Serve a slice of American history with local heirloom apples

By Lindsay Joslyn - ReminderNews
Plainfield - posted Mon., Nov. 11, 2013
Heirloom farms like Hall Homestead specialize in sustainably-grown fruits and vegetables whose original strains are 100 years old or more. Photo by Lindsay Joslyn.
Heirloom farms like Hall Homestead specialize in sustainably-grown fruits and vegetables whose original strains are 100 years old or more. Photo by Lindsay Joslyn.

What’s more American than apple pie? How about an apple pie made from George Washington’s favorite apple, the Newtown Pippin? If you want to make your Thanksgiving dessert even more impressive this year, start with a trip to your local heirloom farm.

Heirloom farms specialize in sustainably-grown fruits and vegetables whose original strains are 100 years old or more and have not undergone any genetic modifications or been treated with harsh chemicals or pesticides.

With concern growing over diabetes and obesity, the medical and nutritional communities are turning more and more to organically-grown, heirloom foods. This is because heirloom produce contains no added sugar or other additives and maintains the highest nutritional value, compared to their hybrid counterparts.

Hall Homestead - at 18th Century Purity Farms, in Plainfield - is one of two heirloom farms owned and operated by Joann and Paul Derochers. Joann is the direct descendant of the same family who dug their hands into the rich soil two centuries ago.

The Derochers specialize in growing heirloom apples, shelling beans and stone fruits, such as the peach and plum. It is here, behind the shadow of the stately, bone-colored federal home, and at their other farm in Moosup, that 150-year-old apple orchards turn out such historical masterpieces as the Newtown Pippin, whose light green skin and starch white flesh produce a delightfully sweet and sour bite one can imagine America’s first president thoroughly enjoying.

They also produce heirloom apples known for other unique qualities such as the banana-flavored Winter Banana Apple, which originated in Indiana in 1870s. Or the oldest apple known in Connecticut, the Gilliflower, which ancient texts begin to mention in the 1630s.

The orchard rests along the old Plainfield Pike, the famed route Jean-Baptise Rochambeau traveled in the summer of 1781 to join forces with George Washington during the Revolutionary War. It is said Rochambeau stopped at the top of the hill and overlooked the small village of Plainfield before descending into the valley. Today, hiking within the colonial garden, one can stand atop the same hill and look west, beholding the same landscape as the key American ally.

The farm is open for apple-picking Saturday through Tuesday from 1 to 4 p.m. The trees are clearly labeled and the branches full of ripe fruit. The curious palate should be prepared to taste crisp American history, and nature enthusiasts will delight in the abundant wild-life within the orchard. Joann Derochers is excited to share Hall Homestead with the public and is available to answer all your apple questions.

For centuries, the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner has been a steaming apple pie.  Making this classic American dessert with heirloom apples adds more than full flavor and high nutritional value; it brings history to the modern table and warmly kindles the patriotic spirit in us all.


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