first generation apple farmers
Kordick Family Farm is a mother-daughter operation that was founded in 2009, when we planted our first 850 apple trees in Stokes County, NC. We primarily grow heirloom and regional apple varieties, with several grafted from local sources (you won’t find any HoneyCrisp apples on this farm). We are continually experimenting in our efforts to be as holistic as possible in practice.
At a time when most commercial orchards are moving towards high-density dwarf variety plantings of trees, our semi-dwarf trees…
…are huge by current standards, the kind of tall, sprawling trees that used to be the norm in American orchards. Growing to about 20 feet high and spaced about 16 feet apart, they require ladders to pick the fruit, but aesthetically, we just like big apple trees that you can climb in, as well as the idea that they will be here long after we’re gone. And practically-speaking, our large trees are much more hardy and self-reliant than dwarf varieties, which is always a plus in a two-person operation.
In recent years, we have expanded our apple orchard to include about 1,800 trees total, representing about 175 different apple varieties. We also have a small pear orchard and handfuls of other fruits, including peaches, plums, figs, che fruit, and blackberries, planted on the farm. In coming years, we will be expanding our pear planting, and are always interested in adding more tree fruits (some familiar, and some quite exotic) into the mix.
The first members of our family to emigrate from Russia to the United States came in the early 1900’s by way of Ellis Island. They settled in a Northeastern mill town and eventually started a small dairy and subsistence farm. Some of the fruit trees they planted still stand on the old homestead, and while…
…the first Kordicks in this country became proud Americans, they also left behind an appreciation for certain Old World customs and folklore that our family continues to enjoy today.
Every culture seems to have a bogeyman of sorts that is held over the heads of misbehaving children, and in Russia and several other Eastern European countries, children were raised to beware lest Baba Yaga, a rugged forest witch, seize them and gobble them up. Baba Yaga features in many famous Russian stories, often as a fearsome antagonist, yet she is also frequently portrayed as simply a wise old woman (or women, as she also may be depicted as three sisters) of the woods who serves as a guide to the heroes and heroines of folklore.
Baba Yaga's Apples of Eternal Youth story
Like many apple growers of the last century, we have deliberately branded our apples with an eye-catching logo and artwork. 20th Century fruit crate labels are now collectibles, sought after for the evocative art that was meant to catch consumers’ eyes on city streets and entice them to gravitate towards one grower’s fruits over another’s.
There is a Baba Yaga fairy tale about a quest for golden apples that bring eternal youth to those that possess them, and it was this story that inspired us to stylize our…
…apples as “Baba Yaga’s Apples of Eternal Youth,” and to come up with our own version of the story, as well as revive the old fruit crate label tradition.
We worked with Greensboro-based artist Liz McKinnon (www.heartshinestudios.com) to design a watercolor illustration of Baba Yaga with the famed apples, not in Old World Russia, but in our neck of the North Carolina foothills. As the crow flies, Kordick Family Farm is about 15 minutes north of Pilot Mountain, and we have a postcard view of the knob from the center of our property. To our west lie the Blue Ridge Mountains, while the Sauratown range borders us to the east. The Dan River is mere minutes away to the south of the farm.
Our Apple Cider Syrup
It takes a long time for large apple trees to start bearing fruit, period. And if you’re trying to grow apples in the Southeast, it takes an even longer time to hit upon the right mix of practices to produce fruit of consistently high quality. This means we’ve had a lot of time to think about what we want to do with our apples, and smaller quantities of fruit to play around with. In this manner, we created our flagship product: Baba Yaga’s Apple Cider Syrup.
Much like hard cider, apple cider syrup was …
…an American staple in past centuries, a stable, homegrown sweetener that had endless uses. However, with the advent of alternative sweeteners and more diverse crop varieties, cider syrup all but disappeared from the pantry.
When we became interested in re-introducing cider syrup, we sought out the local Southern experts: sorghum syrup producers. A very generous, close-knit community, our new friends taught us the sorghum syrup-making process and helped us adapt it to cider syrup.
Starting with 100% apple juice (cider), we boil enormous pans over a wood fire for hours until it is reduced to about a 1/10 of the original volume. At this point, the sugars have concentrated to form a thickened syrup that is wonderfully fragrant and tangy in apple flavor, and is ready for . . . almost anything.
