New England is experiencing a bumper crop of apples this year, and Old Sturbridge Village celebrates the taste and history of an old-fashioned apple harvest during its annual Apple Days weekend Oct. 5-6. Visitors can taste nearly forgotten heirloom apple varieties, help the farmers pick apples 1830s-style, try their hands at cider making, and see the ox-powered Cider Mill in operation grinding apples.
OSV historians will cook with apples over the hearth, talk about apple preservation, and give tours of the root cellar to show how apples were stored. Village gardeners will lead orchard walks and recount the amazing origins of some of today's popular apple varieties. They will also discuss the importance of bees for apple pollination and visitors can tour the Village's new beekeeping exhibit and see the Queen Bee, drones, and worker bees in action in the observation hive. For all times and details: 800-733-1820; www.osv.org
In the 1830s, apples were used fresh, stored in cellars, dried, or pressed into cider, making them an important food source all year long. Among the finest storage apples were Baldwins and Roxbury Russets, which could keep for months. Children had the important job of checking the apples stored in barrels in the root cellar, making sure that "one bad apple" did not "spoil the bunch."
According to OSV historians, the cultivated apple is native to Europe. Early colonists brought apple trees and seeds to New England and began developing new, named apple varieties from seed. The Roxbury Russet is considered the oldest of these, dating to c. 1649 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, likely as a seedling from an English Russet apple. From there the proliferation grew until there were thousands of named apple varieties grown in this country by the mid-1800s.
The new apple varieties were well suited to the New England climate and for specific uses: some for dessert (eating out of hand), some for cooking, some for cider making, many for their excellent storage, and some were multi-purpose fruits. These heirloom apples had distinctive flavors, but today's supermarkets carry only a few apple varieties in comparison, and they are chosen not for taste, but because they ship well, have a long shelf life, and have dependable harvests.
Heirloom apples also had memorable names, often relating to their flavor, where they were discovered, and their shape. Old Sturbridge Village's orchards include these vintage apple varieties: Hubbardston Nonesuch, Esopus Spitzenburg, Sheepnose, American Mother, Roxbury Russet, Blue Pearmain, Grimes Golden, Golden Russet, Baldwin, and Rhode Island Greening.
Old Sturbridge Village is one of the country's oldest and largest living history museums, celebrating life in early New England from 1790-1840. The Village offers free parking and is open from 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. seven days a week. For times and details of all OSV activities visit: www.osv.org or call 1-800-SEE-1830.