ALL ABOUT APPLES
In the heart of an exceptional, sun-drenched apple season, a bunch of us recently filled a van and headed west out of Portland to visit Rosemont’s two main apple suppliers. The trip was especially illuminating for us in showing two distinct sides of our sourcing from local farms. John Schreiber, Rosemont’s produce manager, has cultivated relationships with Brackett’s Orchards and Dow Farm Enterprise for years now, and on the ride up he was excited to share with a number of us what makes these suppliers so special.
A microscopically small-scale outfit like Dow Farm Enterprise in Standish (about a third of an acre planted to apple trees) reflects our heart and soul, cultivating heritage varieties with almost no spraying whatsoever, tree by tree. Rosemont gets most of the apples Dow produces: roughly one-and-a-half bushels each week through the season, with an ever-rotating cast of all-but-forgotten varieties. The earthy, tannic Esopus Spitzenburg was our overall favorite of the day, but the Golden Russett and Rhode Island Greening were extraordinary, too. Dow is a small crew — just orchard manager and co-owner Mike Bendzela, along with the farm’s other owners Claudia White, her husband Ken Faulstich, and Mike’s husband Don Essman — and they are “constantly fighting bacterial blight and insects,” according to Mike. “We literally rake every single leaf to minimize bacteria risk.” They fully expect some of their current trees to die within the next couple of years (adding to the five they’ve lost in the past year). But they’re already preparing to grow more, to replace the current orchard of mostly 25-30-year-old trees. These were planted, by the way, according to varieties on a map Don found that Claudia’s great-grandfather had drawn, after he started growing on the property in the early 1900s.
Brackett’s Orchards, in Limington, has apple-growing roots in Maine that stretch back even further into time than Dow’s. In fact, the Brackett family began clearing their land in 1783 and planted their first apple trees soon thereafter. At 75 acres, Brackett’s is what in Rosemont’s world counts as a “big” farm, though of course that’s not even a blip in the world of large-scale apple agriculture. Rosemont could never get enough apples in its stores by buying only from Dow, and we consider Brackett’s to be the best of Maine’s mid-sized orchards. This is our source for Macs, Cortlands, Honey Crisps and other delicious varieties that are stable, plentiful and recognizable. As we disembarked from our van and entered Brackett’s small farm stand, there was a guy behind the table, weighing apples and writing notes in a ledger. This was eighth-generation Manley Brackett himself, at 95 years old, doing what he’s been doing for more than eight decades. Manley gave us a great tour of the cleaning, sorting and packing lines, as well as the cool-temp, half-underground, two-storey storage room, then we headed out to the hilly orchards themselves. We walked the alleys and ate a lot of apples. It’s hard to beat a Macoun.