Diane Flynt plucks a Dymock Red from a tree, digs into it with her penknife, then hands me a wedge. The apple, a few weeks short of fully ripe on a warm, sunny early August morning, makes my mouth pucker — not with the unripe sourness of malic acid but with a searing astringency, as if the fruit has sucked my palate dry. It tastes nothing like a typical farmers market apple.
“This is a tannin apple,” Flynt says, pointing with her knife for emphasis. “If you don’t have an orchard and grow your own apples, you don’t have tannin.”
Flynt, 59, talks a lot like a winemaker, only her medium is apples instead of grapes. She and her husband, Chuck, planted their first trees of heirloom apple varieties in 1998 in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Floyd, Va., and marketed their ciders beginning in 2006.
The Flynt’s Foggy Ridge was Virginia’s first modern hard cider producer; it ignited a local cider boom that has echoed nationwide. Today, Virginia brands include Albemarle, Bold Rock, Castle Hill, Old Hill and Potter’s Craft. Two more cider works are expected to open in 2013, according to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. (Virginia licenses cider works as farm wineries.)
The national market for hard cider grew 23 percent last year, to 5.7 million cases, according to Shanken News Daily, which covers the alcoholic beverage business. Brands such as Woodchuck, Strongbow, Crispin and Ace led the way. Crispin, acquired this year by MillerCoors, is expected to sell 1.4 million cases in 2012. Boston Beer launched Angry Orchard cider in April. A month later, Anheuser-Busch reached for its slice of the pie with Michelob Ultra Light Cider.
Flynt rankles at the involvement of the beer behemoths. She champions her small-production artisan approach. “Cider is a niche in the beverage market,” she says. “Artisan cider is an alcove inside a niche.” Her way means growing heirloom varieties traditionally used for cider and pressing only once a year, in the fall after the apples are harvested.
“You can’t make great cider from Red Delicious and Granny Smith,” Flynt says. “Those make sweet, apple-y, one-dimensional ciders that taste like apple juice from a jar.” Foggy Ridge ciders are typically blends crafted to balance the sweetness and acidity of various apples while capturing structure and complexity from the tannins Flynt craves. Her apples have names such as Foxwhelp and Cox’s Orange Pippin as well as Hewe’s Virginia Crab, which Thomas Jefferson used to make cider. (Flynt obtained her first budwood for the variety from Monticello.) Most are grown at Foggy Ridge; she buys Stayman and Newtown Pippin apples from nearby growers.
The production cycle at Foggy Ridge is similar to a winery’s, with the fruit pressed soon after the fall harvest. Flynt experiments with several blends in January and bottles in the spring. Lot numbers on the back labels of Foggy Ridge cider note the year in which the apples were harvested.
“The idea of buying fruit in May that’s been in cold storage since November,” Flynt says, then shakes her head. “I don’t think there’s good flavor or good cider in that.”
Anyone who has experienced mealy apples in spring compared with the fresh product of fall can relate to that sentiment.
At 7 to 8 percent alcohol by volume and typically with a bit of sweetness, artisan ciders are lighter-bodied than beer and not as heady as wine. Mixologists love them for cocktails. They pair especially well with spicy foods, and because most are at least slightly sparkling, they can substitute for the champagne of a wedding toast.
Flynt’s ciders are well distributed throughout Virginia and the East Coast, where artisan cider appeals to fans of local foods and beverages. Her production facility is sparse and yields 2,800 cases per year, but on the day I visited, a steady trickle of visitors flowed through the makeshift tasting room to taste Foggy Ridge’s Serious Cider, First Fruit and two fortified dessert ciders made in the style of port. The orchard is just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway and about six hours from Washington, allowing for tourist traffic.
Almost exactly three hours after leaving Foggy Ridge, I turned into the gravel driveway of Albemarle CiderWorks in North Garden, Va., just south of Charlottesville. The tasting room there would be familiar to any winery visitor. Antique apple crates stenciled with the name H.F. Byrd reminded me that apples were as integral to Virginia’s political history as its culture.
“Harry Flood Byrd Sr. was a successful apple grower near Winchester before he became governor and U.S. senator,” says Charlotte Shelton, who runs the family-owned orchard with her brother Chuck. It’s a second or third career for each of them. Charlotte, 66, taught history at Virginia Tech before working for the past three decades as an investment adviser. Chuck, 62, worked in radiation protection in the nuclear power industry before taking over the orchard the family planted in 2000.
Their company, Vintage Virginia Apples, now grows more than 100 varieties, many of them heirloom, and serves as a nursery for other orchards. They opened the cidery in 2009. Their brother Bill, 58, who directs the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, helps out and Bill’s daughter, Anne, 28, handles marketing duties.
