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More Travel Stories:
Vermont
The Heart of New England
The Keeper of Apples:
Heirloom Apples at
Scott Farm in Vermont
by Marcia Passos Duffy

“He who knows the apple tree also knows its region.”
Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Apple Tree (1922)

Ezekiel Goodband knows his apples. Walking along the Scott Farm apple
orchard spread over a hilly 40 acres in Dummerston, Vermont, he talks about
each tree as if it were his child, and the fruit it bears, like grandchildren.   

Goodband, who asks to be called “Zeke,” is soft spoken, donning long hair and
beard that gives him a sage-like aura when speaking about his beloved trees,
which bear fruit that may not even resemble apples seen in a supermarket.  

These are apples that ripen to a rainbow of earth tones -- orange, brown, even
dark purple.  Walking through the orchard is like a walk through history –
“This was Henry David Thoreau’s favorite ... and this one Thomas Jefferson
once grew,” he says.  The names of these apples -- like Lamb Abbey Pearmain,
Paula Red and Sheep’s Nose -- just roll off Goodband’s tongue like the
familiarity of favorite kin.   

Goodband is a keeper of old-time apples, a modern Johnny Appleseed of sorts,
who has created a living museum of 70 heirloom varieties, some dating back to
the 17th century.  The orchard sits on 600 acres of land owned by the Landmark
Trust, a British nonprofit foundation devoted to restoring and preserving
historic homes which they lease out as vacation properties. Along with a
collection of beautiful Scott Farm buildings, the Trust also owns the estate
down the road from the farm where Rudyard Kipling once lived (and where he
wrote The Jungle Book).  

The farm where the orchard is located was once a dairy farm owned by the
Scott family dating back to the 1700s, and was transformed into an apple
orchard (of primarily McIntosh apples) by Fred Holbrook, a bachelor who
donated the farm to the Landmark Trust in 1995 when he was in his mid-70s
with the stipulation that it remain in agricultural use for perpetuity.  

“I was drawn to this farm,” said Goodband, looking over his expanse of apple
trees. “Fred Holbrook had spent so much time and effort on these orchards...
You could see it was a labor of love, the way the trees had been pruned and
cared for ... when I saw that I said, yes, this is a kindred spirit,” said Goodband,
who also grows peaches, quince and grapes (both table and wine varieties).
When Goodband arrived at the farm, Holbrook was already in the nursing
home with Alzheimer’s disease; he died in 2002.  “It was a profitable farm
under his management,” said Goodband. “He was considered one of the finest
orchardists in New England ... I have a lot of respect for the man.”

It was this respect that made Goodband pause before taking a saw to
Holbrook’s McIntosh trees to start the process of grafting heirloom varieties
onto the old trees. “I have to admit, when I started cutting off the top of his
Macs I was wondering when the lightening bolt would strike,” he said, with a
laugh.  “But here I am. And here are his trees ... All of them healthy, with strong
grafts, and producing fruit in the fall,” he said.  He has since grafted more than
5,000 trees, using an ancient technique of cutting branches from new trees and
inserting them into clefts created in the old trees. When grafting, the upper part
of the graft (called the scion, which is the branch of a tree) becomes the top of
the older tree; the lower portion (called the understock) becomes the roots and
truck.    

For the Love of Apples

The orchard is a culmination
of Goodband’s love affair
with the apple tree that
began in his early 20s.  
Before coming to
Scott Farm,
he had worked in the
previous 14 years as
orchard manager at
Alyson’s Orchards in Walpole, N.H., where he grafted hundred of McIntosh
cultivars into heirloom trees. But his orchardist training began thirty years
prior to that while attending college in Maine. It wasn’t his Chinese history
courses at Bowdoin College or ecology degree at Goddard College, but the
abandoned apple orchards sprinkled throughout the Maine countryside during
his years at Bowdoin that educated him on the ways of heirloom orchardists.

“I was very curious about these strange varieties of apples growing in these
neglected orchards ... they weren’t even red or golden apples…some were
purple and came in all shapes and sized,” he recalled. He wanted very much to
learn more about these trees, and struck a deal with the owners of these
abandoned orchards:  He’d care for the trees in exchange for cider and cuttings.
“They were more than happy to oblige.” It was then Goodband -- knowing that
these genetic stock of these trees were worth saving -- began a nursery
collection of cuttings.

Another turning point was when Goodband stumbled upon a 2-volume set of a
1904 edition of a NY State cooperative extension encyclopedia of apples. “My
eyes were opened with this book…This was the Peterson’s of the apple world
... it had every variety of apple imaginable. Once I started to learn about all the
different varieties, crops were never the same to me. You can’t have the same
relationship with a green bean plant as you can with an apple tree.”   

