Russell Steven Powell took a “pretty serendipitous” route to becoming an apple aficionado. Powell’s interest was sparked when he took a part-time job with an apple growers’ trade group nearly 20 years ago; today he’s the author of two guides to our most iconic fruit, including most recently, “Apples of New England: A User’s Guide.”
What Powell hadn’t realized was that apples were in his family tree. He’d always known his ancestors were farmers, but a recent discovery announced an even closer connection: “I found out that my great-grandfather wrote a book called ‘The Apple: King of Fruits.’ ”
The elder Powell’s book is “definitely written from a horticultural perspective” — by a farmer for other farmers — his great-grandson said. But there are points of similarity, too. “He writes descriptions of some of the leading varieties of the time, and in that sense we both have done the same thing, more than a century apart.”
Some of Powell’s favorite apples are mentioned in his great-grandfather’s book. Many, like the Roxbury Russet, thought to be “America’s oldest named variety,” Powell said, were once widely grown but are now considered heirloom varieties.
While such older apples can be hard to find, Powell said, they are increasingly returning to New England orchards, part of a wave of interest in local and historical agriculture. And, he added, “the revival of interest in hard cider has given new life to some of these old heirlooms.”
New England residents are fortunate, Powell said, to live near their farmers. “It’s a very compelling experience to visit the orchard,” he said. “It involves all the senses.” Even without picking your own, he added, these days you can find “good, crisp New England apples pretty much 12 months a year” at stores and farmers’ markets.
Powell will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. He will bring some of his favorite apples for sampling.