We tasted several ciders as Charlotte regaled me with the history of cider in Virginia, which goes back a lot further than Harry Byrd. Chuck, accustomed to spending more time with trees than people, left most of the talking to his sister.
“Cider is why apples were grown in this country in colonial times,” Charlotte says, adding that cider was a way of preserving the nutrients in apples. Industrialization, the growth of the railroads and refrigeration changed the way America ate, and fruit was no exception. “There were fewer farmers and people began eating their apples instead of drinking them,” she says. That led to the near-extinction of many cider varieties and the growth of sweeter apples for eating and cooking. Cider varieties began to disappear from orchards, especially during Prohibition.
“Hewe’s Crab and Harrison are, in my mind, the best cider apples grown anywhere,” Chuck says. “But we don’t have enough of them.” Harrison, a variety developed in New Jersey two centuries ago, was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1970s and slowly reestablished. It is one of the varieties the Sheltons are keeping alive in their orchard.
Their Virginia Hewe’s Crab North Orchard Reserve cider is made primarily from apples grown at Monticello, where Mr. Jefferson, as he is still known around Charlottesville, grew several kinds of apples and bottled his own cider every March. Most plantation owners did in those days, and while Jefferson is known for his love of wine, he drank much more cider because it was more readily available. Albermarle’s Jupiter’s Legacy, a full-bodied dry cider, is a blend of 30 apple varieties named for Jefferson’s slave who was in charge of cider production on the estate.
These modern artisan ciders, made from apple varieties the Sheltons and the Flynts have saved from obscurity, if not extinction, echo the flavors of our nation’s early years. It’s a livelier history lesson than I could get from any book. Tastier, too.
Batter-Fried Apple Rings
These are essentially pancakes enclosing apple slices: fun to make and kid-friendly. The batter is enlivened by a little pumpkin pie spice, which adds a nice fall note, but this would be a great dish year-round. If you really want to taste the apple in the syrup, use a cinnamon stick rather than ground cinnamon.
MAKE AHEAD: The syrup can be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated. Reheat before using. Adapted from a recipe by chef Carla Hall in “The Chew: Food. Life. Fun.” (Hyperion, 2012).
For the apple cider syrup
2 cups fresh apple cider
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Peel from 1/2 lemon, sliced off in strips (no pith)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (may substitute one 3-inch cinnamon stick; see headnote)
For the apple rings
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon (1 teaspoon)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the griddle
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
For the syrup: Combine the cider and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and add the lemon peel and cinnamon. Cook, adjusting the heat to keep the mixture at a steady boil, until the liquid has reduced by half, 20 to 25 minutes. The yield is 1 cup. Pour into a small bowl through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids, then return the syrup to the saucepan, off the heat. At serving time, reheat if needed.
For the apple rings: Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl. Combine the egg and buttermilk in a liquid measuring cup and whisk until well-blended, then add to the flour mixture along with the grated lemon zest and melted butter. Stir briefly just to combine.
Cut the apples crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Working in batches, use a toothpick or chopstick to dip the slices into the batter, turning them to coat both sides.
Heat about 1 teaspoon of butter on a nonstick griddle or in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a few of the apple slices and cook until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Repeat to cook all of the apple rings, adding butter as needed. Serve hot, with the warm syrup on the side.
NUTRITION Per serving (using three-quarters of the syrup): 480 calories, 9 g protein, 75 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 470 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 40 g sugar
Apple Black Walnut Pudding Cake
Black walnuts are a native American crop with shells harder than those of English walnuts and with a more astringent, tannic taste. If you prefer the English variety, by all means substitute them.
Because this is a very boozy cake, we’re recommending that you substitute apple cider for half of the apple brandy if you’re not a liquor fan. Some of our tasters liked the full amount of brandy, but many found it overpowering.
MAKE AHEAD: Two days before serving, soak the raisins in the apple brandy overnight. The cake needs to be baked the day before it is served and refrigerated overnight. Adapted from a recipe by Huw Griffiths, pastry chef at the Tabard Inn in Northwest Washington.
For the cake
1 pound golden raisins
1 1/2 cups apple brandy (may substitute apple cider for half of the brandy)
2 to 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup black walnuts, coarsely chopped (may substitute English walnuts)
1/2 cup half-and-half
For mascarpone cream
8 ounces mascarpone
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup brandy
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
For the cake: Two days before serving, combine the raisins and apple brandy in a medium bowl. Cover the bowl and let the raisins macerate at room temperature overnight.