Heirlooms for Profit

While Scott Farm’s buildings are owned by the Landmark Trust are non-profit,
the orchard itself is for-profit, which means that it has to earn its keep. And, it’s
a tough business. “It’s not a robust enterprise, to say the least,” he noted
comparing it to the dairy business, in which wholesale prices have remained
stable, yet the cost to produce the commodity has escalated.  To key to success
in growing apples, Goodband noted -- is to find a niche, much like cheese
industry has done.  “Some farmers have agri-tourism, others have hayrides,
cider ... my niche is to bring back heirloom apples.”

His hard work is bearing fruit, literally and figuratively.  The Scott Farm has
become the largest producer of heirloom apples in New England. Other
orchards, such as Poverty Lane Orchards (Lebanon, NH) and Gould Hill
Orchards (Contoocook N.H.), and Shelburne Orchards (Shelburne, Vt.) produce
heirloom varieties on a smaller scale.

It takes about $100,000 in expenses to run the farm; last year it broke even. This
year it will turn a $20,000 profit. “My accountant gives me a reality check
saying that for the labor involved, that’s not a lot of money. But, ask any farmer
-- that’s a great profit!” Goodband is making plans to start a secondary market
by producing hard and sweet cider. He hopes that profits will reach $100,000 a
year in five years. The profits will return back to the farm for equipment,
upgrades and marketing.

The apples -- while not certified organic -- are “ecologically” grown with no-
residue low-spray techniques. They are sold in co-ops throughout Vermont –
Brattleboro, Putney, Burlington, Hunger Mountain in Montpelier, Plainfield.
He has also had success in supplying apple varieties to Hannaford
Supermarket in Brattleboro.  A trucking company takes his apples all the way
to the Boston area to sell to Whole Foods (formerly Bread & Circus) and
wholesale at the Terminal Market in Chelsea, MA.

The acceptance of the varieties is an education process. Some apples don’t look
like the standard “supermarket apples.” But once customers bite into them, it’s
a different story. “I can’t keep these apples in stock,” said Kim Sullivan,
produce manager for the Putney Consumers Food Co-op in Putney, Vt. who
carries Goodband’s apples. “I talk to people about why heirloom apples look
the way they do; we have signs and we have samples for people to try. All they
have to do it try it. It doesn’t take long,” she said.

“It has been very interesting how different areas like different types,” noted
Goodband.  Putney, Vermont, for example, favors the Sheep’s Nose variety (a
very dark-skinned cooking variety from the 1800s with a cinnamon-type flavor
that has an unusual shape); Burlington, Vermont demands Karmijim du
Sonneville (a tart apple with a robust citrus flavor).

“We absolutely love his apples,” said Robert Kirigin, produce manager at
Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier. “What he is doing to preserve old
strains of apple trees is phenomenal,” he said.  Kirigin also sells some
heirloom apples from Shelburne Orchards, Shelburne, Vt.   “At one point we
had 20 different varieties at one time,” said Kirigin. “I haven’t met any
resistance to the price from our customers ... they’re just excited to see all the
different apples. There is most definitely a market for them.”

Apples Picked For Unusual Looks, Good Taste

Goodband selects his apples varieties based on his books from the 1800s and
earlier – some written in New England, others in Europe. The writings of
Thomas Jefferson are particularly helpful, he said, because of the meticulous
records he kept. The heirloom cuttings are obtained sometimes by back yard
enthusiasts who bring apples during harvest for him to identify. Another
source of cuttings was Wendell Mosher, an elderly New Hampshire orchardist
who often gave him cuttings in exchange for grafting help.  His collection is not
limited to northeast varieties: “There are very good Japanese, French and
German varieties…as well as some southern apples too that I have,” he said.  
His favorite trees are from Japan’s northern Island of Haikaido.  “It is very
similar to New England in climate, so the apple trees from there do very well
here.”

The fun is not only in the grafting and growing, but the harvesting which
sometimes produces surprising results. “I had a variety called ‘Winter Banana’
from Indiana.  I had grafted it onto a Mac tree and had been growing it for
years, waiting for it to give apples. When it finally did -- you could imagine the
excitement of eating it. Well, I took a bite into it and it tasted terrible!” he said.  
He took those errant apples and put them in storage wondering why the old
books he had read said it was a sweet apple. A few months later, he stumbled
into a crate of these Winter Banana apples and took a bite.  “It was crisp and
juicy,” he said. “Goes to show you that every apple is different.  It is an art –
when to pick them, when to eat them.”

