Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Threshold of Deliciousness

Our family has participated in the CSA (community supported agriculture) at Little Seed Gardens in Chatham for nearly eight years and has relished every moment of seasonal eating because of it. Each fall, when the shares begin to fatten with squash, pumpkins, leeks, onions, garlic and fall greens, we savor the intensity of flavors. The summer sun's sugars have condensed into the wrinkly, deep khaki leaves of kale and the deeply grooved, orange flesh of the pumpkins and squashes that we bake to satisfy our need for warmth as the days shorten and the earth cools. A frost is especially desirable to concentrate the winsome character of the parsnip and the carrot. Just a nip will do here, we don't want a hard freeze to turn our lovelies to mush. Loving the fall, and summer, farm shares as much as we have I always felt a little heedless when I found myself longing for fruit to be a partner to my vegetables, maybe even in the same box. I understood full well the magnitude of my request. Organic apples and pears and peaches? In the northeast? Where we have the dreaded apple maggot and the scab and the mildew and the RUST? The sooty blotch and flyspeck and root rot?! Surely, I was told, you jest. And, indeed, one could swoon when looking at the damage caused by these dreadful diseases and organisms. On the face of things, they do seem insurmountable. Most orchards spray and spray and spray. And you can understand why. When we're talking orchards, we're talking about millions of dollars in infrastructure and product all potentially ruined and destroyed by forces seemingly outside our control. There are cultural controls available of course; proper planting and pruning, timing of thinning and removal of mummified apples and rotted wood...all these contribute to the health of the orchard. But the risk feels huge and scary and maybe just not worth taking when you're talking about your livelihood and all that entails. But knowing all of this still didn't answer my question or resolve my desire. I still needed to know; can we or can we not grow organic orchard fruit here and if we can, where can I get my hands on it?
The answer came to me when Little Seed entered into a relationship with a local orchardist who offered a fruit share as an extra to my CSA pickup. Hugh Williams and Hanna Bail of Threshold Farm are growing biodynamic peaches, pears and apples in Philmont on five acres of their 45 acre farm. With over forty years of growing experience between them, Hugh and Hanna are offering up eleven varieties of apples to their CSA members and others of us who seek them out. The idea of biodynamic agriculture came from the anthroposophical teachings of Rudolph Steiner in the early twentieth century and centers around the idea of a farm as a web of relationships that create one centralized individual with the use of certain preparations and techniques supplementing and supporting the web. So, for instance a certain blend of herbs and compost will be made, from the farm, and fed back to the plants of that same farm. Animals are included on the biodynamic farm of course, for the utilization of the manure is essential to the well-being of the entire organism. This all made sound complicated and radical and it is. The dedication to healing the earth and contributing to the health and well-being of the local community and economy can be intense and angst filled. Anyone who walks a path that isn't well beaten down will find themselves wondering when the time will will come when people will finally “get” what they are doing.
It's possible that the time is now. With the advent of the CSA and the growing population of locavores who want seasonal, organic and locally grown foods the popularity of the product of a farm like Threshold can only increase. And make no mistake; the fruit of Threshold Farm is incredible.
The apples are like no other apple we've eaten. They are antique varieties that we'd never heard of like Paula Red, Macoun, Liberty, Ida Red, Baldwin and Cox Orange Pippin. The taste is so intensely different from grocery store apples that there simply can be no comparison. There is also a difference in the look and feel of the apples that make you understand, in one bite, just what it is that we've lost through mono-culture agricultural practices. Where, I ask you, have you ever seen an enormous, lumpy apple with a blackish blush on one side and little bumplies all over the other and that tastes like berries and wine? Or a middling sized, plain Jane apple that tastes like honey? Or a reddish, orange beauty that tastes almost effervescent, as if it were carbonated somehow? Oh, and did I mention the crispiness? No mealy, travel weary, soft and elderly apples here. No, these are toothsome and satisfyingly crunchy, with just the right give at the skin. And that's just the apples! There are six delectable varieties of peaches and four of pears that educate us to the true diversity that is available to the consumer who is curious and hungry enough to seek it.
For three years now, in late August and early September our family eagerly anticipates “Hugh and Hanna's” fruit. Sometimes, when we get our bulging bag of yumminess we aren't even sure what variety we're eating; we just grab and eat and smile at the deliciousness of the apple or pear or peach.
Now that I know that we can, in fact, grow organic orchard fruit here in the Hudson Valley and I even know where I can obtain it I shall never again be satisfied with the green peaches, rock-hard pears and two varieties of apples available in the grocery store.

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