CONTOOCOOK, N.H. — Drive through town, turn up the hill and swing into an old orchard homestead that has been in the hands of only two families since 1760. The air and the huge wooden crates out by the barn are filled with the autumn aroma of apples.
Here, on Gould Hill, New Hampshire’s choices for the season are on display: McIntosh, the establishment selection, here in North America almost as long as this orchard has been in operation. Hampshire, the native favorite but a relative newcomer. Empire, with a name reflecting the muscular outlook of the country. Fuji, an immigrant with popular appeal. Northern Spy, hard and tart. Plus others: Winesap. York. Cortland. Baldwin.
After a long, difficult political contest, this choice — which apple is richer, juicier, more versatile, more enduring, better for baking — is about the only decision New Hampshire is ready to make right now.
On the horizon on a day like this, which in the crisp glow of a New England afternoon is etched with the peaks of the White Mountains, is Thanksgiving. At the foot of Hardy Hill up in Grafton County that means two kinds of stuffing (Jane DeGange’s mother’s recipe and a newfangled mushroom and leek bread pudding variety), plus squash made with cream cheese and nutmeg, and boiled onions — not the dinky kind from the bottle on the supermarket shelf or freezer, but big onions slathered in heavy cream and seasoned with salt, pepper and butter. I need not add that dessert is apple pie with crumb crust, pecan pie, mince pie (only the husband eats that one) and the famous pumpkin chiffon pie that, every year, dirties every dish in the house, or maybe it only seems that way.
(An article of conviction around here is what is known as the Cattabriga principle, named for the redoubtable Enola Cattabriga, wife of a postman and renowned in these hills for her tortellini and for pickles made from the white part of the watermelon rind: Never, never buy a turkey smaller than 14 pounds because if you do you are paying for bone. No wonder thrift is a part of the local political scene.)