Really. It is actually easier and infinitely quicker to list the things that cider syrup wouldn’t be good on (Fish. Well, most fish. It’s actually wonderful on salmon!). The most obvious, and hard-to-beat, application is to pour cider syrup over pancakes, biscuits, and other breakfast pastries. Perhaps the most unexpected use, however, is to make a braise or sauce for savory items like pork roast or sweet potato gratin/casserole. It even pairs well with salads in the form of a vinaigrette. Try drizzling it over ice cream or yogurt, spoon it on top of oatmeal, add it to popcorn . . . Beverage-wise, you can make an instant cup of hot cider by adding about 4 Tbsp (or to taste) cider syrup to a cup of hot water. Add a shot of brandy or rum to your cup, or add cider syrup to any number of cocktails and mixed drinks. Finally, cider syrup can be used in baking, much like maple syrup.
Apple cider syrup is a staple that never should have left the American kitchen.
Our GROWING PRACTICES
Like many unconventional farmers, we have struggled to find a term that describes our growing practices, while also communicating in a single word our management philosophy to consumers. ‘Natural’ and ‘sustainable’ mean nothing without context. ‘Low-spray’ can be used by growers who spray conventional chemicals, but at their lowest possible application rates. Most of the materials we apply happen to be approved by OMRI (the Organic Materials Review Institute), however, use of the term ‘organic’ implies certification, which we are not. We are beyond organic at this point in our growing careers, and have finally settled on the term, ‘holistic,’ in the sense championed by Michael Phillips (http://www.groworganicapples.com).
Over the years we have found the most widely available commercial formulations of organic chemicals tend to have one thing in common: it’s not so much that they work well against pests and disease and truly promote good crop health; more so, it’s that they do no harm. Low efficacy coupled with premium price tags just doesn’t cut it on our farm, and after losing apple crop after apple crop in spite of our diligent lockstep organic program, we decided we needed to find a better way to grow. We think we’ve found it. To large extent, we have stopped thinking like conventional and conventional organic growers, who are mostly concerned with preempting pest and disease pressure with preventative chemical sprays, as well as responding with curative formulations once pest and disease pressure is in evidence.
Instead, we focus on cultivating trees, and indeed, an orchard environment, of such optimal overall health that it is not as sensitive to a disease or pest outbreak, not unlike a person who eats healthy, doesn’t try to sterilize everything in sight, but maintains good hygiene, and thus is much less likely to be laid up by the latest bug going around. To that end, we nurture the root zone environment with inputs like hay and wood chips to promote a healthy fungal ecosystem that gives tree roots access to all manner of good nutrition. We also regularly apply beneficial microbes, along with fatty oils for them to feed on, to promote canopy colonization by species that work symbiotically with the tree, again to the end of excellent nutritive uptake, while also taking up space that might otherwise be “infected” by “bad” bacterial species that cause disease. And as we transition to this new way of growing, we do spray the occasional broad spectrum knockdown like copper or PerCarb, though not anywhere near as often as we did in the past, and for different purpose. Using the aforementioned chemicals as an example, when we come in and sanitize the fungal and bacterial populations with a tree spray, we don’t leave it that way and then try to maintain a sterile environment with regular subsequent sprays. What we want is to start with a clean slate for an application of beneficial microbes and to nurture this population for as long as possible. It’s all about using your tools wisely, and as it gets harder and harder to grow fruit period, we need an effective grower’s toolbox.
This is not our great-grandparents’ farmstead orchard. In the early and mid 20th Century, they simply did not have the disease and pest pressures that have spread with globalization. Also, people back then did not put quite so high a premium on fresh fruit appearance. Nowadays there are so many potential and wide-ranging issues to worry about it makes our heads spin. Unsurprisingly, the West Coast of the United States is a much more ideal environment for growing apples in general, and organic apples in particular. Plum curculio, one of the hardest pests for organic East Coast growers to control, doesn’t occur in the western half of North America, and until recently, fireblight, a devastating bacterial disease on the East Coast, wasn’t an issue either. Throwing in the endemic fungal disease smorgasbord of the humid South makes it especially tricky, to say the least, for apple growers in the Southeast who are trying to maintain a remotely organic orchard.
