Autumn Apples—Sweet Seduction in Variety & Versatility
Apples just naturally provoke our senses to tingling anticipation of sweet seduction. They brag different flavors – sweet and mellow, or tart; different colors – golden, red, green, striped or mottled; and apples possess different textures – juicy, crisp, hard or snappy. Thus never boring, this fruit offers a kaleidoscope of eating excitement, and most times seasonings and accents need to be discreet or minimal to produce the best results.
Apples are found nearly everywhere in the world. There are cooking varieties, eating apples, the majority carrying dual purpose. No one description fits all apples, except that they all grown on trees!
Apple cookery is chock-full of treats. But, when branches bend heavy with the fruit of autumn, apple time climaxes, and fruit butters bubble in ovens, glasses of clear, amber jelly sparkle on kitchen counters, as do lovely red-cheeked spice cakes, and that luscious, come-hither aroma of thick, juicy apple pies, cobblers and dumplings intoxicates homes everywhere. Juice flows from cider presses and smart cooks pour some of this precious commodity into measuring cups for cooking and baking. Do yourself a big favor and let apples inspire all your gustatory undertakings, from soups to salads, main courses and, of course, desserts. Have confidence in your abilities and experiment.
The best time of year to buy apples is October through June. Apples are at their peak flavor when just picked from the tree. They should always be refrigerated and never be kept at room temperature. About 3 medium-sized apples represent a pound. One pound of unpeeled apples yields about 3 cups peeled, sliced, or diced fruit, and to keep from discoloring, just sprinkle with some fresh lemon juice or place in a pan of salted water or some laced with lemon.
Besides the traditional uses of apples: pies, dumplings, strudels, steamed apple pudding, apple brown betty, Waldorf salad, fritters and cider, try adding apples to cooked grains to enhance flavor or to salads for added crunch and variety.
The onset of autumn and cooler weather gives baked apples a big rush. Stuff them with nuts, raisins, and spices. One of my favorite ways is to top each warm baked apple half with a swirl of meringue, then shredded coconut; bake about 5 minutes longer until toasted and then top with a small scoop of apple jelly.
Hearty pancakes studded with bits of green and red apple and served with maple syrup is a mainstay in my house. Apples combined with butternut squash, a bit of sautéed onion, curry and a rich stock yields a fine soup. Apples slow-baked in a casserole dish with a dash of cinnamon are an unexpected delight and will keep well on a buffet table. Add grated apple to your morning granola or to your favorite coleslaw recipes. Stir a bit of grated apple into your mug of warm cider for greater depth, and if you want to pull out all the stops, add a jigger of apple brandy and a pat of butter on top!
Use my ideas as a starting point and create your own apple repertoire. The following recipes name some specific apples, but if unsure which type of apple to use in any one recipe, ask your local fruit farmer which varieties are in season and best suited for the dish. Trust they are right. Enjoy!
Makes 12 crepes
A solitary winner, or stuffed with crumbled gingersnap cookies, rolled up and topped with a drizzle of melted dark chocolate and a few chocolate shards sprinkled on top. I like Honey Crisp apples, but you could use almost any variety of apples for these crepes.
1¼-cups whole wheat pastry flour
¼-teaspoon sea salt
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½-cups grated apple; squeezed in a piece of cheesecloth and placed in a colander
In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt; mix in the eggs, then gradually beat in the milk, water, one tablespoon melted butter and vanilla. Stir in the grated apple.
Heat an 8-inch or 9-inch nonstick skillet or crepe pan over medium-high heat until a drop of water flicked onto it sizzles. Brush the pan with a little of the remaining butter, and pour about a ¼-cup of batter into the pan, tipping it so the batter runs all over the bottom of the pan. It will take about 30 seconds for the crepe to set, and then flip it over using a spatula or your fingers. Cook the other side for about 15 seconds.
Eat immediately or keep the crepes warm on a plate covered with a kitchen towel until you are finished using all the batter. Enjoy!
NOTE: Crepes freeze well. Place a sheet of waxed paper between crepes, then wrap well in plastic and place in a cardboard box, as to not crush them when placed in the freezer.
Apple Chestnut Dressing
Makes 6-8 servings
This is a well-seasoned dressing—perfect stuffing for your Thanksgiving turkey, or anytime baked in a casserole dish until brown and crisp. Once again, almost any type of apple can be used—I use 3 different kinds here creating a symphony of flavors!
3 cups boiled chestnuts, coarsely chopped, reserving liquid
4 thick slices of day-old whole grain bread, cubed
1 large onion, finely diced
½-cup freshly chopped parsley
2/3-cup milk or light cream (generous)
½-teaspoon each: sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chopped unpeeled apples: Granny Smith, Rome and Fuji
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 4-quart oblong casserole dish.
In a large bowl, combine the chestnuts, bread cubes, onion and parsley. Mix in the remaining ingredients. Add some leftover chestnut cooking liquid if the mixture looks dry.
Transfer the mixture to the casserole dish and bake 30 minutes, uncovered, until brown and crisp. Delicious!
Wild Rice-Stuffed Gold Rush Apples
Makes 6 servings
Despite the robust-sounding name of this dish, the taste is delicate and alluring. Gold Rush apples have a tart, crisp bite, with a rush of spicy flavor. It pairs beautifully with the wild rice in this recipe, and I consider this to be a savory dish—a wonderful accompaniment to roast chicken, duck or goose.
6 Gold Rush apples
¼-teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups cooked wild rice
½-cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon minced celery
½-cup white wine (or chicken or vegetable stock, or water)
Toasted pecans or walnuts for garnishing (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Core apples and hollow out, discarding the seeds and core, but keeping the excess apple bits. Finely chop the apple bits, place in a small bowl, and set aside. Pare the apples half way down and place in a 4-quart oblong casserole dish.
To the apple bits, add the nutmeg, salt, wild rice, onion, garlic and celery and mix well; stuff about a half-cup of mixture into each apple shell; and drizzle all the stuffed apples with wine.
Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the apple shells are barely tender and the rice mixture is heated through. Serve the apples with the excess syrup drizzled over top and garnish with toasted pecans. Simple and delicious!
Happy October everyone… Blessings on your plate!