New Salem Preserves

By Molly Sauvain, CISA intern

Published in CISA’s November 2010 Enewsletter.

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It’s apple season, and kitchens across the Valley are filling with the sweet smells of applesauce, apple crisp and apple pie. This is the time of year when the urge to snuggle in sweaters, walk the fall foliage, and hunker down for the winter seems nearly irresistible. For Carol Hillman and Bob Colnes, September looks more like a bustling of activity. Their home in New Salem, Mass., doubles as New Salem Preserves, and cultivating their 125 year old apple orchard is what autumn is all about. Last year the couple expanded their range of products to include not only 14 varieties of apples, apple cider, cider donuts and sun-cooked preserves, but cider syrup.

I meet Carol at the cider mill, where she is hard at work pressing apples through a machine that mashes them into a fragrant pulp. From there, they’ll be pressed into cider and siphoned into a large tank that sits in the back of a truck stamped with the emblem of Northfield Mount Hermon School. The relationship between New Salem Preserves and the school is a symbiotic one – Carol and Bob grow the apples and the school provides the costly equipment that can turn cider into cider syrup. In a process that resembles how maple syrup is made, the cider is heated, most of the water it contains evaporates, and you are left with a syrup of highly concentrated cider deliciousness. I ask Carol what you can put it on and she pauses to smile knowingly before rattling off a whole list of ideas that make my fingers inch toward the wallet in my bag. Cider syrup can be drizzled over pancakes, waffles or French toast, mixed into oatmeal or yogurt, cooked with vegetables like brussel sprouts or squash, used as a glaze for chicken, duck, or pork, even swished into oil and vinegar to make a piquant salad dressing. Not to mention, of course, as a topping for all those apple desserts you were planning on making anyway. I bought four bottles.

Carol and Bob will press cider weekly from now until winter, their work bolstered by help from a veritable army of family, friends, and neighbors. “We’re the major employer in New Salem, a town of about 900” says Bob, “many kids works here from when they’re fifteen years old to when they head off to college.” He and Carol are quick to note that the success of their operation and of their cider syrup was not achieved alone. Bob tells me about how, years back, he wanted to build a cider press but had no idea what one even looked like. Richard Odman, an old friend and farmer at Northfield Mount Hermon, stepped in to guide the process. “Farmers get together on things,” explains Bob.

Another aspect of their success lies in the simple humanness of the relationship Carol and Bob cultivate with their customers. In each bag of apples they sell you can find a small card, engraved in green ink, that reads: “Thank you for buying from a local farmer.” Relatively speaking, their orchard is small, only about 150 trees. Whereas larger farms have machines and many hands to sort and process their apples, Bob and Carol have a rough wooden slab the size of your dinner table, on which each apple passes through the hands of neighbors before being gently placed into a bag with their fellows. Their berry jam is made in solar ovens, sun-cooked so each piece of fruit retains its shape. The pectin used to help the jam gell comes from their crabapple tree, a nod to a tradition of farm families’ self-sustaining innovation.

“It’s about more than growing apples,” says Bob, “Carol has this high sense of aesthetics – she loves creating the view.” Centuries-old stone walls that criss-cross the property have been rebuilt, and now frame views of the hills rolling toward the Quabbin. Wild turkeys plod through the grass, eating grasshoppers. It’s hard to believe that thirty years ago, when Carol bought the property, the orchards were overgrown and no longer producing apples. Over a period of three years the trees were trimmed and nudged into producing again. They now hold up their arms full of apples and it seems like triumph.

In November New Salem Preserves will host crowds for the 12th annual CiderDay.  Friends and former staff return to the farm to staff the child-friendly cider press, and everyone can help make cider on CiderDay weekend.  Autumn in New England is a celebration, not a retreat. What better way to celebrate it than at New Salem Preserves, with a bottle of cider syrup in hand and your breath caught in your chest at the view.

Cider syrup can be purchased on-farm, at Northfield Mount Hermon, at the Wendell Country Store, at the Garlic & Arts Festival and this autumn at CiderDays.

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