A lot goes into orchard management. As mentioned above, we mulch with hay whenever possible for weed suppression and cultivation of a healthy root zone. We utilize untreated trap crops and sacrifice the fruit to certain pests in the hope that it prevents them from entering the orchard proper and causing damage. We collect fallen apples and diseased prunings for burning so they don’t serve as vectors for future pest and disease development. In short, we do everything we can to reduce the need to spray — indeed, it’s a rare grower who is enthusiastic about spraying anything. Whether you’re spraying conventional or unconventional nutrients, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or even beneficial bacteria, it’s a time-consuming, fuel-eating, equipment-wearing hassle, and often a very expensive and potentially dangerous one. If a farmer is spraying anything, it’s because he or she truly thinks their crop and livelihood depends on it. Talk to us — most farmers would love a chance to have an honest discussion about growing practices rather than be bound by the are-you-organic-or-not litmus test.
Organic chemicals and materials can be abused as much as conventional ones, can be just as bad for pollinators, and can also accumulate to the detriment of the environment. In addition, decreased efficacy often means increased application. You can go out of your way to avoid synthetic chemicals derived from fossil fuels, but if you have to spend more time on your tractor burning fuel and compacting the soil in order to apply them, is that sustainable? Rather than lecture you on our definition of sustainability, we will keep an updated list on this website of what we spray and why, as well as this discussion of practices, as it evolves, and you can decide for yourself if this meets your definition of sustainability
We maintain mason bee houses in the orchard, as well as honeybees and pastured rabbits. If we wear any safety clothing/masks while spraying, it’s generally to keep from getting soaked and filthy. We don’t spray anything that we consider unsafe to our bees, livestock, or ourselves.
PerCarb: Basically, an OMRI-listed hydrogen peroxide that kills bacteria and fungi. We use this in the early spring as a broad knock-down to help create a blank slate for our subsequent beneficial bacteria applications.
Nordox WP: an OMRI-listed slow-release copper formulation that kills bacteria and fungi, and also helps prevent frost molecules from forming. Applied once in the spring pre-bloom to give us some protection when the trees are most vulnerable to infections and frost damage.
AgriPhage: an OMRI-listed bacteriophage that is specific to the bacterium responsible for fireblight. After several years of steadily increasing fireblight pressure in the orchard, we are very excited to try out AgriPhage pre-bloom and during bloom in 2021.
Core Holistic Spray: a rotating cocktail applied ten or more times a growing season for nutrition and disease/pest prevention, including some or all of the following — Ahimsa pure neem oil (OMRI-listed)*, Ahimsa karanja oil (OMRI-listed), EM-1 beneficial microbes (OMRI-listed, and brewed on-farm from a mother culture), SeaCrop sea minerals (OMRI-listed), AEA Micropak trace minerals (OMRI-listed), Charley’s Soap (a locally-made, environmentally-friendly soap that we use to help emulsify the brew components)
AEA Holocal: OMRI-listed supplemental calcium that is applied to fruit to make it less susceptible to bitter rot and leaf spot (Glomerella species), the latest scourge of Southern apple growers
Silmatrix: OMRI-listed supplemental silicon that helps boost the plant’s cuticle defenses and prevent “bad stuff” from getting in the front door
Xentari Bt: an OMRI-listed, specifically honeybee-friendly, Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, that attacks certain insect larvae
Surround WP: “that white stuff all over trees,” an OMRI-listed refined kaolin clay applied several times a season to discourage pests like plum curculio, and also to prevent sunscald on developing fruit
Venerate: an OMRI-listed pesticide derived from heat-killed Burkholderia species that attacks the exoskeletons of our very-hard-to-kill nemesis, plum curculio
Delegate: a synthetic spinetoram similar to the OMRI-listed, and frankly unaffordable at $455/quart, spinosad, Entrust, that we rotate with Venerate to help control plum curculio
Isomate mating disruptors: OMRI-listed dispensers that are hung from tree canopies to release mating pheromones of certain pests to make it harder to find each other and reproduce within the orchard.
NemAttack beneficial nematodes: OMRI-listed Steinernema carpocapsae nematodes are microscopic worms that inhabit the soil and parasitize weavils among other pest insects, and we’re hoping, will help to control the worst weavil in our book, plum curculio. Applied in 2019.
