Tag Archives: heirloom apples

The Apples of My Eyes


The lovely opening spread of The Apple Cookbook, 3rd Edition, designed by art director Mary Velgos with my images.

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.

Apples for the Out on a Limb CSA

Apples for the Out on a Limb CSA

Sweetser's Apple Orchard

Blue Pearmain apples at Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard

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.)

Falling Far from the Tree

Gorgeous organic specimens: Black Oxfords and Golden Russet

A few weeks ago, shortly after that late October storm pummeled parts of the Northeast, I headed northwest across the state and into the mountains of New Hampshire to take photos for this piece on organic apple growing that recently ran in The New York Times. I always love seeing parts of the state that I’ve never been in. Since much of my work takes me up and down the coast, I don’t get inland very often. The drive was so lovely that the three hours actually went by quite quickly. The thick fog melding with a light layer of snow and punctuated by the occasional tree still dressed in its fall colors soon gave way to a bright, sunny day. It was mid-morning by the time I reached Groveton, N.H., home of Michael Phillips’ Lost Nation Orchard, and luckily, most of the snow in the orchard had melted. Phillips is well known and respected among organic growers (at least based on my random sampling of those here in Maine). His new book, The Holistic Orchard, which will be published in December, will no doubt add to his acclaim in this field.

Organic-apple-growing guru Michael Phillips

Only a few trees in the orchard still had apples on them at this late date, including this lovely GoldRush variety.

Growing fruit organically is still rare enough that a sign seen recently at my local farmers’ market next to a bin of sad, beat-up looking apples read “as close to organic as you’re going to get.” Well, it turns out, this is not the case! There are organic apples out there and they are not only gorgeous, but out-of-this-world delicious (and I mean so tasty that you can easily envision being totally satisfied having one for dessert). However, you have to work hard to find them. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this was not the case? Apples routinely top the list of pesticide-tainted fruits and vegetables, and while most apples tested are below the EPA’s levels of concern, call me crazy, but I have a hard time imagining that consuming trace amounts of pesticides is good for you (not to mention what they do to the environment). You can help encourage more orchards to grow organically with your purchasing power. Seek out organically grown apples whenever possible. (There’s a good list of orchards who emphasize health in their farming practices here). Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

As part of the process of organically nourishing his apple trees, Michael Phillips lightly spreads a compost of manure and deciduous wood chips under the drip line of the tree (the circular area at the outer ends of the branches) each fall.

I had the pleasure of seeing the loving care Phillips puts into his trees, as well as tasting a selection of the more than 80 varieties of organic apples he grows. I have honestly never tasted such incredible apples. They all had such distinctive flavors, but my favorite on this day was also possibly the most beautiful one—the Black Oxford. At once sweet and tart, this dramatic purpley-black fruit is satisfyingly crisp. As if that weren’t enough to make it my new favorite apple, I then learned it originated in West Paris, Maine, in the late 1700s! Oh, if only I had a stockpile of these for the winter, I’d be one happy organic apple convert.

Among the 80 varieties of organic apples that Michael Phillips grows are (clockwise from upper left) Golden Russet, Erwin Bauer, Rhode Island Greening, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Black Oxford.

GoldRush apples are considered a great holiday dessert and cider apple because of their high sugar content.