How to Keep New England Fruit “Sexy” All Year Round
I recently traveled to Champlain Orchards in beautiful Shoreham, VT, to visit my longtime friend Bill Suhr who showed me all around his operation—the eco-grown orchards, the cidery, the donut bakery, the packaging plants, and the storage facilities. Bill is up to SO MUCH great stuff! And being there was a deep reminder of why I started Healthy Living and why I continue to love it.
I’ve watched farmers like Bill diversify, innovate, and work their tails off to bring us their magical products. Their connection to the land is so moving. My connection to them—so that I can bring you the freshest ingredients—is one of my great loves. Read on and learn what makes a fantastic orchard run, grow, thrive, and evolve.
A Fresh Start
Bill was able to purchase his first farm when he was only 27 thanks to the Vermont Land Trust. They put up half the price, provided the land remains in agricultural use. “The Land Trust is fantastic,” Bill explains. “It allowed a young person to get started in a very capital-heavy business.”
We’ve been partners nearly from the very beginning. Bill would show up in his station wagon at our Blue Mall location with 20 bushels of apples. Why 20 bushels? Because that was the most he could fit in his car! “I get goosebumps when I think about Healthy Living’s role in our success,” Bill says. “It’s a direct relationship.”
“The buyers who don’t come to visit, just care about the dollars. That’s what makes Healthy Living so important to us—your message and that you care to educate.”
This means so much to me that we’re able to serve as an incubator for young farms like Champlain Orchards as they establish themselves. This is what community is all about—we’re here for each other!
Sitting across from Bill, his passion is palpable—for finding new, innovative ways to grow fruit and share it with our community. “Keeping New England fruit sexy year-round—through storage and choosing varieties that will make it the full 12 months—that’s fun!” Bill says with a smile.
We’ve all experienced such a wet summer and this presents unique problems, especially for fruit growers. “This was an exceptionally difficult year for fungal problems,” explains Bill. But thanks to his smart planting methods, he was able to limit the damage and continue to produce amazing apples.
“We’re planting high-density trees with less canopy that dry out quicker, so there’s less chance of fungus,” says Bill. “We’re doubling our production, with higher-quality fruit thanks to uniform exposure to sunlight.”
And shorter trees mean his staff don’t have to climb on 30-foot ladders, allowing them to work safer and quicker, end their days on time, and get back to their families. So it’s not just innovation for innovation’s sake—Bill sees the human connection to these upgrades. He takes care of his people, which is something I’ve always prioritized in our stores, too.
Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree
Bill’s 12-year-old son, Rupert, is a huge help on their farm. “I’m so excited that Rupert is proud of this place, challenging his own mind and seeing the challenges I face, always trying to do things better,” Bill says proudly. “He’s only 12, but he just wants to make improvements from the foundation that has started.”
When he talks about his son working with him, Bill can’t help but smile, and I know the feeling. I’m the same way when I talk about Eli and Nina coming back to work at Healthy Living.
We started these businesses for them, with zero assumptions they would want to be a part of it. The fact that they do, that they’re inspired by what we’ve built, and want to make it even better—that’s just pure joy for me.
Although he grows over 175 apple varieties, Bill shared some of his favorites and why in his own words:
Keepsake: Uncommon but grows and stores well here. It’s a bit angular in shape and cracks at the stem, which would be rejected by commercial supermarkets, but I think it’s beautiful! It’s an amazing eating apple.
Northern Spy: This is a good baking apple but can also be eaten fresh. When you’re slicing up your apples for your pie and you’re eating them fresh at the same time, that’s the sign of a great apple!
Cortland: Not well known outside of New England. They are really friendly to grow and they’re nice in a fruit salad because they don’t brown as easily. Incredibly versatile—could be a baked apple or consumed fresh.
One of my favorite quotes is from poet, Kahlil Gibran, who writes, “Work is love made visible.” Visiting with Bill (for hours!) reminds me why I love what I do so much. Seeing our community impact firsthand and the real people behind this group effort—it’s incredibly inspiring.
Thanks, Bill for your generous time and our long, fruitful partnership.
The Big Apple Pancake
Some people call it a Dutch Baby. Some call it a German Apple Pancake. At our house, we call it The Big Apple Pancake and it has been a favorite for many years. Why? It’s easy to make. It’s quick. It’s loaded with apples. And it is absolutely, fantastically, gloriously delish! Yes, I can make a pie … and I make a great crust … but The Big Apple Pancake is always an even bigger hit.
For the pancake:
For the apple filling:
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Beat together the eggs, milk, flour, and salt until very smooth.
- In a heavy 12” skillet that’s ovenproof melt 1½ T butter.
- When bubbly, pour in the batter and pop it in the oven.
- Bake for 15 minutes, pricking it in the center occasionally.
- When 15 minutes is up, lower the temp to 350 degrees F. Bake 10 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice apples.
- Saute 8-10 minutes in ¼ C butter and the maple syrup.
- Season to taste with cinnamon or nutmeg, or both!
- When the pancake is ready (it will be dramatically risen, golden, and gorgeous), slide it onto a platter, load with apples, and devour. SO GOOD!!