Q&A with Quarry Hill Orchards

Brooke Gammie took time out of her busy day to share a bit of life behind the scenes at Quarry Hill Orchards. If you want to give a great local food holiday gift, be sure to check out their apple gift boxes. They are guaranteed to bring the fresh flavor of the orchard to your table. But first, here’s a little inside peek at life on Quarry Hill Orchards…

So Brooke, with winter upon us, tell us what happens on the orchard during the winter months?

The orchard is so quiet during the winter. We all wear heavy, insulated overalls and snow boots—even in the office—and the guys out pruning the trees come into the packhouse on breaks to warm up their gloves on the wood-burning stove. We spend weekends in December packing gift boxes for our mailorder customers, and helping the few real-life visitors to our market barn (yes, we’re open through New Years!). January is conference season, where we learn about all latest the farming industry developments, get excited for next year, and plan our spring planting. Agricultural business taxes are due in February, so our winter months are spent juggling pruning shears, conference badges, and invoices. It’s no less work than picking apples—just a different kind of work.

How many kinds of apples do you grow at Quarry Hill and which is your favorite?

We grow close to forty different apple varieties. My favorite is a tie between Suncrisp and Ambrosia and my husband Farmer Ben’s favorite is Crimson Crisp.

Are some apples better for some kinds of cooking than others?

Definitely, but it all depends on personal preference. All our apples are called “dessert” apples, as opposed to, say, cider apples (which can be bitter and tannic if eaten fresh), and they’re delicious fresh or cooked. Some apples, like Pink Lady and Honeycrisp, are specially bred for eating fresh. They are crisp, crunchy, juicy, and have a perfect sweet-tart balance. Others, like Golden Delicious, are more richly sweet, and have firmer flesh that holds its shape when cooked—they’re popular in pies and roasts. But some people like tarter, mushier pies, and might prefer an apple like Winesap, zesty, spicy, and soft when cooked.

We love your apples, but that’s not all you grow. Tell us what else can we find growing at Quarry Hill Orchards?

Cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, and grapes for the table, as well as for our winemaker at Quarry Hill Winery.

What kind of year was 2015 for your fruit and do you have any predictions for 2016?

We got hit pretty hard by the cold last winter, so our stone-fruit crop (cherries, peaches, etc.) in 2015 wasn’t as great as in years past. You can learn more about how the cold affects our fruit in this blog entry by Farmer Ben. We are crossing our fingers for a mild winter this season and a bountiful peach harvest for next summer!

Okay, we want you to get creative and share some fun ways to use apples this holiday season. Got some suggestions?

Baking apple-cranberry pies; roasting Brussels sprouts with apple slices; making applesauce with the family on a lazy winter afternoon; adding to holiday drinks like hot mulled cider; crafting a festive centerpiece with evergreen trimmings and big, red Melrose apples—Ohio’s state apple!

Finally, before you go, can you share a favorite family recipe?

We eat clean and healthy (we’re apple farmers!), so I’d like to share a recipe that was created with the expertise of our friend and heart-health advocate Jane Esselstyn. She is an avid and inventive designer of plant-based recipes and the co-author of The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook with her next door neighbor and mom, Ann.

Quarry Hill Orchard’s Plant-Strong Apple Crisp

For the topping:

¾ cup raw pumpkin seeds
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons raw sesame seeds
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
pinch of salt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl combine the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, ground flax, chia seeds, maple syrup, and salt. Toss all the ingredients until well coated. Place the mixture onto the lined pan and press out to about ½ thick or a bit less.

Bake for 20 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20-30 minutes before breaking into crumble topping or cutting into bars.

Jane’s tips:  Maple syrup is the sweetener, or you could use dates (you can puree the dates in water to get a liquid sweetener).  If you smash some of the coriander seeds they will release their lemony flavor first.
For the apples:

4 Quarry Hill Orchards apples: Golden Delicious, Melrose, Empire, and Cameo, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the apples in a bowl along with the maple syrup, cinnamon, coriander seeds, and lemon juice. Toss the mixture together until well coated. Place apple mixture into a baking dish, cover, and bake for 35 minutes, or until apples are soft and fragrant, not mushy.

In a serving bowl place a large scoop of juicy, baked apples, and top with a heap of seed crumble. Yummble Yummble!