young adult, Goodband moved to Maine, where he discovered several abandoned orchards in the vicinity. Seeing an opportunity, he immediately seized it.
“I made deals with the owners that I would prune and care for the trees, in exchange for whatever I could harvest,” he says. “They agreed, and I set to work, and immediately began finding apples I’d never seen before, including ones that were purple and teardrop-shaped.”
These discoveries sparked Goodband’s curiosity, and he took to his old agricultural books, where he learned about Permains, Roxbury Russets, and many other varieties. Of course, he sampled these apples for himself.
“These were like no apple I had ever tasted,” he says. “I began thinking about other people, who had, like myself, grown up on white bread, processed cheese and Red Delicious apples. I thought that, if they tried one of these, they would be as excited as I was.”
Goodband now had a mission — to bring these old apples back, and expose them to a broader audience.
“I started a nursery, taking cuttings off these old trees and grafting them onto existing varieties,” he says. “We moved around New England, and I always brought my nursery with me. Really, that’s how I got started.”
Eventually, Goodband’s travels took him to Scott Farm, where he found a very receptive audience for his talents. Under his tenure, the orchard has grown tremendously and now acts as a living museum of American agriculture.
When it comes to cider, Goodband maintains that no one variety can fill the bill.
“For cider, you really need a blend,” he says. “For an ideal flavor, you want something with some sugar, and maybe mix it together with something a bit more tart. That way, you don’t end up with a cider that’s cloyingly sweet.
“Additionally, you want something with a high pectin, which will give it a good ‘mouth feel’ when you’re drinking it.”
Although most people tend to stick with what they know, Goodband feels it’s his mission to encourage them to be a little more adventurous.
“A lot of people come here looking for Macintosh or Honey Crisp,” he says. “While these are fine apples, it gives me the opportunity to guide them to other varieties, such as Ashmead’s Kernels or Hudson’s Golden Gem.
“I use these varieties as a gateway to get them to change their concept of what an apple tastes like.”
Eric Stanway writes from Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.
Ezekiel Goodband’s heirloom apple expertise is celebrated each year at the Annual Heirloom Apple Days, which will be held this year on Sunday and Monday, October 13th and 14th, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Goodband will be discussing apples in the Apple Barn from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., along with a tasting. Attendees are encouraged to take home a tote bag of the apples they prefer, along with a bottle of freshly-pressed heirloom cider.
Whetstone Cider works, of Marlboro, Vermont, will be offering complimentary hard cider sampling and will have bottles for sales. Additionally, Rigani Wood Fired Pizza and SpringMore Farm will be offering food items. New for this year is a make-your-own caramel apple station. Live music, kids’ activities and guided dry stone wall tours by The Stone Trust round out the activities. Admission is free, but no dogs are allowed.
Scott Farm Orchard
707 Kipling Rd, Dummerston, VT 05301
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, through November 29.