Posts Tagged ‘apples’

Pietree Orchard

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Beautiful views from Pietree Orchard.
Those are the White Mts. in the very far distance.

A few years ago on a cold February day, Tabitha King (wife of megamillionaire and prolific author Stephen King, and an author in her own right) was driving along a country road in Sweden, Maine.  At the top of a steep hill, the view was magnificent:  the hills and mountains of Western Maine on one side, the White Mountains on the other.  There was a tiny, rustic cabin, and an 80-year-old untended apple orchard.  There was also a large sign:  Now Selling!  Sweetwater Estates.

Forty-two parcels had already been sold, and were just waiting for more temperate weather before building would commence.  But Tabitha King wasn’t having it.  A housing development on an old Maine farmstead with history?  Not happening!

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So Tabitha King proceeded to buy out every single one of the forty-two future homeowners.

“Aw, come on,” I said to an employee of Pietree Orchard who was telling me the story, “there are always idealists who are hold-outs.”

“Let’s just say she made them offers they couldn’t refuse.”

(Hey Tabby, feel free to check out our place!)

For the Kings this was nothing remarkable.  They own lots of land in my neighborhood and property along Kezar Lake in Lovell.  And although they enjoy their lovely lakeside summer homes, they want to make sure that few others will do the same.  They want to ensure that Maine wilderness stays wild, and that historic farmsteads remain productive.

It’s a sentiment I can appreciate, yet I think their fears of overdevelopment are pretty much unfounded.  Maine is one of eleven states in the USA where more people are on welfare than employed.  In remote areas like where I live, it costs $10 in gas  and 90 minutes of travel time just to get to a supermarket and back.  Housing is cheap but the market is flooded with foreclosures and for sale signs, and some of those signs have been posted for four years.  Basically, there are no jobs and no economy, unless it has to do with excavation, water well drilling, logging, carpentry . . . you get the picture.  The “best” doctors, dentists, scientists are not coming to live in Maine anytime soon, that’s for sure.  It’s only been 4 years since WiFi connections via DSL were a possibility in our area.  The entire state of Maine has only one large shopping mall (most people in rural Maine have little use for clothing that isn’t denim, fleece, or flannel) although there are a couple of outlet centers in tourist towns.   So while we do have an increase in population during the summer from tourists and people who have summer homes, Maine is just too darn far away from everything and everywhere else.  The Maine wilderness will never be filled with bedroom suburbs; it’s too impractical.

The other thing is that in the Maine wilderness, the woods always, always win.  Maine’s climate and rocky, thin soil are pretty inhospitable for growing much anything besides apples, potatoes, summer corn, and hay.  But, as my Maine friend says, “the one thing Maine knows how to do is grow trees.”  It’s true.  You go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning, there are trees where there weren’t any the day before.  If you own a house in the woods, half the time is spent beating back the woods from taking over.  Wild raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and thorny bushes; beech, birch, oak and pine saplings:  they all invade your yard and your driveway with devious encroachment.  It’s no wonder that “bush hogs” that gobble brush are a more popular tractor attachment than grass cutters.  Just take a walk in the woods and you will see countless abandoned cabins.  The roofs are caved in (due to heavy snowfall), the wood has dry rot, and the mice and woodpeckers have ensured that the cabins melt back into the earth.  And of course, trees are growing in all former rooms of those cabins.

But.  Tabitha King has done absolutely wonderful things with the old McSherry farmstead in Sweden, now called Pietree Orchard.  She hired pomologists (apple experts) who pruned and babied the old trees, and got them blooming again.  With their help, she added thousands of apple saplings, and incorporated new, successful techniques that limited or avoided use of pesticides.  She also re-introduced “heirloom” apple varieties from old Maine orchards that you can’t find in stores, and that would otherwise be lost forever.  She built a market store that sells bagged apples from the orchard, along with freshly picked vegetables and peaches, pumpkins, mums and winter squash grown on site, along with natural honey and crafts provided by local residents, farmers, and artisans.  Their cider press turns out cider that is the best I’ve tried anywhere.   Tabitha King also created an on-site artisan bakery,  and hired an artisan baker,  who turns out luscious-smelling pies, pastries, breads, cakes and cookies on a daily basis, baked with the finest and freshest – – and mostly local – – ingredients.  She created a Pick-Ur-Own business to help harvest the produce, and provide a fun and productive outing for the public.  The orchard provides tours and picking for educational groups and schoolchildren to learn  everything there is to know about apple orchards and their legacy in Maine.  She provided jobs for dozens of Mainers, who run the orchard, help with growing, harvesting and packing.  The workers are models of pleasantness.  When you visit Pie Tree Orchard, you come away happy.

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I should add that here in Maine, Stephen and Tabitha King are venerated – – they can do no wrong.  And for the most part, they don’t.  They obviously and rightfully cherish their privacy while holed up all summer on exclusive Kezar Lake, the fount and muse of many of King’s books.  But they run a foundation that provides grants for Mainers, as well as a foundation for destitute artists who’ve lost their home or health through accidents; and they donate heavily (in the millions) to libraries throughout Maine (when asked for $13K in funds to repair a public library, they wrote a check for $12,999:  Stephen King is phobic about the number 13).  In Lovell, the location of their summer home,  they donated big-time to remodel the public library there; the children’s library is now state of the art – and they used all local craftsmen and supplies to build it.  They donated funds for a baseball field and recreation center in their summer town as well, used by local Little Leaguers and Boy and Girl Scouts.

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Hundreds of apple seedlings. It takes 4 to 6 years from the time it is planted for an apple tree to produce.

