Berkshire crop endures year of fickle weather

Wednesday September 5, 2012

Unusually warm temperatures brought apple blossoms out early this spring, then a cold snap in April killed them off in many orchards, particularly in low-lying areas and in the Hudson Valley.

But Berkshire growers who do have apples say they are good looking and delicious and they are thankful for what they have.

"I got a great crop!" said Chuck Wandrei on Monday from Jaeschke's Orchard in Adams. Steve Gougeon, who grows certified organic apples in Ashfield said his Bear Swamp Orchard "apples are looking fantastic!" too.

Dennis Mareb, who grows apples at his Windy Hill Orchard in Great Barrington said he lost 60 percent of his crop, but he feels lucky.

"It's a light crop, but the crop we have, it's very nice. We're happy we have what we have," he said, noting that a lot of growers in nearby New York's Hudson Valley "lost a lot of their crop."

Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, N.Y., is said to have lost 85 percent of its apples.

Chris Loken, who grows his fruits on a hill at his LoveApple Farms in Ghent, N.Y., in Columbia County nearer to the Berkshires, said he was in "pretty good shape as compared to most people.

"A lot of my neighbors froze out," he said.

Don and Marnie Maclean are said to have lost their apple crop at Thompson-Finch Farm just a little south of Loken in Ancram, N.Y. "Elevation was the name of the game, as it always is," Loken noted, explaining that frost tends to form first in low-lying areas. David Martell, orchard manager at Hilltop Orchards in Richmond, said the trees benefitted from being at 1,400 foot elevation.

"So far the apples have been very good," Martell said. "Some people are saying the apples were 10 days early, but here it wasn't. Early was not the case. We are right on schedule where we should be."

And south in Sandisfield at Riiska Brook Farm, Andy Wrba, grandson of owners Bill and Barbara Riiska, said the apples are fine. also. "They are doing just great."

Barbara Riiska said they were among the lucky ones who had not been badly hurt by the April frost.

Rick Bartlett, who manages the trees at Bartlett's Orchard in Richmond, said they will have about 60 percent of their normal crop, with some of all the varieties they grow. He, too, felt fortunate to have that.

" Our varieties were scattered around the orchard and some of our varieties will be a little shorter [fewer] than normal but the price won't change a whole lot," he said. "I don't foresee that because we are a global market which is not good for the farmer."

Bartlett said he will be making cider as soon as the apples are ripe enough for sweet cider.

Many of the growers make cider and baked goods, jams, jellies and preserves from their apples and other fruits. Bear Swamp Orchard also makes organic apple cider vinegar and will begin selling hard cider this year.

Hilltop Orchards also makes hard cider and apple wine. West Country Cider in Colrain turns their apples into hard cider that is sold here in the Berkshires.

Elsewhere, Sharon Sutter will use fresh apples in her coveted apple muffins, cakes and cupcakes at A- Frame Bakery in Williamstown. Cindy Bartlett is using their own 2012 apples and this season's cider in her muffins and cider doughnuts at Bartlett's Orchard.

Wendy Weinstein will be making her cider- infused apple cupcakes with streusel topping, caramel buttercream and roasted walnuts, which Barrington Bites in Great Barrington makes seasonally only in fall and winter, when our local apples are fresh.

Joshua Needleman has begun baking his seasonal French apple tart made from local apples in his own puff pastry at Chocolate Springs in Lenox.

And those enormous caramel apples will be there again at Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield and Great Barrington.

Of course, biting into the whole raw apple itself straight off the tree or farmstand table, crunchy and juicy - that sound and savor - is as good as any apple preparation.

Still, apples add so much to anything cooked: salads, soups, relishes, stew, sautéed, roasted or grilled meat and fish, cheese pairings - not to mention sweets and desserts in all forms.

And the season brings its apple events.

There is the Lenox 33rd Apple Squeeze Festival, which will take place all over downtown on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 and 23, frrom 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Great Barrington Farmers Market will host its Apple Contest that same Saturday at 9 a. m. Market Manager Rose Levine says all apple concoctions are welcome to compete.

Finally, while not labeled specifically apples- only, the pie contest that is held every year at Hancock Shaker Village's Country Fair weekend is mostly filled with apple pies. This year the fair and contest are on Sept. 29.

There are amateur and professional divisions with details on the Hancock Shaker Village website, hancockshakervillage. org /programs-events /country-fair/ Remaining contest pies are cut in slices and sold to whoever is near.


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