We’ve never taken our 3-year-old Theo apple picking. That makes me feel like a fraud of a “farm-to-table” mom. Sure, we’ve gathered wind-fallen apples along sidewalks and from gnarled, tall backyard trees (with permission), but this year, as we reluctantly let go of summer and embrace the early chill, I feel compelled to finally give our son this proper New England autumn ritual.

But the recent Maine Apple Sunday came and went. I’d long planned a pilgrimage to Sewall Pond Orchard in Sabattus (for the pears alone) or Thompson’s Orchard in New Gloucester for picking and pressing cider, riding tractors, eating cider doughnuts and returning home with colorful mums and Halloween pumpkins. And Thompson’s enticed us with an outdoor Maine Yoga Kids class the farm was hosting.

Theo and I could both use more grounding and turning inward after the manic energy of summer.

That’s why we stayed home instead that Sunday morning. Theo, still requesting to sleep in just a hot weather T-shirt with bare legs, woke us early saying, “I’m cold. I need a new shirt” – and when that shirt is pee-soaked, my late-to-potty-train son is even colder. Instead of apple-picking, Theo “mowed” the still-green grass, soaking up the sun with his dad in the backyard, while I lingered inside in pajamas over a cup of hot coffee, so warming after months of iced cold brews.

If we wouldn’t pick apples, we could at least bake with them. Though more improvisational cook than baker, I craved the orderly instructions of these crumb-topped apple-and-blueberry bars, trying (in vain) to lay out all my ingredients beforehand, and carefully measure – even weigh out – all the ingredients. This is a perfect season-bridging recipe to ease us into autumn, with August’s wild blueberries, fall’s local apples and healthful oatmeal (and plenty of butter and sugar).

Fortunately, we’re flush with bags of Maine apples. It’s the second year we’ve been a member of Maine heirloom expert and sleuth John Bunker’s Out on a Limb apple CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Every other week for five weeks, we enjoy 10 to 12 pounds of rare, local apples, one of the 143 shares that the CSA will deliver this fall to local families.

Brunswick mom Meg Davis had never taken the CSA plunge before. A full summer season of vegetables seemed too great an expense and commitment for her family of four, which includes daughters MJ, 3, and Vivi, 1. The family has a hard enough time using up what they buy at the grocery store. Then Davis heard of the apple CSA that Bunker, his partner Cammy Watts and their crop of interns at Super Chilly Farm in Palermo have run for six seasons, with supplemental apples from Sandy River Apples in Mercer, partner orchards Lakeside in Manchester/The Apple Farm in Fairfield and Sweetser’s Apple Barrel in Cumberland. It seemed like a safe, toddler-friendly way to get their CSA feet wet.

“We love apples and they love apples,” Davis said of her two daughters, who slept in the car as she loaded the trunk, juggling apple boxes, at the first pickup in Portland in mid-September. “Maybe next year we’ll think about a vegetable CSA.”

Davis is splitting her share with another Brunswick mom, Margaret Boyle, who made apple muffins with her daughter, Nora, also 3, and last week planned to braid a loaf of apple-honey challah in time for Rosh Hashanah. I picked up our second apple shipment on the very holiday on Thursday. We had the freshest heritage specimens for our kids to slather with local honey, which is how Jews ring in a sweet New Year. (Technically, you eat the apples and honey when the holiday begins Wednesday evening, but we are loose and flexible with our observances.)

And couldn’t we all use a fresh start in back-to-school September? A new beginning seems more urgent and necessary now than in quieter January.

Since there’s no Brunswick drop, we’re coordinating a “carpool” (apple-pool?) among five member households here – we’ll each take a turn going to Portland to pick up one of the drops. To mark the end of apple season, Bunker invites all the CSA members to gather for a convivial potluck and tour of his heritage orchard – an event I regret missing last year.

Our Brunswick carpool member Jan Wilk filled me in on what we missed that chilly, early-November Sunday: Everyone brought an apple dish to share and took turns pressing cider. Members chatted around a fire as an intern brought out a just-baked slab apple pie.

“It was big! That pie was really wonderful. It had just come out of the oven,” said Wilk, who left New York to make a new life in Maine with her husband and two baby daughters back in 1972.

The Wilks have signed up for the apple CSA for four years. Wilk even had apple detective Bunker come down to identify some old trees on her rural Brunswick property, including a rare Briggs Auburn tree and several unnamed volunteers that came up from seed. “You’d think we’d have enough apples,” Wilk said of her old farmstead orchard.

Theo can’t get enough of the CSA apples. When I went to pick him up at preschool, I coaxed him to the car with a full brown bag of Zestars – one of four varieties in our first share and the best for fresh-eating. It’s a non-heritage outlier breed, evoking juicy favorite HoneyCrisps, that was released in 1998 by the University of Minnesota.

“I want another apple,” Theo said as I buckled his car seat. I confess: I let him half-bite into three Zestars before dinner (I cut up the remnants for a salad). I couldn’t squelch his exuberance for apples this fresh, unwaxed and delicious.

Before we headed home, we handed out these so unusual, non-grocery store apples to all Theo’s teachers and his buddy, Charlie. And we will go picking ourselves today, when his Little Schoolhouse on Maine classmates gather for a community-building event. We’re gathering at Rocky Ridge Orchard in Bowdoin, where so many Brunswick families make an annual pilgrimage.

Our annual apple picking commences this year, finally.


This recipe comes from retired Bath elementary schoolteacher Katherine Ewing, who has long had a successful wholesale baking business on the side. Morning Glory in Brunswick and Goranson Farm’s stand in Dresden stock her pastries, which she used to make for Café Crema in Bath, too. Ewing fastidiously weighs all ingredients to ensure professional, uniform results; she provided volume measurements here, too, for those who lack kitchen scales.

Ewing makes the bars with whatever surplus seasonal fruit Morning Glory has on hand. Her favorite baking apples include Baldwins, Cameos, Cortlands, Idareds and Macouns; I used heritage Duchess of Oldenburg tiny pie apples and sweet Milton sauce ones from my Out on a Limb CSA. Come Thanksgiving, use cranberries in place of the apples or blueberries.

Makes one 9-by-9-inch pan.


2½ cups (10 ounces) fresh Maine blueberries (if frozen, thaw completely and drain liquid)

2½ cups (10 ounces) apples, cored and diced with skins on

¾ cup (4.5 ounces) brown sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice


2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) all-purpose or pastry flour

1 cup plus 2 teaspoons (9 ounces) sugar

1½ cups (4.5 ounces) rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup (8 ounces) butter, cut into tablespoons

1 egg

To make the filling, put the fruit in a non-reactive saucepan, and add the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Stir to combine and let macerate for 1 hour.

Bring the fruit to a light boil on the stove top over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep it from burning. When it has turned thick and jammy, like pie filling, after 15 to 20 minutes, remove from heat and cool.

To make the base, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the baking pan.

Place the flour, sugar, oats, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in an electric mixing bowl. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Slowly add the butter pieces while the mixer is running. When the mixture is crumbly and damp, turn off mixer, remove half and set aside. This will be the crumb topping.

Add the egg to the mixture remaining in the mixer and beat briefly to combine. Press into the greased pan, evenly covering the bottom. The job will be easier if you first dampen your hands with water.

To make the bars, drain off most of the liquid from the fruit mixture, then spread the fruit evenly over the crumb bottom in the pan. Use the crumb mixture you set aside to crumble over the fruit layer, starting along the sides of the pan and working toward the middle, breaking apart any lumps and distributing the mix evenly.

Bake the bars for 45 minutes or until the top is light brown and the fruit is bubbling. Cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

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