It's Fall, Think Apples
Had Eve offered Adam a bland supermarket apple, he might not have been tempted. Picked too soon and stored too long, these apples bear little resemblance to either their tree- ripened cousins or the heirlooms grown by specialty producers.
Apple growers define an heirloom-or antique- apple as a variety that was once commercially important but has, for various reasons, slipped into relative obscurity. Like the overall market for fruits and vegetables, heirlooms, with apples heading the list, have benefited from the increasing interest in food, cooking and health.
Relative scarcity enhances the heirlooms’ appeal and makes sampling them something of an adventure. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by an apple growers describe as an “obscure” nineteenth century variety (Doctor Matthews) or one with a curious name like Black Twig or Moyer’s Prize? At the same time, apples are a familiar comfort food. And however you slice them, an apple will never be mistaken for anything else, despite differences in taste, texture, coloration and shape.
While growers are enthusiastic about many of the heirlooms, they’re also realists. Rather than skewering corporate agribusiness for trashing the heirlooms in favor of varieties that can be shipped easily and stored for months, growers say the heirlooms were typically flawed. Some, like the Winter Bananas, turned mealy. Others, including the Northern Spy, bruised easily, while Ben Davis, once the dominant variety in the apple growing regions of the Southeast, shipped well but was short on flavor.
And then there’s Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, the Esopus Spitzenberg. The variety originated more than two hundred years ago in New York state’s Esopus County. So, to some extent, eating an Esopus Spitzenberg apple is the botanical equivalent of shaking hands with your great-grandfather’s great-grandfather. A bonanza for anyone who likes a tart apple, the Esopus Spitzenberg was, unfortunately, difficult to grow and susceptible to fatal diseases. As a result, the variety was gradually pushed aside, first by Jonathans and then by Red Delicious.
I used to love the early Jonathans, the ones that came to market in mid to late September. They were firm and tart, and they were as pleasant to eat out of hand as they were in a pie. But early on, I realized Jonathans had a short life span. Buy them later in the season, and they were likely to be bruised and even mushy, their tart flavor nothing but a memory.
Looking for an alternative, I tried Red Delicious, an attractive eating apple with a crisp texture and a bland flavor. McIntosh are sweet but mushy, and unless I’m making applesauce, I take a pass. Rome Beauty is a good choice only if you’re making baked apples. Golden Delicious, a sweet apple that doesn’t store well, gets mixed reviews as a cooking apple. On the other hand, the Jonagold, a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious, can be eaten raw or cooked.
At some point, I discovered Braeburn, a New Zealand apple with a firm texture. Braeburns are good to eat but not to cook, and I admit they’re rarely my first choice. I also sampled Fuji and Gala, two varieties that have claimed a substantial market share in recent years. The first, which is related to Red Delicious, has a sweet flavor and a crisp texture. It’s basically an eating apple that keeps better than it cooks. Gala, which has a mild flavor and a moderately crisp texture, holds its shape better when cooked, although, like Fuji, it’s not the best choice for cooking.
Granny Smith, on the other hand, is a good cooking apple. They’re sweeter than the old Greening apples, and they have a hard and moderately juicy flesh. Some people like to eat them raw, while others-including myself- use them primarily for cooking.
Not that many years ago, I came across the Pink Lady, a.k.a. Cripps Pink. Sweet with tart overtones, Pink Lady apples are firm and crisp. They cook moderately well, and they’re a good keeper. Honeycrisp, the current superstar variety, was developed by the University of Minnesota. They’re juicy and sweet, and they store well. I’ve seen some recipes that use Honeycrisp for cooking, but they’re such a good eating apple that I can’t imagine why anyone would use them for cooking. I like Pink Lady better than Honeycrisp, but most people would reverse the order. Happily, both varieties are widely available.
Applesauce is simple to make and easy to love. The ingredients and measurements are flexible. In short, apples are the only “must.”
Peel, core, and slice four or more apples. Put them in a suitably sized pot. Add at least a quarter to a third of a cup of water, and simmer. Stir the apples, occasionally, as they’re cooking. You can add cinnamon, maple syrup, sugar, raisins, dried cranberries- the list is virtually endless.
When the apples are soft, stir them with a spoon until they’re the desired consistency.Applesauce can be served warm or chilled. It should be stored in the refrigerator in a closed container.
Even Easier Applesauce
I usually use four or five apples.
Peel, core, and slice the apples. I usually use four or five apples. Put the sliced apples in a suitably sized crock pot. Put on the lid. Cook on high for 90 minutes. Stir. Check the consistency. If you want to cook it longer, put the lid on and continue cooking. Here again, there are lots of possible add-ons.
Apple Corn Bread
3/4 cup corn meal
3/4 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg beaten
3/4 cup apples; peeled, cored and diced
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Sift corn meal and flour together. Add baking powder, salt and sugar and sift entire dry ingredients together. Stir in beaten egg and milk. Mix well. Add apples and butter. Pour batter into 9-inch square baking dish or pan. Bake in 400-degrees F. oven for 25 minutes. Serve warm from the oven, or reheat to serve.
Given that the apple corn bread is vertically challenged, consider it a flatbread and top it with cheese, ham, tomatoes, artichokes and anything else you think will work. If you're reheating the corn bread, you can put the cheese on before you put it in the oven. Again, there are no "rules."
The recipe is from "Old Fashioned Apple Recipes" published by Bear Hollow Books, Indianapolis, Indiana.