Fall 2015 Cover Story

Cover photograph by Dominic Perri

One of the flavors that shouts “Fall!” to us is apple cider. In this issue we visit a family-run cidery and orchard: Bear Swamp Orchard. Find recipes using hard and sweet ciders, including one for tangy-sweet apple cider caramel, in the story here. We like this caramel drizzled over a big bowl of ice cream, naturally, but it’s also a decadent topper for a bowl of yogurt and granola. For a savory option, drizzle it over a pork roast, or mix with mustard to make a spicy-sweet sandwich spread.



An Apple That Fell Close to the Tree


Three generations make cider at Bear Swamp Orchard

Story and photographs by Leslie Lynn Lucio

In the hilltowns of western Massachusetts, in the small town of Ashfield, you’ll find Bear Swamp Orchard, a small organic apple orchard run by the Gougeon family. Jen Williams and Steve Gougeon operate the orchard along with their sons, Aidan and Elliot. The orchard offers pick-your-own during the early fall months (starting in mid-September), hosts hard cider tastings throughout most of the year, and they make and sell both organic sweet and hard cider made from their own apples.

Bear Swamp Orchard is located on land that has nurtured apple orchards for over 100 years. In the 1950s the whole area was entirely apples, but toward the mid-1970s, some of the orchard was cut and burned and switched over to pasture. As time passed, woods took over the old orchard. Any apple trees that remained were embraced and hidden by the trees that grew around them.

When Steve was young his parents, Melinda and Richard, moved to the site and built a house right next to the old, still-hidden orchard. In the mid-1980s, an apple-growing neighbor helped out when he came through and cleared out the trees that weren’t apples, enriched the soil, and planted new apple trees.


Many years later, when Jen and Steve finished school, they moved back to the area, their family, and the orchard. Steve, who’s also a carpenter, built a second-family addition to his parents’ home, bringing three generation to live on the property. Jen and Steve decided to return the orchard to its former productive state.

“It was sad to see all these apples fall on the ground and just rot. So we decided we wanted to try and take care of it,” says Jen. They knew there were more apple than they could consume, so in 2006 they began selling apples and offering pick-your-own apples as well.

They have since put in five acres on two fields and planted more varieties of apple. This is an exercise in patience, as the trees will take years to produce fruit. The Gougeons have worked since the beginning to make sure the orchard is growing in a sustainable and holistic manner. The apples share the land with their animals: a llama named Fern and some Shetland ewes, which help by grazing the pasture and orchard.

Juicy Recipes

Apple Cider Caramel

Crispy Pork Belly with Braised Apples and Cabbage

Putting ideas in place

Steve and Jen had been making hard cider for themselves for many years.

“We realized we could share a lot of the fruit with other people, but the thing about organic production is that the majority of apples are not dessert-quality fruit, people aren’t buying them in stores. So you need to have some plan for all those apples that people don’t want to just pick and eat. That’s where hard cider comes in,” says Jen. They had already done the organic hurdle, so now it was a matter of time overcoming the level of paperwork that involves the selling of alcohol. It was a lot of work, time, and patience, but they knew it was worth it.


“Ten years [of cider experiments] gave us a lot of time to try out different varieties,” says Steve. “A lot of the varieties we have aren’t necessarily the varieties that most people would use to make cider, so we had to really figure out which ones were good and which ones weren’t.”

The process they use to make their hard cider is a traditional one. They ferment the juice with wild yeast and use lots of wild organic apples that are harvested when fully ripened. They also don’t interfere with fermentation by filtering or by adding other processing and fermenting aids. Steve says, “We did many yeast trials and we realized that none of the yeast you could buy gave us a better ferment than leaving it alone and letting it ferment by itself. Our process has always been simple.” There are six varieties to choose from, including New England Hard Cider, Sparkling Organic Hard Cider, and Hop Hard Cider.

This year, they put in a new production building and tasting room. They offer hard cider tastings and you can purchase cider, baked goods, and other local products in their shop. Steve is now a full-time cidermaker and orchardist and part-time carpenter. Jen teaches part-time when she is not working the orchard and cidery. They do most of the work themselves, but are able to bring in family or friends when they need a little extra help. Their two boys, Aidan, and Elliot, help out as well, but Jen and Steve keep their ages in mind, so they don’t put too much on them. But the boys like to lend a hand when they can.

It has taken time to build Bear Swamp Orchard to where it is today. Like the slow growth of an apple tree, their efforts have taken time to yield fruit. Thanks to their passion for the orchard and the cidery, the Gougeons’ relationship with their land is one that will endure.


