(HOST) Recently, commentator Vern Grubinger was surfing the Internet when he accidentally discovered an abundance of official state food.
(GRUBINGER) Legislative bodies are very productive when it comes to food.Did you know that the state cookie in both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania is the chocolate chip? Massachusetts takes credit for inventing it, while Pennsylvania leads the way in chocolate production.
Oklahoma has an entire state meal, including barbecued pork, chicken-fried steak, sausage with biscuits, fried okra, squash, grits, corn, and blackeyed peas.
Most state legislatures prefer to elevate food items to official status one at a time. In Minnesota, the state muffin is blueberry;
in Ohio, the state beverage is tomato juice; and in Vermont, the state pie is apple.
Our state fruit is also the apple, which makes sense given its prominent role in our agricultural history.
Apples first came to Vermont from neighboring states and Canada in colonial days. Back then, nearly every farm had an orchard, although the varieties were wild and the trees were uncultivated and often diseased.Even so, they produced a lot of apples, and these made a lot of cider and other beverages. By 1810, Vermont had 125 distilleries producing many thousand gallons of apple brandy.
In 1819 the first sizable commercial orchard was planted by a Mr. Phelps in South Hero, who had 20 acres of trees. After 1840, railroads offered orchardists a chance to sell apples outside their communities, and fruit growing took off.
By the late 1800’s, Vermont orchards had hundreds of apple varieties that were used in many more ways than we use them today. There were varieties for cooking, sauce, pickling, jelly, eating fresh, making into cider, or storing until spring.
There were apples called Pound Sweet, Nonesuch, Wealthy and Winter Banana. Some were named for towns such as Bethel, Roxbury Russet, and St. Johnsbury Sweet. Others were named for their shape like Sheepnose, their taste, Sops of Wine, or their color, Yellow Transparent. Some were whimsical, like Seek-No-
By 1900 the most popular variety, shipped to Boston and New York, was the Baldwin, which by now has almost disappeared.
In 1920 MacIntosh was the most widely grown apple in Vermont, which it remains to this day, accounting for more than half of the 45 million pounds of apples produced on our three thousand acres of orchard.Most apples grown in Vermont today are commercial varieties which you’ll find in supermarkets, but heirloom types that have endured for a century or more are gaining in popularity.
You can taste this diversity of Vermont’s apples and enjoy the beauty of Vermont’s working landscape at one of many orchards that sell direct to the public.
Scott Farm in Dummerston has over 70 varieties available during the fall harvest. In Shoreham, Champlain Orchards features 20 varieties, and On Grande Isle, Allenholm Orchard grows 30 kinds of apples – and bakes lots of pies.
With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.
Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.