Quantum Light: a supplement to our EM-1 beneficial microbes, which are primarily composed of lactic acid bacteria. Quantum Light contains “the purple guys,” varieties of photosynthetic bacteria, which colonize apple leaves when applied, and help make nutrients available for the trees specifically via photosynthesis.
Lime Sulfur: OMRI-listed, but our least favorite thing in the world to spray! It is very caustic and can cause severe corrosion on equipment and our persons (burns), but it is very useful when severe broad-spectrum disease clean-up is needed in the orchard. Can also be used as to thin blossoms during bloomtime, but of course, it also kills beneficial fungi and bacteria. For that reason, it is often used pre-beneficial biological applications to create a blank slate to start from.
*In 2021, we will switch from using Ahimsa pure neem oil in our core holistic spray to TerraMerra’s TerraNeem, an OMRI-listed 85% neem formulation with significantly higher azadirachtin, the chemical compound found in neem oil that is responsible for its insecticidal properties. After a particularly bad aphid year in 2020, we feel the need to beef up our core holistic spray a notch, while still providing most of the fatty acids that support our EM-1 beneficial bacteria
Got questions or concerns? Check out our contact info further down on this page and drop us a line.
Ah, April, when the early apple trees enter petal fall stage, fruitlets begin to develop . . . and plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar) rears its ugly, little head. Plum curculio may be tiny, usually only a quarter of an inch or less in length, but it causes bigtime damage in Eastern fruit orchards every year. There are many growers who are organic in every way, save the exceptions they make to combat plum curculio. A hard-bodied, extremely tenacious weevil, its modus operandi is to overwinter in the woods surrounding orchards, then move into the orchard proper at petal fall with the goal of laying as many eggs as possible in developing fruits.
The larvae develop inside the fruitlets, causing damage one of two ways: 1) the larvae fully develop, secreting certain chemicals that make the fruitlet drop to the ground, where the grown larvae can penetrate the soil to complete the life cycle, or 2) the larvae may be crushed to death as the young fruitlet grows rapidly, leaving the initial damage from the egg deposit as a gateway for other pests and diseases. Either way, they are a major, major headache that growers have been battling for a century or more. There are neat photographs of early twentieth century growers out with large teams, literally beating the trees to shake the curculio adults onto sheets spread below the trees, to be removed from the orchard for certain destruction.
The key to controlling plum curculio is stopping the population cycle — you want to reduce the number of egg-laying adults that you will have to combat the next year, so most of the time, you’re actually targeting the larvae themselves in a number of ways.
We have planted trap crops of early-fruiting plum and peach trees so we can sacrifice the fruit to the plum curculio and target the larvae before they move into the later-fruiting apples. Sound theory, but it doesn’t always work so well since, in this area, cold springs often preclude peach, and especially plum, fruitset. So most of the plum curculio probably make it past the trap crop in any given year to the orchard proper.
The next line of defense is to apply coats of refined kaolin clay to your trees. The clay particles slough off onto curculios making their way into the trees, getting into all their orifices and irritating them. The idea is to convince them that our apple trees are just not worth the pain and suffering. But in order to be effective, kaolin clay has to be applied in a heavy and consistent enough layer, easier said than done around bloomtime, when growers are busiest and the weather is rainiest (the clay will wash off in rain, so many layers are required).
So historically, many adults do succeed in their raison d’etre, to deposit their eggs under the skin of our new apples. But we still need to target the larvae in order to prevent a larger repeat of this whole cycle the next year. One thing we are experimenting with this year is to apply parasitic nematodes to the soil beneath trees, where they will happily gobble up plum curculio larvae after they penetrate the soil.
We only have a few apple varieties at the petal fall stage right now, but in the last two days, have casually stumbled upon two plum curculio adults in the central orchard. Scary stuff, indicative of a very large population that is up on its game. This year we will also be applying Venerate, an OMRI-approved formulation of heat-killed bacteria, which secrete natural, exoskeleton-targeting toxins that interrupt the plum curculios’ molting process, leading to death. We’ll have to wait out the rain for the next three days, and keep our fingers crossed that we’re not too late.
Winter Work: After 12 years, the deer fence surrounding our orchards is starting to show its age, so we’ll be working on replacing it all. That’s when we’re not pruning our apple trees, of course! And when we absolutely can’t stand to be outside, there is the perpetual indoor task of assessing the past orchard year and planning for the next one.