Bear Swamp Orchard, Ashfield | 413-625-4829 | BearSwampOrchard.com

Visit the website or call for tasting room hours, Pick Your Own information, and details about ciders.

Lying Lovingly: Sneak "Healthy" Into Your Desserts



Story by Christine Burns Rudalevige | Photographs by Dominic Perri

The cacao is one evergreen tree not likely to be at home in the Pioneer Valley anytime soon. It greatly prefers the warmer climes of Central and South America and West Africa, which don’t experience Western Massachusetts wintertime weather.

But that is not to say that cocoa powder and full-blown chocolate bars, chips, chunks, and shavings can’t be paired up with a host of local ingredients in heartwarming chocolate treats exchanged between lovers, family members, and friends.

Fresh local eggs and dairy are two obvious inclusions in chocolate-heavy baked goods. But fruits like apples, pears, and dried plums (previously known as prunes) and hearty vegetables like beets and winter squash can be cooked, puréed, and stirred into batters and bases to add both moisture and nutrition to cakes, muffins, and brownies without changing the rich chocolaty flavor. These additives also allow bakers to cut back a little bit of the fat, if that is a goal, without much notice taken by the eater.

Baker Laura Puchalski, owner of the 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turners Falls, says that when you are looking to slip a little extra nutritional love into a chocolate treat, it is imperative that the cocoa powder and chocolate you use be of high quality. She routinely turns to many of the Fair Trade options widely available in both health food and grocery stores in the Pioneer Valley.

Cookbook author Virginia Willis, who splits her time between homes in Hatfield and Atlanta, says adding buttermilk to chocolate desserts tends to heighten their flavor due to buttermilk’s slightly acidic demeanor. The constitution of buttermilk has changed: Once simply the liquid left over when butter was made from cultured cream, today’s store-bought version is low-fat milk infused with a culture that sours and slightly thickens it.

Many baking recipes call for only a cup of buttermilk, which is typically sold in quart containers. To make a quick buttermilk substitute from local milk you’ve already bought from market, simply add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar to 1 cup of low-fat or whole milk.

Each of the following recipes—contributed by Puchalski; Willis; Vermont-based food writer, recipe developer, and photographer Katie Webster; and myself—introduces an ingredient or two—some local, some a bit more foreign, but all to help address dietary issues—that can help you put just a little bit more love into this year’s holiday treats along with the chocolate.

redvelvet copy

redvelvet copy

Cream Cheese Kissed Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes 

Chef, food stylist, and cookbook author (and part-time Hatfield resident) Virginia Willis is a recent convert to using vibrant local beets as the coloring agent for her Red Velvet cakes and cupcakes. They also

contribute to the very moist crumb on these little sweets. 



Avocado Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Coconut Cream 

Baker Laura Puchalski, owner of the 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turners Falls, developed this recipe to provide vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free eaters with a little chocolate love. Bakers can adapt the type of milk, sweetener, and flavoring to their dietary needs and tastes. She recommends using high-quality Fair Trade cocoa powder for the pudding, and suggests getting the can of coconut milk––as well as the bowl you’ll be whipping it up in––as cold as possible in order to get the best whipped coconut cream. 



Claire’s Cream Cheese Brownies

In Virginia Willis’s new cookbook called Lighten Up, Y’all (Ten Speed Press, March 2015), she gives credit to French-trained pastry chef Claire Perez for helping her build the recipe for these dark, rich, knock-your-socks-off chocolate brownies. Willis likes to call these “grown woman” brownies, and advises to make them for yourself and your loved ones rather than the next PTA meeting. The secret ingredients are local applesauce and buttermilk. 



Fiber-Filled Flourless Chocolate Torte

Katie Webster is a food writer, recipe developer, and photographer who focuses on seasonal, healthy eating in the Burlington, Vermont, area. She eats chocolate every single day. With this recipe, she sneaks in a cup of pitted prunes to add both moisture and fiber to this dense torte. You really only notice the chocolate. Webster blogs at HealthySeasonalRecipes.com and is working on her first cookbook: It’s about cooking sweet and savory dishes with maple syrup. 



Triple Chocolate Winter Squash Muffins

When I ask my 16-year-old son if he liked the newest version of chocolate chip muffins I’d made him and his sister for breakfast, he typically grunts, “Yes.” But that affirmation is always followed by an accusation: “Why? What did you slip into them this time?”

He knows me well. There is a cup of puréed winter squash in these. You can use butternut, acorn or blue Hubbard. I prefer the latter, and my son doesn’t even notice, really. 

Christine Burns Rudalevige grew up in Berkshire County but currently calls Maine home. There, she writes about sustainably sourced foods and develops and tests recipes that use them. Contact her at cburns1227@gmail.com.