One of Groton’s best food secrets, a gourmet buffet of heirloom apples, is hiding in plain sight on route 119 south of the town center. Drive down the driveway of the “Oreo Cow” farm with the big gray barn with the simple roadside “Apples” sign… to a long table packed with yellow, orange, red, and (really) blue apples you probably haven’t ever heard the names of or tasted, but need to.
Chris and Kevin Lindemer are the orchardists, carrying on a tradition of farming on the Whitney Farmstead that stretches back to the early days of Groton. They’ve owned the farm since the mid 1990s.
“My wife and I always wanted to do something like this,” Kevin said, “Even before we moved here. We wanted to do something different from the big commercial orchards, something that was unique and we could differentiate. And also was kind of in character with the property because this is so old.”
The Lindemers are the 13th owners of the Whitney Farmstead, one of Groton’s oldest farms. The house on their property dates back to about 1680-1690. Chris wrote ten years ago that: “Deacon Joshua Whitney was one of the pioneer settlers of Groton. He was born in Watertown on July 15, 1635. In addition to being the deacon, he held other important positions in Groton. He was chosen to be a selectman three times. He died on August 17, 1719 and was buried in the old Groton cemetery.”
In a kind of full-circle surprise, Kevin said, “We found out a couple years after we moved here that I’m a descendant of this guy’s brother,” Kevin said. “But I’m from Minnesota!”
The Lïndemers have about 50 apple trees in production. With only a couple of exceptions, all are heirloom varieties, some tracing their roots back to the 1600s and 1700s, and from Europe, Canada, and the early English colonies.
“The Cox’s Orange Pippens are wonderful,” Kevin said. “They’re a very spicy apple from the UK and not many people know of them here. I know that when we put it out here, we had people, ex-pats from the UK, coming in saying that “We’ve heard that you have these apples.”
The apples are colored a true orange; they look like tiny pumpkins lined up on the apple table by mistake.
The contents of the table change week to week, as different varieties ripen and fade out. Northern Spy, Roxbury Russet, Liberty, and half a dozen other flavors were on the table last week. (The Liberty isn’t an heirloom, Kevin pointed out. “It’s just a pretty apple. You have to catch it at just the right point in the fall for it to have good flavor and I think we got it right this year.”)
Happily, everything is in season for pies, Chris said.
“For a pie, we like to mix two or three varieties together and you want the dessert apples: Cox’s, Tonkins, and Northern Spy. And if you like kind of a tart apple, I would put some of the Roxbury Russets in there. A lot of people around here know the Northern Spy as a great dessert apple. Then in a couple weeks, when our Caville Blancs are ready, those will be the ones that people should try,” Kevin said, because the pie mixture changes as the apples ripen and fade.
“We have a really big French desesrt apple called Caville Blanc d’Hiver which won’t be ripe for another two weeks (end of October, early November). Sprigs, down in Acton, uses our apples. The chef there, Gregory Ludlum, he likes those, and the Cox’s Orange Pippens, and he likes the Roxbury Russets. He takes the biggest ones and he cores them and he makes a dessert baked apple.”
Here are the Lindemer’s apple-tasting notes for the heirlooms that were on their apple table last week:
- Northern Spy
The consummate pie apple and excellent for eating out of hand. Flesh is yellowish white and sweetly tart. High in vitamin C. Will keep until spring.
Origin: New York 1800
- Ashmead’s Kernel
Crisp yellow flesh is tart off-the-tree and mellows to sweet, aromatic and juicy in the weeks after harvest. A connoisseur’s apple. Good for storing for winter eating.
Origin: 1700s England
- Roxbury Russet
Crisp and tart. Flavor has a lot of ‘personality’. Flesh is yellow-green, firm and coarse-textured. Well suited for eating fresh or cooking and keeps for months. May be the first apple developed in the Americas.
Origin: Roxbury, MA early 1600s.
Light yellow flesh that’s crisp and juicy with sprightly flavor. Good for fresh eating as well as cooking. The flavor is subacid and good. Keeps into February, the flavor intensifying in storage.
Origin: ‘Liberty’ resulted from a cross, ‘Macoun’ and Purdue – Not an heirloom variety
- Tompkins King
The yellow flesh of this desert apple is rather coarse, but crisp and tender, with a subacid, sweet and aromatic flavor and is an excellent cooking apple. The skin has a greasy finish, especially after storage. Tompkins King stores well.
Origin: Washington, Warren County, New Jersey late 18th century.
- Cox’s Orange Pippin
This is a wonderfully well-balanced apple with a complex bouquet of tastes: cider, a hint of cinnamon and hazelnut, and strong orange and mango notes. The best-known dessert apple in the British Isles.
Origin: 1830 England.
Also known as the ‘snow apple’. Flesh is snow white and tender with a cidery, spicy flavor. It is the chose cider ingredient at Chittenden’s Cider Mill in Burlington, VT. Do not keep well.
Origin: 1600s Canada
- Summer Rambo
This apple is of French origin and once quite popular in Maryland and Virginia. The fruit can be picked while still green for frying, pies, and applesauce. The fruit can be large and is often ribbed with unequal sides. Skin is greenish yellow washed with pink and carmine on the sun exposed side. The greenish yellow flesh is coarse, tender and very juicy. Ripe August-September.