This pile of stuff was once an enormous 100 year-old cider press, and soon it will be again . . . when we find the time and space to get it up and running again. Stay tuned. For now, it’s a sight to see, with all its fascinating nuts and bolts (and massive pulleys) on display in the orchard packhouse.
Need any cider syrup, applewood smoking chips, or heirloom apple trees? We are open in Winter 2021-2022 by appointment.
Please call us at (336) 351-5186 or email us at email@example.com if you’d like to visit.
PLEASE NOTE, WE CAN ONLY ACCEPT CASH OR CHECK AT KFF!
Dog-owners, please note, WE DO NOT ALLOW PETS AT KORDICK FAMILY FARM, for the safety and health of the public and your animals, as well as our own.
Can’t make it to our orchard packhouse? Want to purchase some of our products with a credit card? We are pleased to announce that our Etsy store is open for business! We are not currently selling any fresh fruit via Etsy, but you can find many of our other orchard products for sale there. Click this link to visit KordickFamilyFarm on Etsy!
APPLE BLOSSOM DAYS
Looking forward to a celebration of the orchard in bloom during April 2022!
KORDICK FAMILY FARM, HOME TO THE NEWEST WEATHER STATION ON THE BLOCK!
Thanks in large part to an NC AgVentures grant, we installed a RainWise weather station at the orchard in winter 2021. Having such site-specific weather data at our fingertips will help us make better management decisions. And since our information is public, local gardeners and growers can also benefit.
Check out our current weather conditions via our RainWiseNet webpage!
Check out our local pest and disease forecasts via our NEWA (Network for Environmental and Weather Applications) webpage!
Waes hael, 2022! Now that Valentine’s Day merchandise has sprouted in all the stores, you might be tempted to think The Holidays are over. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting Twelfth Night and missing the opportunity for a good wassail! Those of you who have apple trees are advised to honor the age-old English tradition of adorning your trees with pieces of toast and sprinkling the under-canopy with hard cider to feed good spirits, banging pots and pans and/or firing guns to dispel any evil spirits, and generally making merriment as another orchard year commences.
Those of you who don’t have apple trees, find someone who does! Twelfth Night = January 5th, or January 17th if you favor the old Gregorian calendar, so if you missed the boat on January 5th, get ready to party on January 17th — huzzah! Disclaimer: tradition notwithstanding, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot or should not wassail your apple trees any old time at all. Waes hael! Be well!
When we’re not busy toasting our trees this January, we’ll be pruning the heck out of them. The trees are fully dormant and ready for their annual trim. Happily, our job promises to be a bit more manageable this year since we were able to get so much summer pruning done. We also suspect that our efforts to cut down on vigorous shoot growth during the growing season is one reason our trees are fully dormant now.
Some of you may recall that this time last year we were chomping at the bit to get going with winter pruning, but did not feel our trees were suitably dormant yet. Comparing notes with fellow Southern orchardists led us to the idea that, because of the long growing season Southern apple trees enjoy, and the resulting flush of growth in the late fall, that the youngest tissue may take longer to go dormant. It was suggested that summer pruning Southern apple trees specifically to cut down on vigor will result in a reduced fall flush of growth, and thus, the trees are more likely to shut down on schedule for the winter. This is a working theory, and other factors are always at play, but so far, our experience indicates the merits of summer pruning.
And now we again sharpen our pruning shears and saws as our full attention turns to dormant winter pruning. There’s not much that you need to prune an apple tree; most cuts can be handled with pruners, a short handsaw, and sheer will. You can only carry so much stuff on your already bulky winter-clothed person as you move through the trees; whatever you’re toting really has to make the cut for your particular situation.
Some large-acre commercial orchards with decades-old trees eschew close pruning of branches in favor of efficiency, and rely almost solely on loppers for their pruning needs. In our orchard, we need to haul in the chainsaw more than we should to handle larger diameter cuts of now old-growth limbs that got ahead of us during a couple of critical growth years when we didn’t get all of our pruning done. More often than not, however, we end up perched in a tree, masochistically sawing through 4-inch limbs by hand because it can be tricky to maneuver a chainsaw in a tight canopy (and we like a good challenge). Therefore, we are thrilled to get our hands on the Milwaukee Hatchet Pruning Saw, a lightweight, battery-powered, highly maneuverable, mini chainsaw, ahead of this year’s dormant pruning season.
