sour soup and solstice

Sunday marked the close of another great year at The New Amsterdam Market. The stalls were full of fish, oysters, smoked trout and eel. It was everything the market should be. The last thing I expected to see was a stall full of beautiful tropical fruits handpicked by Maggie Nescuir at Flying Fox. She ventured down to Holmstead Florida this past week to handpick an astonishing and magical assortment of fruits, some of which I had no idea grew anywhere in the United States. I was inspired by her pilgrimage. On this shortest day of the year, know that tomorrow the days begin to get longer and we are one step closer to the light. Happy Winter Solstice!

1.  Satsuma

2. Chinese Honey 

3. Longans

4. Canestel (Egg fruit)

5. Guanabana (Sour Sop) 

6. Sapodilla (chocolate fruit)

7. Kejaja Wild 

8.Ruby blush

9. Newhall Navel (a red fruited orange)

10. orlando tangelo

11. lemon guava

12. chinese honey 

13. murcott honey  

14. passion fruit

quince and medlars.

Medlars are a rather uncommon fruit one that most people have not heard of. They are native to the Mediterranean and are a close relative to the Hawthorne tree or pear tree.

A few weeks ago, Maggie Nesciur from Flying Fox had a few little boxes of Medlars at The New Amsterdam Market. They had been collected by Ezekiel Goodband of Scott Farm in Dummerston Vermont (whose name I just adore) where she had gone in search of heirloom apples. Though they are native to the Mediterranean, they somehow grow in Vermont where Goddband has some trees sprinkled throughout his orchard. Like the amazing fruitier that she is Maggie couldn't resist sharing some of these tiny gems at her stall at the market.

When I purchased the Medlars they were quite hard and very tart as they were not at all ripe. I kept them on my counter in a little bowl for a full two weeks until they began to soften. A Medlar is ripe when it is almost rotten and very soft and juicy quite like a persimmon and  when it is a beautiful orange red inside. I had a quince around and decided it was high time to make something of these uncommon beauties.

I decided since I had such a small amount to make a Medlar quince butter with a few apples thrown in for good measure.

I cut them up and threw them all in to a pot (seeds and all) with two cups of water, the juice of one whole lemon and let them cook down to a veritable mush. I put them through the Foley food mill; one my favorite kitchen tools and discarded the remaining solids. I ran it through a fine sieve after the food mill just to make sure the texture was very smooth and there were no remaining bits of pulp or seeds. 

I returned the mixture to the stove added one more cup of water and a cup of sugar and let it cook down until it was thickened.

The result is something akin to apple butter but with a subtle quince and pear flavor. The color is a beautiful pink and the three little Weck jars lined up on the counter were incredibly satisfying. I canned two of the jars in a water bath so I could save them for long-term storage.

So far we have been eating it on toast with a little slice of Harpersfield Tilsit cheese from Upstate New York that has been aged with a smoky Lapsang Souchong black tea. The smokiness of the cheese and the tart sweetness of the Medlar is the perfect combination.

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sheep's nose and old maids winter. the forgotten fruits.

Golden Russet, Fox Apple, Hughe’s Crab, Bramley’s Seedling, Knobbed Russet or Old Maid’s Winter, Black Oxford, Anas Reinette, Roxbury Russett, Sheep’s Nose, Lady Apple, Esopus Spitzenburg, Riene des Reinettes, Blue Permain, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Holstein, Ashmead’s Kernal, Orlean’s Reinette, Maiden’s Blush, Wolf River, Pitmaston Pineapple, Snow, Sops Of Wine, Dolgo Crab and Hidden Rose, these are but a few of The heirloom apple varieties that Fruiter Maggie Nesciur collected on her four day Journey to apple farms from New York to New Jersey to Vermont, New Hampshire and back. Last weekend at The New Amsterdam market under the Brooklyn Bridge she set up a tasting table with all these forgotten heirlooms dating back to the 1700 and 1800’s. There were audible gasps when people saw the Knobbed Russet or Old Maid’s Winter. It is an extremely ugly apple, unlike anything we are used to in this very homogenous world. It looks more like a deformed potato than an apple, but like most of these beauties, the surprise lies inside. The taste is phenomenal. Some were sweet and crunchy with a hint of strawberries, while others tasted of pineapple and lemon and spice. They have something in common with a great wine or an amazing cheese as they are layered with complex textures and subtle flavors.

