Galas, Honeycrisps and Blazing Stars. Oh my!
As a part of Southern Delaware Tourism’s Come to the Culinary Coast - Life Tastes Better Here campaign, the Local on the Menu initiative brings member restaurants, chefs and producers together every day. That translates to better-tasting ingredients at Local on the Menu member restaurants. As a food writer I find myself typing the words “farm to table” more and more these days, and I guess that’s a good thing. But truth be told, I spend more time at the table than on the farm. (Perhaps a little too much. But that’s a different column….)
So last Monday I jumped at the chance to join Charlie Smith and Greer Stangl from T. S. Smith & Sons farms on a tour of their orchards in Georgetown. Sometimes we need to be reminded that restaurant food comes from someplace other than that hot, noisy, fluorescently lit room on the other side of those swinging doors through which servers mysteriously disappear.
Charlie had just finished the farm’s final harvest of Gala apples. Those bright yellow and red crunchers originated in New Zealand, but their mildly sweet personality (with a whisper of vanilla) is a big-time hit here in the States. “The Galas are happy this year,” smiles Charlie, as he explains that the cooler weather in the last few weeks is just what the apple doctor ordered to increase sugar content and deepen color. “They love the 50s at night.”
It’s not all about apples at T. S. Smith & Sons. In fact, they grow more than 20 different crops. But you wouldn’t know it by their grocery-store size refrigerated warehouse (solar powered, yet!). As forklifts shift huge apple-filled bins from place to place, Charlie tells me they recently shipped 2,000 bushels of Galas to McDonald’s to be sliced and sold as their popular Apple Dippers snack. “That many apples are a drop in the bucket to Mickey D’s,” Charlie says, “but it’s nice that a client of that magnitude has discovered Sussex County and our farm.”
I had heard of Galas, but I hadn’t heard of Honeycrisps. Now, I like big supermarkets as much as the next guy, but have you ever eaten an apple 10 seconds after it’s been twisted off the tree? No offense, supermarket people, but nothing I have ever bought in a supermarket came close to the powerful torrent of flavor from that golden, sunset-hued orb. The explosive crackle of the Honeycrisp’s all-important first bite was followed by a sweet flood of flavor laced with the earthy hint of honey. I didn’t know anything could taste like that.
Greer (the Smiths' public relations diva) gave me a sampling of the local businesses that use their products. Chef Jay Caputo sources weekly for all three of his restaurants. Hari Cameron uses a variety of the Smiths' produce at a(MUSE.). Hopkins Farm Creamery infuses their legendary peach ice cream with … yup, you guessed it. Delmar’s 3rd Wave Brewing Company credits T. S. Smith & Sons’ peaches for their gold medal at this year’s Tastemaster’s Challenge. Charlie and Sam Calagione are cultivating a quince orchard specifically for a yet-to-be-revealed variety of Dogfish Head beer. And so on and so on.
T. S. Smith & Sons’ Blazing Star peaches and Black Twig apples are the primary ingredients in their wildly popular Black Twig Hard Apple Cider and Blazing Star Hard Peach and Apple Cider. No, get Boone’s Farm out of your head! These hard ciders are delicately dry, with nothing more than an insinuation of sweetness, like a quality prosecco. In fact, T. S. Smith & Sons has partnered with the equally popular Eating Rehoboth food tours, where each tour adventure kicks off with a cool sip of these sparkling wines.
Kids of all ages love T. S. Smith & Sons’ you-pick deals. In May and June, load up on strawberries and cherries; fill your back seat with peaches and nectarines in July and August, and in September and October, pick apples and pumpkins to your heart’s content. Think of all the pies!
Go visit your next meal in its natural habitat. You’ll probably even learn something. Events at the farm are year-round. Keep track of it all on their Facebook page.