It’s not often that we find, after electing to spend money on a hot new tool, that it actually meets our expectations. In fact, the way it usually goes when we’ve purchased a tool we think is sure to be a silver bullet for our orchard needs, we end up going back to basics pretty fast (like the $150 tree-digging, root-cutting doohickey we used for three minutes once before finding a nice place at the very back of our toolshed for it, buried behind the plain old shovels). Sure, everyone’s got their favorite variation of pruning shears (one of us swears by high-end, ergonomic Felcos while the other prefers the performance of the cheapest off-brand pair our local orchard supply carries) and hand-saws (one of us likes a longer blade for precise, effortless cuts while the other has graduated to a short, thick Japanese blade saw after snapping the longer-bladed saws a time too many in tight spots — we’ll let you guess who’s who here).
However, the Milwaukee Hatchet has so far proved to be an exception to the rule and promises to be a game changer for us — those extra, physically-draining minutes spent hand-sawing large limbs add up. Zipping through most of our big, tough cuts could mean that we get another couple or few trees pruned every day, a big deal to our pruning bottom line over time. And then there’s the underrated bonus of cutting down on physical wear and tear to our bodies. We’ve already found our new pruning saw “toy” a place of honor at the front and center of our tool shed, and we are open to any endorsement opportunities that the Milwaukee tool company would care to afford us.
Hopefully, those of you in the market for a live Christmas tree this past year chose to bag a cedar. Every cedar tree removed from the environment means less cedar apple rust spores flying around come spring, and less spores flying around means less chance that a piece of fruit will become infected and manifest hard, bitter spots come harvest time.
We very much enjoy a nice cedar tree, so long as it’s been severed from its root system, and another of our winter traditions is to canvass our property for cedar trees and cut them down for the goats to enjoy. It’s not like cedars are endangered, and our efforts are somewhat futile as cedar apple rust spores can travel for miles, and neighboring cedar trees surround our land on all sides, but it does make us feel better to know we’ve done everything we can to cut down on the spore-load. “Save an apple — cut down a cedar tree today. This has been a public service announcement from your local orchard.”
Good things come to those who wait — heirloom apple growers are intimately familiar with this concept, as many old apple varieties undergo taste transformations after an extended mellowing period in storage post-harvest. Today, when we go to the grocery store and pick out an apple, and indeed, most fresh produce, it’s with the expectation that it is ready to eat immediately. In centuries past, when people didn’t have the luxury of an internationally-sourced year-round produce aisle, and were forced to rely on their own personal clusters of fruit trees, they were much more in tune with, and appreciative of, the quirks of individual fruit varieties.
The modern European pear industry particularly struggles with this concept, as most commercial varieties of pears are necessarily picked, shipped, and sold under-ripe. Many contemporary consumers are simply not aware that they must wait a few days before the pears they purchased for tonight’s dessert ripen to peak flavor and texture. Conversely, the pear industry also frets over another contingent of consumers that actually does understand the need to plan ahead and wait a few days before their pears are truly at their best, and so they routinely pass over the pear section in the produce aisle in favor of fruits that check the instant gratification box.
Apples and European pears are “climacteric” fruits that continue ripening post-harvest as starches are broken down into sugars and malic acid is consumed by the fruit. The flavor development that occurs during post-harvest ripening is quite dramatic in some cases, and ‘Swaar’ apples are an excellent example of an old variety that plays the long game, flavor and texture-wise. Their taste is as unremarkable as their lackluster appearance fresh off the tree, but following four to six weeks of storage, their color brightens, their flesh becomes tender and the flavor mellows into sweet, nutty, complex excellence.
Although you won’t find ‘Swaar’ in many modern orchards, the variety is an American classic, originating with Dutch settlements near the Hudson River in late 1700s New York, and was once quite widespread in Eastern orchards. Production does tend to be biennial, and coupled with the variety’s storage need prior to use, it’s not surprising that ‘Swaar’ apples are getting to be a rarity and can’t be found on Walmart shelves.
