Jason Copey looked very relaxed as he presented a talk to the local American Culinary Federation Southern Allegheny chapter last month. He had just completed his last big harvest of the year — more than a million pounds of apples, gathered in 20,000 apples-per-day bursts by a crew of five energetic apple pickers over a period of nine weeks. It was his time to chill and time for others to transform his 20 varieties of apples into pies, dumplings, sauce, butter and cider.
Fifteen local chefs and food enthusiasts attended the Nov. 7 meeting at Way Fruit Farm and learned all about the effort that goes into producing one of our premier local crops. In-depth knowledge about how our local food is produced enriches our appreciation and provides inspiration to those who take raw ingredients and transform them into delicacies for our central Pennsylvania. tables. The chefs were all ears, hearing about the history of the farm, which started commercial apple production in 1872.The family-owned business has been a destination for generations of Centre Countians and is now even more so. A renovation seven years ago added a retail store, commercial kitchen and charming cafe where breakfast and lunch is served Monday through Saturday and where hot Saturday morning country breakfasts are served to an increasing number of loyal patrons.
Leading the group through the huge coolers where the apples were stacked in 500 plastic bins that each hold 23 bushels of apples, Copey described the process of handpicking and then machine washing and sorting of the harvest. Apples that don’t make “the grade” due to being slightly smaller or to having a blemish are pressed into their “almost world famous” cider that is sold from late summer to early spring, or until the harvest is used up.
“Our cider is the best because we use a mix of apples and because we don’t use ‘drops’ that have hit the ground,” Copey said. “We don’t pasteurize our cider so it has a fresh, effervescent character that is very popular.”
Copey described the highs and lows of being an apple farmer: Apple juice is much less popular today than it was in years past, which drives the price per bushel down. However, increased interest in making hard cider may reverse that trend and keep the price of apples up. Chef Erin Snyder asked if the adage “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” was true and Copey quipped back that it is really “Two apples a day that keep the doctor at bay” — though he lamented that people are just not eating fresh fruit in the amounts they did in the past, which has led them to offer smaller amounts for sale than they used to.
“Red Delicious is history. We are going to bulldoze all our Red Delicious trees this winter,” Copey said.
Indeed, not one of the chefs present, who each named a favorite apple variety as introductions circled through the cafe, named Red Delicious as their go-to apple. According to Copey, Honey Crisp is the new darling, though knowing what you intend to do with the apples will guide you in choosing the right variety.
Members sipped on fresh apple cider and sampled local cheeses and sausages that are sold at the very well-provisioned retail store. Learning how to source local foods is just one of the agenda items on the ACF Southern Alleghenies chapter; more are discussed each month, on the second Monday at various locations in central Pennsylvania.
The next meeting will take place 7-8 p.m. Monday at State College Area High School in Chatters Cafe. The topic of the evening is vocational culinary education and the host is chef/instructor Jeremiah Dick.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about the culinary program at the high school and meeting area chefs and fellow food enthusiasts is encouraged to attend. You do not have to be a member of the ACF and there is no charge for the meeting. For more information, contact Zach Lorber at email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/southernalleghenychefs or follow them on Instagram: @acfsaca or Twitter: @acfsaca.
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania, “ of several iBook cookbooks (”Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAnd Drink.com and can be reached at chefcorr@gmail .com.