Apples are not native to this country. The apple’s history traces back to the Middle East. The apple’s roots lie in the remote villages and forests of Kazakhstan dating back thousands of years. There were apples of many colors and varieties in Kazakhstan. Like spices, traveler’s and trader’s on The Silk Road most likely picked up apples on their journey discarding seeds along the way that then hybridized freely with native crab apples to produce millions of different apple trees in Europe and Asia. When European settlers came to America, they bought with them  the apple seeds and branches from their favorite apple trees. These seeds were planted and the branches grafted.

Planting apple seeds does not guarantee you great apples. Many apples planted from seed end up bitter or tasteless. The apple story is far more complicated than it seems. Planting a seed from an heirloom or other variety will not guarantee you that apple by any means. You might get something totally different. Settlers for sure planted from seed, but more than likely grafted the apples with the best taste to a rootstock that acts as a host for the graft. The apples that tasted great and did well here in this climate were encouraged and thus became popular American varieties and propagation of those varieties was encouraged.

As they planted the trees, the apples grew and wild animals spread the seeds farther into the wild creating new and wild varieties. As the settlers cleared farther and farther out they came to realize the wild apple had already preceded them.

There are many wild or feral varieties of apples now growing in the forests and fields and woods of this country. Wild apples are different from heirlooms, they are generally quite small in size, but they can be just as tasty. We gather our wild apples in Upstate New York and use them to make applesauce and cider. They are not pretty in the least, but they are quite good!

 Today, heirloom varieties make up only ten percent of total apple variety in the mass consumption of apples, the other ninety percent is represented by relatively few varieties, the kinds we commonly see in grocery stores, perfect and unflawed, sometimes a little mealy, and perhaps a little boring.

The many heirloom varieties available to settlers were used for distinctly different purposes. Some were good for cider and fermentation, some for winter storing while others were good for sauce or pie or just plain eating. I have read that apples were mainly used for hard cider in the early days of settlement, because it was much easier to make than corn liquor. During prohibition it was the Women's Movement that turned image of the apple around from liquor to pie. Thus creating the image, as American as apple pie. The flavors of heirlooms are so unique and interesting.  The next time you are at a farmers market, see if you can find some heirloom apples. Seek them out. Supply and demand is one sure way to keep these forgotten fruits alive.

 

Speaking of hard cider....

Come out to The New Amsterdam Market this weekend for the hard cider revival and get a taste history.  

flying fox and sour cherries

I stayed in the city this weekend under the premise of mounds of work.  For the most part  I have been sticking to a rigorous schedule. I did however, let my dear friend Marcia pull me away to the New Amsterdam Market for an hour or so today. We met at 11am sharp in front of Pasanella and Sons, just as the market had opened. I told her we had better make bee line to see Maggie Nesciur at Flying Fox to get some cherries before they were sadly gone. Last time I was the market I showed up too late and all of Maggie's fruit was sold out! She is tucked away in the farthest Northwestern corner of the market. Today, we had no problem as we were early. We did scoop up the last three pints of the most beautiful little strawberries that Maggie had lovingly harvested on a small farm  in Upstate New York. It seemed she was a little meloncholy to see them go as they are the last of the strawberries she will pick this year.  Maggie harvests only by hand, small batch seasonal organic local fruits and berries, and ONLY from small farms. She picks everything by hand and runs a solo operation supplying a few small resturants and now doing the NAM market once a week.

Talk about hard work and dedication. Though it may be an Urban farming myth, I have heard that she even slept in a strawberry field overnight just to be able to give the berries a bit more sun in the morning, before gathering them and heading back to the city. I am kind of fascinated by her.

Maggie began harvesting seasonal tree ripened fruits and berries from small farms in the Northeast region in 2006. She is dedicated to building and maintaing a community through sustainable farming in New York city.

 

In addition to the strawberries I picked up some some local blackberries and some Hudson Valley sour cherries that I plan on making into jam later tonight.

 

 

 MAGGIE"S FRUIT CALENDAR 

 

 

JUNE

strawberries

rasberries ( red, yellow, black)

cherries (sweet+sour)

 

JULY

currants (red, black, white)

blackberries

rasberries

blueberries

gooseberries (green and red)

apricots

sugar plums

nectarines

peaches (yellow, white, donut)

 

AUGUST

melons

watermelons

blackberries

raspberries (red, yellow)

apricots

sugar plums

nectarines

peaches (yellow, donut)

 

September +

grapes

pears

cranberries

beach plums

figs

elderberries

raspberries (red , yellow)

pawpaws

apples

peaches (yellow)

 

 

CONTACT

Maggie Nesciur

FRUITERER

917-637-9143

maggienes@gmail.com