The exotic-sounding name is actually low Dutch for ‘heavy,’ the term apparently meant to bely the surprising weight and density of this generally medium-sized fruit. ‘Swaar’ is a late-ripening apple, even in the South, where we don’t begin picking until November, so add in a month or more of storage time and ‘Swaar’ truly is a winter apple. The greenish yellow skin will brighten to full-on yellow as it ripens, and a citrine ‘Swaar’ apple retrieved from a root cellar or cooler in the barren months of January and February is a sight for sore eyes and a particular treat when fresh fruit is so scarce.
The outstanding flavor is delightful in a ‘Swaar’ apple eaten out of hand, but an overall lack of acid and high sugar content renders it only so-so for cooking, when stronger, more biting flavor is favored to stand out alongside other ingredients. We have a small block of 6 ‘Swaar’ trees in our orchard, and while they have proved true to their finicky nature in our orchard, we always look forward to the apples from these trees.
Post-holiday time, we often find ourselves overloaded with sweets. And yet, we still want dessert. Apple stack cake, a wholesome Appalachian classic, is the perfect compromise. It is fairly light, as far as cakes go, full of fruit in the form of applesauce or apple butter, as well as dried apples, to help ward off wintertime scurvy, and it actually gets better with age, requiring at least two days of mellowing time post-assembly, so you have longer to enjoy it. Traditionally, stack cake is made with molasses, but of course, we use our apple cider syrup instead.
Dried Apple Filling*:
1 pound (4 to 5 packed cups) dried unsulfured apples
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 to 5 cups water, divided
*optional: using dried apples simmered with brown sugar, water, and spices for the filling is traditional, but for a quick and easy sub, you can use applesauce (the thicker and chunkier, the better) or apple butter in between the cake layers, as well
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider syrup
3.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
For the filling: Place the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender and the filling is very thick, about 1 hour. If the mixture gets dry, add more water. If it is soupy, continue to simmer until the excess cooks away. Use a potato masher to break up the apples into chunky sauce. Set aside.
For the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 8″ or 9-inch cake pans. (You will be baking the layers in batches, for a total of five or six layers, depending on your pan size. Alternatively, you can bake the layers one at a time in a greased and floured, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, which is the traditional technique. Yet another option is to pat the dough into rounds and bake them on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.)
In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is smooth, creamy, and light. Add the apple cider syrup and mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with half of the buttermilk. The mixture should be the consistency of cookie dough, so knead the dough together with your hands if that works better than the mixer. Add a bit more flour if needed.
Pour the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into five or six equal pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap so it won’t dry out. Use lightly floured hands to pat a piece of dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared cake pans. The dough should be about ½-inch thick. Lightly prick the dough all over with a fork, making a pretty pattern if you wish. Bake until the layers are firm when lightly pressed, 15 to 20 minutes. The layers do not rise as they bake.
Let each layer cool slightly, then remove the parchment, and turn out of the pan. Place the first layer onto a large cake plate and spread it with one-fifth of the apple filling (about 1 heaping cup). Continue baking, stacking, and topping the warm layers. Leave the top layer bare; you can sprinkle it with powdered sugar later, before serving, if desired.
Cover the cake with several layers of plastic wrap and then tea towels, or store it in an airtight cake carrier. Let the cake rest at room temperature for at least two days before cutting.
Apple cider syrup is the perfect base for a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. This full-flavored recipe packs just a hint of heat and makes 2 cups of sauce.
1 cup Baba Yaga’s Apple Cider Syrup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 Tablespoons grated onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
2 teaspoons prepared (not dry) mustard
salt to taste
dash of cayenne pepper
Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Then you know what to do: baste all over your favorite protein and grill, bake, or broil it up.
(adapted from an Our State Magazine recipe and shared by our friend, Randy)
4 Tablespoons (or to taste) Baba Yaga’s Apple Cider Syrup
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 large, decent apple, peeled, cored, and cut into cubes
(the original recipe calls for Granny Smith or Honeycrisp apples)
Preheat oven to 400°. In a large mixing bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, tossing once during cooking time.
Remove sprouts from oven, then toss them in the cider syrup and add apples. Spread the sprouts and apples back on baking sheet and return to oven for 10 minutes or until tender. Check seasoning; add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Reminiscent of lemon meringue pie!
1 cup Baba Yaga’s Cider Syrup
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
1 standard pie crust
Mix all ingredients together with handbeater or blender until smooth. Pour into crust and bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes, until set and slightly browned on top.
Makes about 75 pieces of decadent apple candy!