Even where they are grown makes each taste different -- much like the French
terroir -- it all depends where they are planted.  Even apples that were grafted
onto trees in New Hampshire, then taken and grafted again in Vermont,
produce apples with a different taste or color.   

The books he uses to pick a variety are actually very vague on when to pick
them and eat them.  They are focused more on how to grow them.  “It is all trial
and error. You can’t always tell by the color.” There is an apple called Karmijin
du Sonneville which has an orange color. I always picked them when they
turned bright orange thinking that’s when they were ripe.  But they never
tasted right. Well I happened to Google the name and found pictures of the
apples and every picture was before the apple turned orange. Well that’s when
I started to pick them and they tasted great.”

While he has found many varieties that many have thought long lost, some
cultivars have remained elusive, such as a cider apple called “Telefara”
documented by Thomas Jefferson, and some other Vermont apples which
Goodband has been searching for in vain. “They may be gone forever.”

With 70 varieties at his orchard, does he have a favorite? Like a good father,
Goodband is reluctant to lean toward partiality:  “They’re all my favorites,” he
said. But, when pressed, he admitted he does have a preference for Lamb
Abbey Pearmain (an apple that is crisp and coarsely textured) and the Orleans
Reinette (which Goodband calls the “most handsomest apples on the planet”).

“You have to understand, I have to taste thousands of apples during the
harvest ... while I love them all, there are days when I can’t even imagine eating
one.”

Learn more at
Scott Farm, Vermont.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marcia Passos Duffy is a freelance writer based in Keene,
NH.  She is also the publisher of The Heart of New England online magazine.

MORE New England Stories

Additional Info:
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Heirloom Apple Sampler

Roxbury Russett –
This is
the oldest American apple
variety, dating back to
1635.  Has a nectar-like
flavor similar to guava.  It
has a high sugar content
though you may not notice it
because of its high acid
content.  Cider made from
this apple is thick like syrup.

Baldwin – A handsome,
deep red apple originally
from Massachusetts in the
early 1700s.  There is
a monument in Wilmington,
MA where the original tree
grew.  It is a hard apple,
sometimes referred to
as the “woodpecker.”  It has
the quintessential apple
flavor and back in the day
when pie was made for
breakfast, it was a very
hardy meal.

Ananas Reinette – From
the French meaning “royal
pineapple.” This is a small,
yellow-skinned apple that
was grown in France in the
1500s.  It has a zesty
pineapple-citrus flavor and
flesh that has a fine grain
texture.

Winesap - A deep reddish
purple apple with a juicy, yet
firm, yellow flesh and a tart,
wine-like flavor. The
Winesap apple is a good
eating apple or served in
salads, but does not make a
good apple for baking. It is
also often used to make
cider.

Black Oxford – From the
1850s, it is a beautiful winter
storage apple of medium
size. It has a high,
sweet/complex flavor. It
keeps until late winter,
sometimes early spring. The
Black Oxford makes great
pies, cider and is very good
for eating but it is better after
a month or two of cold
storage than it is fresh.

Sheep’s Nose (also know
as Black Gilliflower)
– A
New England variety from
the early 1800s.  
Traditionally it was used as a
cooking apple due to its rich
flavor and aromatic quality.  
Gilliflower refers to a
cinnamon flavor and black
refers to the color the skin
sometimes gets as it ripens.  
It is also known as “sheep’s
nose” because of its unusual
shape which tapers towards
the base.

Esopus Spitzenburg
From the early 1700s, this
apple has the reputation as
the apple that Thomas
Jefferson considered a
favorite.. It is a large apple,
oblong in shape, smooth
skinned and colored a lively
brilliant red approaching
scarlet. It is covered with
small yellow specks.

Lady (or Roman) Apple  
This is the oldest apple still
being grown today and was
already well established
during the Roman Empire.  
Because it was a small and
flavorful apple it was
popular during the
Renaissance when ladies
would keep one tucked
away in their bosom and
taken out to freshen their
breath.  It is also widely
used as a Christmas
decoration by wiring them to
wreaths.

Rhode Island Greening
This apple was grown by
Mr. Greening at his inn and
tavern near Newport, RI.  
Although it is a good eating
apple it excels in baked
goods.  Pies made with this
apple have won awards all
over the world.  Legend has
it that this variety came from
the tree of knowledge in the
Garden of Eden.
Ezekiel Goodband and his heirloom apples
Roxbury Russetts
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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