A La Carter / Sun-Kissed Fort Salonga Orchard ripe For Picking

Sylvia Carter

Newsday, Wednesday, October 1, 1997

BILL CAHILL surveyed his apple orchard aglow in the western sun. "I love to look at them," he said. "I come up here, and I look at them." Who wouldn't gaze with pride over such a kingdom? The ripening apples, lit by the waning sun, are a magnificent sight: Spigold blushing with pink, the deep red of Jonathans, and, later this month, the peerless yellow of Golden Delicious. Just the names are a delight: Pitmaston Pineapple, Splendour, Snow, Gravenstein, Prairie Spy, Hawkeye, Westfield Seek No Further, Ashmead's Kernel, Esopus Spitzenberg, Arkansas Black, Pearmain. These are but a few of the more than 60 varieties Bill Cahill and his wife, Ursula, grow in Fort Salonga. Living in his native Flatbush, Brooklyn, Bill Cahill had not dreamed, exactly, of such an orchard. Cahill, a lawyer, yearned for something beyond Brooklyn, but the trees were not yet the apples of his mind's eye. "It was a reaction," he said, "nothing analytic." In 1953, Cahill saw this gently sloping land and bought it while his wife was still in the hospital with the second of their nine children, now ages 26 to 46. (They also have 11 grandchildren.) She was happy to move to a house that eventually and comfortably housed four ovens and 11 people at dinner (without company). "Who wouldn't love it?" she asked rhetorically. In 1974 the Cahills planted the first tree. Now there are more than 4,000 trees on the 8 1/2 acres called Fort Salonga Farm. Three rows of the original planting are left. In the years between the time the Cahills bought the land and the time they planted the apple trees, he said, "I was learning to be a farmer." Now, Cahill knows plenty. He has lectured and written articles for such apple societies as the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association. He favors straw hats and blue chambray shirts and has almost completely retired from his East Northport law office. And he is fond of answering inquiries about the location of the orchard by saying, "We're fifty miles from the Empire State Building." Cahill shares some of this knowledge with school groups, pre-kindergarten through second grade. He shows them how bees pollinate trees and takes them to the orchard to teach them how to "wind" an apple from the tree, leaving intact the bud that will form next year's apple. Then Cahill takes them on a path between the orchard and the sales stand, calling it the "secret tunnel" and cautioning them to be quiet so they can hear the animals talking to each other. "Did you hear those two rabbits talking?" he will ask. Some of the children say they did. Cahill and I strolled the rows of trees heavy with fruit followed by Morris, an orange tabby cat who hiked after us, keeping up pretty well on his short cat legs, but who didn't seem particularly energetic about catching voles. (Fluffy, a second, long-haired cat, is more the decorative type, lolling about and waiting for adoration.) "Did you ever eat a Gala?" Cahill asked. I started to say that they're a bit too sweet for me. "I'll give you a sun-kissed one," he said as he reached for his pocket knife and cut me a sliver. It was crisp and snappy, and had just the right amount of sweetness. Cahill told me the apple crop is up about 5 percent in New York State this year. He told me that apples are coming in early this year, and that the highly prized Golden Delicious from the Mullins strain, usually ready for picking Oct. 18 or 19, will be a week or more ahead of that. He told me that Fuji comes in in November and that Braeburn, another late apple, needs six weeks in the refrigerator to reach perfection. Red Delicious has a bad reputation, Cahill said, because there are 50 different strains, and "the ones you get in commerce color early. They want early color, forget flavor." His Red Delicious apples, he promises, are worthy of the name. Based on other Cahill apples I've tasted, I believe it. Here are some of the other things I learned: At their peak, most apples have a "water core," a glossy center where excess sugar concentrates. "The apple is ambrosia, then," said Cahill. At first, people think this heart of sweetness means something is wrong with the apple. But once they learn to like it, they demand it. "We don't pick until they are absolutely ripe," Cahill said. They're fussy that way. Macoun is, for some reason, favored by yuppies. Voles, those pesky little creatures that eat the roots of apple trees and other plants, find No. 9 rootstock a treat but don't care much for No. 106. (This is what Cahill said, but knowing voles and their destructive ways, I wonder if they might learn to eat the less palatable rootstock with gusto.) In "hedonistic apple taste tests," which is what apple growers call their tastings, "every apple we selected [for planting] scored in the top ten in all the tests," Cahill said. Hedonistic? Cahill smiled. "It's the most apt adjective," he said.

Nothing beats a crisp, cold apple eaten out of hand. Everybody knows about baked apples, apple crisp and apple pie. Apples also dress up Waldorf and other salads, and they are superb fried in a bit of butter and served alongside sausage. Or try this pork and apple combination. Bake sweet potatoes while the pork roast is in the oven, and you'll have a complete meal. When I was growing up apple salad was a favorite dessert at Sunday dinner. When I served it to friends to see if this childhood favorite had a more universal appeal, one taster suggested it would be good as a topping for pound cake.

Pork Roast With Apples: 2 to 2 1/2 pound pork roast, boned and tied Fresh or dried thyme Salt Freshly ground pepper 4 cups tart apples, sliced (about 8) 2 onions, sliced 1. Untie pork roast and rub liberally on all sides with thyme, salt and pepper. (If using dried thyme, use less than if using fresh, since the dried herb is more potent.) Roll and re-tie roast. 2. Place roast in a small cast-iron Dutch oven or a cast-iron or other heavy pan. Cover securely with lid or with foil. Place in 425-degree oven and roast for 20 to 30 minutes; reduce heat to 325 degrees and roast about 1 hour longer. Add apples and onions over roast and around it with pan juices; add a little salt and pepper, cover and roast another 20 to 30 minutes, or until apples and onions are tender. Serve chunks of meat, which will be falling-apart tender, with apples and onions over each portion. Makes 4 servings.

Apple Salad: 1 cup heavy cream, 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 10 graham crackers, divided (5 large 2-cracker sheets) 3 apples, peeled and grated Whip cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold in 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla. Crumble graham crackers coarsely and add about 8 crackers to cream. Fold in crackers and grated apples. Taste. If the sweetness is not to your liking, add the remaining tablespoon sugar. Scatter remaining cracker crumbs over the top and chill, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Makes 4 servings.

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