One day before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the apples into eighths and arrange them in a single layer in a small baking dish. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake until soft, about 30 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Generously grease a 9-to-12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Transfer the apples to the jar of a blender, remove the center knob from the blender lid and cover the opening with a clean kitchen towel to contain any splashups. Process to form a puree. Transfer 1 cup of the puree to a large bowl. (Reserve any remaining puree for another use.) Add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract to the puree, and stir until well incorporated.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, and stir the mixture into the apple mixture.
Add the walnuts and half-and-half to the raisin-brandy mixture and stir to combine, then stir that mixture into the flour-apple mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is firm on top, 40 to 50 minutes. (The cake will be sticky in the center.) Transfer the pan to a rack to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
For the mascarpone cream: Whisk together the mascarpone, brown sugar and brandy until smooth. Add the cream and whisk until slightly thickened. The yield is about 3 cups.
To serve, use a blunt knife to carefully loosen the sides and inner ring area of the chilled cake. Place the Bundt pan in several inches of hot water for 5 minutes, then dry the outside of the pan. Invert a serving plate over the top of the pan, and hold plate and pan together securely while inverting them so that the cake falls onto the plate. (You might have to give it a little shake.) Serve a small amount of mascarpone cream with each slice of cake.
NUTRITION Per serving (with 2 tablespoons of the mascarpone cream per slice): 380 calories, 3 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 37 g sugar
Honey Mustard Broccoli Salad
Built on a framework of raw and nearly raw broccoli, this salad has a surprising amount of flavor and an ideal amount of crunch. It’s equally at home at the dinner table or on a picnic table.
If you don’t have a tool to julienne the stems and don’t want to do it by hand, well-stocked markets sell broccoli slaw, which is the stems already shredded for you.
MAKE AHEAD: The salad needs to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before serving. Adapted from “The Sprouted Kitchen” by Sara Forte (Ten Speed Press, 2012).
2 bunches broccoli with stems (about 1 pound total)
3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Coarse salt (preferably Himalayan pink salt)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted (see NOTE)
1 apple, such as Gala, Fuji or Honeycrisp, cored and cut into small dice
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cut the stems from the broccoli and reserve them. Cut the florets into bite-size pieces. Bring an inch of water to a boil in a large, lidded pot and steam the florets in a steamer insert for about 1 minute, just long enough to take off the raw edge. Transfer the florets to a colander and let them cool. Meanwhile, use a julienne peeler, mandoline or V-slicer to cut the broccoli stems into matchstick-size pieces (julienne).
Whisk together the mustard, honey, oil and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Season with a pinch or two of salt and a generous amount of pepper. Add the broccoli florets, broccoli stems, sunflower seeds, apple and parsley to the bowl, and toss to coat.
Cover the bowl loosely and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes or until chilled. Serve cold.
NOTE: Toast the sunflower seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring or shaking the skillet often to prevent burning. Cool completely.
NUTRITION Per serving (based on 6): 170 calories, 4 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar
Take your pick from a new crop of apples
Ambrosia: Tender and sweet. Best use is fresh or in salads; good with cheese. Acidity is too low to make it the best choice for pies or most baking. Flesh softens quickly, but it should store for up to three months.
Crimson Crisp: Firm, tart to sweet. Primarily eaten fresh, but considered an all-purpose apple. Should be usable for four months.
Fortune: Tender and sweet. One of the best for baked apples, or eat it fresh. It stores better than many varieties; use by January.
Miracle Mac: Firm, semi-sweet. A juicy, all-purpose McIntosh variety that’s good for baking, applesauce or cider. It’s new to the orchard, so long-term storage ability hasn’t been determined.
New York 674: Starts out firm, varying from tart to sweet, but deteriorates quickly, so use it fast. Put one in a pie with other varieties to add juice and flavor. Good for applesauce.
Pinova: Firm, tart to sweet. Tasty but not very acidic; excellent fresh, and okay for pies. Its skin will eventually wrinkle, but the fruit should be usable until February. Also called Sonata.
September Wonder: Tender-sweet. A variety of Fuji, it’s good for eating out of hand, baking, applesauce. Very juicy. Good for long-term storage.
Spigold: Firm-sweet. Mostly eaten fresh, but bakes and cooks well. Storage varies from year to year, but last year this apple was still usable in February.
Suncrisp: Firm-tart. On the acidic side. Mostly eaten fresh, but will hold its shape during baking. Good with a strong-tasting cheese. Can be stored for up to three months.
How do you like them (natural) apples?
They're misshapen. They're homely. This is fruit only a mother could love — an 18th-century mother never introduced to the miracles and controversies of 20th-century pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Flyspeck, the pinpoint blemishes, and sooty blotches, the large bruises, often appear on apples in late summer and early fall. They're just a surface blemish. Once you cut the skin off, the fruit is fine to eat. One tip: The flesh turns brown quickly in the air, so take precautions to prevent that if you want.