Since apple-picking season is coming to a close, I realized that I’d better hurry out to the Kings’ Pie Tree Orchard to get my winter supply of apples.  Of the many varieties (samples are offered by employees with dazzling smiles) I chose Northern Spy, known for its good storage qualities (they’d be wintering on my porch), and hard, crunchy, juicy-tart bite.  I was supplied with a hand wagon and two half-bushel boxes for picking, as well as a an apple picking tool on a telescoping stick (no ladders are provided) which resembled a lacrosse stick.

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Within 30 minutes I had picked my bushel of apples and then some, but I lingered in the orchard because the day was so beautiful and the views so far-reaching.  Pietree Orchard is truly a gem of a place.

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Back at home, I began planning:  apple butter; dehydrated apple slices; apple sauce; cider; pie.   Lots of activity to keep me busy on those days when inclement weather prevents me from venturing out . . .

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Farm Stands and Shopping

My local pumpkin stand

I rely heavily on local farm stands for my produce, mostly because they are closer than the nearest supermarket, which is 45 minutes away; but also because the  farm stand food is truly fresher and tastes better and I like to give the locals my business.  This time of year some farms also offer hayrides and labyrinth corn mazes to explore.

In autumn there are tens of varieties of pumpkins (some kinds are better for pie, others for jack-0-lantern carving), gourds and squash (bumpy, smooth, multi-colored, sweet, mild, large and small) and apples (my hands-down favorite is Honeycrisp), but besides the more common varieties there are also “heirloom” or historical apples native to New England.  There is one farm stand that sells their own milk in old-fashioned glass bottles, as well as  fresh eggs,  honey, and homemade cheese (the cheese is unfortunately not kosher).

What makes the farm stands unique, however, is the way they sell the fruits of their labor.  Usually no one is around.  The  produce is sold by the peck  or the piece (i.e. 3/$1.00) rather than by weight.  You simply leave your money in a basket or cash box and make your own change with the money that’s already there.  The honor system is alive and well in the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire.

Yes, we do have supermarkets in rural Maine.  Hannafords is the name of the largest chain store and they are pretty well stocked.  My house sits halfway between two Hannafords:  45 minutes to the west, in New Hampshire; or 45 minutes to the east, in Maine.  Both of these locations also have Walmarts, including one Super Walmart which is also fully stocked with groceries.

Amazingly Hannafords does have a “kosher aisle” that consists of 8 packages of Kedem Vanilla Wafers, 3 jars of gefilte fish, 2 boxes of matzo, onion soup mix, and 4 yarzheit candles.  Yesterday I spoke to the the stock manager in charge of the wine department and asked if he could get kosher wine.  He said occasionally (meaning Pesach time) they get Manischevitz.  I asked if any other brands were available and he said once they got Baron Herzog, but in that understated Maine way of saying things, he said “it wasn’t a big seller.”  He assured me that if I wanted it he could get it, however, and he’d place an order for a few bottles which should be in on Friday’s truck.

In New Hampshire, where taxes are lower, alcohol is sold in State Liquor Stores which are run exclusively by the State.  Not only is liquor much cheaper there (many people come from other New England states to stock up), they occasionally get kosher wines  such as Bartenura, Herzog, and Recanati and the prices are more reasonable than in cities with a large Jewish population.  But the supply is random, tenuous, and you can’t place requests or an order for more.

So far we’ve been bringing up our own supply of hard cheeses and meat; I can get Empire chicken at Hannafords by special order for about $1 more per lb.  If one is willing to pay a premium, one can order virtually anything , including perishables, via the Internet at all sorts of kosher food websites.  The point is, we are not starving.

The long distance to major shopping, and with no neighbors to loan me a cup a sugar, ensure that I plan my menus carefully and that my pantry is well stocked with emergency supplies, especially in the event of really bad weather.

In fact, we see this as an opportunity to eat better.  The stresses of the last few years, plus having “treats” around when the grandchildren would visit resulted in a loss of self-control.  I’ve got 60 lbs to lose and that is one of the many goals I’ve set for myself in Maine.  We’ve gotten rid of all junk and snack foods, relying more on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and are exercising more.  I’m not doing anything drastic so the weight will come off slowly, but I hope to be a little bit thinner and feeling better about myself the next time I visit my “home town.”

As far as other types of shopping, we live about 45 minutes from a major outlet center in New Hampshire.  No sales tax!  While I’ve raided Children’s Place and TJMaxx a few times for my granddaughters, I haven’t really shopped for myself.  It’s funny, but once you live away from the city, you don’t really need much, and when you try to live with what you need versus what you want, shopping is not such a temptation.

There are two stores I love, however.  Reny’s is in Maine and it’s like an old-fashioned Woolworth’s department store.  The prices are great and it feels like I’m in a 60s time warp.  The other store is in New Hampshire and called Christmas Tree Shops.  I wonder how many Jewish tourists avoided this store because they thought it sold nothing but Xmas decorations? In fact it’s like a giant A to Z or Amazing Savings (or Pic ‘N Save if you’re from California).  You never know what you’ll find but it’s always cheap and fun.  I’ve found all sorts of Israeli food there (such as crackers with “Pas Yisroel” written in bold letters) and Elite chalav yisrael chocolate bars for $.89!

That said, the most-visited store when you live in Maine is the hardware store.  There are both a Lowes and Home Depot next to the outlet center in New Hampshire, but big-box building supply stores are shunned by locals, who resent all that they stand for.  Even though the prices at small hardware stores are necessarily higher, Mainers support them vigorously.  Rural hardware stores are crammed to the gills with anything and everything.  Only the proprietor can find what you need, which he does with dogged determination and helpfulness.