2 cups cream (heavy, whipping, or even coconut)
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup Baba Yaga’s Cider Syrup
6 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
spices (1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon allspice, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg)
Lightly grease an 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on all sides.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine cream, corn syrup, sugar, cider syrup, and butter. On high heat, bring to a boil, stirring only until sugar dissolves.
Reduce to medium-high heat and cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 248 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in salt and spices.
Pour into the lined pan and let sit at room temperature for about 18 hours without disturbing.
Remove from pan and cut into desired bite-sizes (about 3/4 inch square). Cut 6 inch squares of parchment paper and wrap each caramel, twisting the ends of the paper to close.
4 medium sweet potatoes
2 medium apples
4 Tbsp. butter or non-dairy substitute
1/3 cup Baba Yaga’s Apple Cider Syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
Place sheet of aluminum foil on bottom oven rack. Position second oven rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Wash sweet potatoes and make a small slit on one side of each potato. Place potatoes directly on middle oven rack, slit side up. Bake 45-60 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Decrease oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
While potatoes are baking, core, peel and slice apples 1/4 inch thick. Saute apple slices in 2 Tbsp. butter or substitute until tender. Set aside.
Peel cooked sweet potatoes and place in bowl. Mash together with remaining 2 Tbsp. butter or substitute, apple cider syrup, and salt. Stir in cooked apples.
Place sweet potato-apple mixture in ovenproof baking dish and cover with lid or foil. Bake 25-30 minutes.
8 cups of plain popped corn, unsalted
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup Baba Yaga’s Apple Cider Syrup
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
Prepare a large, rimmed baking sheet by lightly oiling or lining with parchment paper. Set aside.
Place popped corn in large glass or ceramic bowl (not plastic). Bowl should be large enough so popcorn can be stirred easily without spilling over. Set aside.
Combine sugar, cider syrup, oil, and salt in small saucepan. Mix well.
Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until a candy thermometer registers 290 degrees F, about 6-8 minutes.
Remove from heat and pour over the popcorn. Quickly stir popcorn with spatula to coat evenly.
Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and spread coated popcorn to cool.
When cold, break into small pieces and store in airtight container.
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp. minced shallot
1/4 cup Baba Yaga’s Apple Cider Syrup
2 Tbsp. finely chopped peeled apple
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
Serve over salad greens with sliced red onion and thin wedges of apples, or your favorite salad.
Forget about molasses — apple cider syrup adds outstanding flavor to our favorite picnic food. This recipe will make about 6-8 servings as a side dish.
1 lb. dried beans (California pea, Navy, Great Northern)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup Baba Yaga’s Apple Cider Syrup
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium onion, cut in half from top to bottom
1 large, firm apple, peeled, cored, and diced into small pieces
Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover them by 2 inches. The next day, drain them and place in a pot with the baking soda plus enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, skimming any foam off as needed. Remove 1 cup of cooking water and set aside. Drain and rinse the beans, then place in a bean pot or slow cooker with onion halves.
Combine the syrup, sugar, mustard, ginger, salt and pepper. Gradually stir in the reserved cooking water. Pour over the beans and onions. Bake, covered, at 300 degrees in the bean pot, for 6-7 hours, or until done, stirring occasionally. A slow cooker will take about 6 hours, still covered and stirring occasionally. Add the diced apple during the last hour of cooking. If saucier beans are desired, add small amounts of water as needed.
Our orchard is located at 1259 Joyce Acres Road in Westfield, NC 27053.
Directions from Pilot Mountain:
Traveling on US-52 North, take the exit 134 for Pilot Mountain, NC-268. Enter roundabout and exit to the first right onto S. Key St./NC-268. Take a left at the CVS stoplight to continue on NC-268. Turn right on Old Westfield Road. After about 6.5 miles Old Westfield Road dead-ends into NC-89. Take a right onto NC-89 at the stoplight. Go 3 miles, then take a left onto Frans Road. After a mile, take a left at the stop sign to continue on Frans Road. Take the first right onto Christian Road. Take the first right onto Joyce Acres Road and travel 1 mile to reach 1259.
Directions from Francisco:
Traveling west on NC-89, take a right onto Asbury Road. At the stop sign, take a left to continue on Asbury Road. After about a half a mile, take a left onto Joyce Acres Road, and travel about a half a mile to reach 1259.