I have a thing for apples. It started at the Portland Farmers’ Market four years ago when I spied some gorgeous matte gold apples for sale. A sucker for any unusual looking fruits and vegetables, I bought a few. And when I got home and bit into one (after photographing them first of course!), I’m pretty sure my eyes widened in surprise and then delight. It was crisp and firm on the outside and sweet and juicy on the inside. It was all the qualities I love in an apple, but had never found contained in a single piece of fruit. It was a Hudson’s Golden Gem, and a gem it was, an heirloom variety that you certainly won’t find on any supermarket shelves, and that you’d be lucky to come across even once in a lifetime. Shortly after that first bite into an heirloom apple, I got an assignment from The New York Times to photograph Michael Phillips, an organic apple growing guru in Northeastern New Hampshire. It was there that I learned about Black Oxfords (since then my favorite apple), Cox’s Orange Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, and a host of other fantastically named heirloom varieties each with their own distinct history, taste and appearance. Then, in the fall of 2013, I hit the apple jackpot once again when, for a cookbook I was working on, I was asked to photograph probably the most well known and knowledgeable authority on heirloom apple growing on the East Coast, John Bunker, as well as his orchard and another orchard full of heirloom varieties where he was picking fruit for his Out on a Limb CSA. My vintage apple knowledge and infatuation grew exponentially that season.
So you can imagine my delight when Storey Publishing contacted me last fall to take some images for the third edition of The Apple Cookbook (now on the shelves). Having already shot the recipe images, they needed chapter opener images representing the contents of each chapter, as well as some general apple and apple orchard shots. I had another excuse to go to orchards and obsess over unusual apples! Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard in Cumberland proved to be an ideal place for this endeavor. The staff and owners were incredibly friendly and helpful, giving food stylist Vanessa Seder and I a guided tour of their picturesque orchard that has been in the same family for five generations. From Snow to Blue Pearmain (another one of my favorites) to Rhode Island Greening, they more than delivered on the heirloom apple front. The varied hues, sizes and shapes of these apples made our photos so much more unique and interesting than your average Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples would have. I love doing ingredient shots and, in case it’s not already clear, I love apples, so doing ingredient shots with apples was a real treat! I think ingredient shots can tell a story in a way that plated shots may not, which is one reason I enjoy creating them. Also, I like moving multiple elements around to create pleasing compositions. It is a true art to do them well, to have them be realistic and compelling, but not too messy.
Part of the fun of this project was deciding what would best make up an appropriately representative shot for each chapter opener. Because the images needed room for type, food stylist Vanessa Seder and I sent images as we shot to the ever-helpful art director Mary Velgos who texted back near-instant feedback. (There was a lot of moving things 1/4 of an inch!) Throughout the shoot, Vanessa was coating cut open apples with her secret food-stylist’s potion to keep them from yellowing. And she thought of all the different ways one can possibly cut up an apple, not to mention making perfect pie crusts and pleasingly pink apple sauce. Not to rush our always-too-short summer here in Maine, but with the further knowledge and inspiration gained from this latest apple project, I am looking forward to apple season even more this year!
(Photo spreads from The Apple Cookbook, 3rd Edition, ©Olwen Woodier. Photography by ©Stacey Cramp with food stylist Vanessa Seder. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.)