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Apples of Our Eyes, Nose, and Mouths

When the leaves of New England begin to glow with crimsons, purples and golds, many of us remember that it's time for crimson, purple and gold apples to be picked, packed, sequestered in storage sheds, or processed into cider, butter, sauces or pies. Apples exemplify that taste of the fall for many of us, but just what kind of apples we taste depends upon just where exactly we live, and how well we know our neighboring orchard-keepers. Some eight hundred kinds of apples once enriched the kitchens, taverns and inns of New England, but most of these have already disappeared from the region's cuisines. In fact, just nineteen varieties monopolize the bins in our grocery stores, the pies of our cafes and the ciders of our bars. That is but a paltry sample of what it means to be an apple. When the Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) held workshops in Vermont and Massachusetts last year, we learned that at least seventy of the heirloom apples unique to New England that remain are so infrequently featured in nurseries, farmers markets and roadside stands that they can be considered threatened or endangered. If nothing is soon done about them, their colors, textures, flavors and fragrances might forever be lost from Yankee culinary traditions. But we might also forget the lovely poetry of their folk names: Baker Sweet, Bottle Greening, Coles Quince, Gloria Mundi, Graniwinkle, Hightop Sweet, Pumpkin Russet, and Sheepnose. Fortunately, in some rural communities, grassroots efforts to keep these old-timey apples alive and thriving appear to be on the rise. From the coastal plains of the Clambake foodshed, to the inland mountains of the Maple Syrup foodshed, named nursery stock of heirloom apples have been newly planted and are flourishing. What do you think? Leave us a comment. ———- Gary Paul Nabhan is a world-renowned ethnobiologist, conservationist, and essayist. He is the author of the new book, Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine.