Posts tagged apples
Posts tagged apples
Remember when I wrote about apple crisp and I told you that even though there are huge differences between apple varieties you could just buy a mix of apples and it would be fine? That’s not so much the case for apple pie.
A sauce apple is going to be disappointing in an apple pie. The apple will break down completely as the pie cooks and you’ll end up with something approaching applesauce in a thin layer at the bottom of your pie. There are also apples that just don’t have a ton of flavor (every time we pick out the pretty apples at the grocery store, we contribute to the scourge of pretty apples that taste like foamcore).
And if I’m going to put in the effort to make a pie crust, I don’t want to be disappointed because I chose the wrong apples.
I’ve been lucky lately in that I’m a member of the wonderful Out on a Limb Apple CSA, so I get a whole selection of apples every two weeks along with a newsletter that explains which varieties are best for fresh-eating or sauce or baking or pie. I made two really good pies last week with a mix of Twenty Ounce, Rhode Island Greening, Whitefield, Westfield-Seek-No-Further, Wagener, and Wolf River apples.
But unless you also have access to heritage apples in Maine, that may not be helpful to you.
So I dug up my apple cookbooks, and my more old-fashioned cookbooks like Joy of Cooking, to get you a list of pie apples (sources listed below)
The first and most important thing is that I don’t believe in single-variety apple pies. Unless you have an apple tree in your yard that produces great pie apples, or you’re specifically trying to figure out how a particular apple works in pie, I just don’t think there’s an upside to single-variety pies. The Apple Lover’s Cookbook categorizes apples as firm-tart and firm-sweet and recommends a mixture of each in your pies.
The second important thing to know is that if you’re at a farmer’s market (particularly in apple-growing areas this time of year), the farmer or person working at the stand should be able to help you. Tell them you’re looking to make a pie, and want a mix of apples that will stand up to cooking. If they can’t help you, don’t buy your apples there.
Finally, some apples were recommended in one place as great pie apples, and another source said they fell apart when cooked. So there’s either variation in how people define good pie apples (I HATE mushy apple pies), or variation within apple varieties, or something. I looked for apples that were consistently recommended.
Arkansas Black - Typically a Southern or warmer weather apple
Baldwin - Joy of Cooking recommended for baking, firm-sweet according to The Apple Lover’s Coobook. A New England native.
Braeburn - Recommended in An Apple Harvest
Calville Blanc - Recommended in An Apple Harvest and The Apple Lover’s Cookbook. Apparently “the favored cooking apple in France, and a must-have if you want tomake an authentic tarte tatin or any other kind of tart.”
Granny Smith - Martha Stewart and Splendid Table recommend granny smiths as a classic pie apple. Another cookbook of mine says “When Northern Spy or Calville Blanc isn’t available, this is a decent alternative for pies…” which sounds a lot like damning with faint praise to me. I don’t buy these unless there’s no alternative.
Gravenstine - Firm-sweet according to The Apple Lover’s Coobook. According to my CSA, one of the oldest varieties still in existence. It’s a summer apple.
Jonagold - Firm-sweet according to The Apple Lover’s Coobook, which notes that it has “enough acidity to make it an even better pie apple than the Golden Delicious.”
Rhode Island Greening - Recommended in a bunch of places: Joy of Cooking says it “cooks best of all”; firm-tart according to The Apple Lover’s Coobook; an “old time tart gem” according to a Splendid Table apple guide.
Northern Spy - Recommended in a bunch of places: firm-tart according to The Apple Lover’s Coobook which says “many cooks call the Northern Spy the best pie apple around;” a “tart stalward” according to the Splendid Table guide.
Stayman Winesap/Stayman - Joy of Cooking recommended for baking; Stayman Winesap is a good firm-tart according to The Apple Lover’s Coobook, which says that it’s sometimes known as “Stayman.”
Rome/Rome Beauty - Joy of Cooking recommended for baking, unless it’s overripe in which case it becomes mealy; The Apple Lover’s Cookbook seems to think it’s fine/good but not as great as the Northern Spy.
Out on a Limb Apple Varieties Guide (probably somewhat specific to Northern New England)
An Apple Harvest: Recipes & Orchard Lore by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso
The Joy of Cooking
The pie! (The one with lard)
This is a photo of apples waiting to be turned into crisp. Wouldn’t it have been nice with my post about apple crisp?
Probably. Probably it would have.
Too bad it was just sitting on my phone.
Apple crisp, to me, is the highest and best use for apples.
I like an apple, so I don’t say this lightly. But crisp is magic in a baking pan: the rich flavor of the cooked apples, the way the oat and flour topping becomes buttery and a little chewy when combined with the apple juices and a little bit crunchy where it browns at the top, the slight tartness. I would take a good apple crisp over an apple pie any day. And the beauty of the whole enterprise is that it’s so much easier to make than apple pie and you can legitimately eat it at any meal.*
I want you to go make a crisp right now. Or today. Or this week. I want this happiness for you.
Which means you might be buying apples soon, so we have to pause for a moment to discuss apple purchases. Cooking with apples is both complicated and easy.
Complicated: According to my apple cookbook** (don’t look at me like that), there are some six thousand known apple varieties, and they vary a lot. They vary in flavor, texture, the way they stand up to heat, the level of juiciness, and more. Some apples fall apart quickly when heated, some retain their shape well, some fall apart but their skins are basically indestructible. Some get kind of bland when cooked and others develop flavors that aren’t in the fresh apple. There are apples that are really well suited to crisps and those that really aren’t. I tend to like apples that retain their shape well when cooked, that are a little on the drier side (but not totally dry), that are well balanced in terms of sweet and tart flavors.
Easy: All that said, it’s hard to fuck up a crisp. I’ve had good luck getting a variety of apples and throwing them all in together. Some will fall apart during cooking, some will hold up. Some will be tart, others sweeter, the drier ones will mostly balance the softer ones. Even if you get only one variety of apple, and it’s an apple really not suited for crisps, you might end up with a somewhat flat crisp with a little less flavor, but it’s not going to be terrible.
Most recently I used a mix of Sharon and Wealthy apples from my apple CSA and it was amazing.
This is my recipe, based on Mark Bittman’s in How to Cook Everything.
The pan I use, the one in the picture, is about 8 x 10. The original Bittman recipe calls for an 8 x 8 square pan, so I’ve increased the recipe in places. I also play pretty fast and loose with the measurements. Again, it’s hard to fuck this up.
Preheat oven to 400.
Toss the apples with half the cinnamon, the cardamom, the ginger, the lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Spread it into a lightly buttered baking pan. You can also throw the apples into the baking pan as you cut them up, stopping when it the pan is almost full, and then mix them with the spices, lemon juice, and sugar directly in the pan.
Combine all the other ingredients— including the remaining cinnamon and sugar— in the container of a food processor and pulse a few times, then process a few second more until everything is well incorporated but not uniform (I look for pieces of butter the size of a grain of rice or lentil).
Spread the topping over the apples and bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the apples are tender. You may see the apple juices bubbling around the edges. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature (or, my personal favorite, cold from the fridge).
* I can hear you forming an argument and I just say, shhh. Open your heart to joy. Live your best life.
** An Apple Harvest: Recipes & Orchard Lore by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva.
Maine is beautiful in the summer. I am certainly not going to argue with that. But really, fall is my favorite season here. The nights are cool, you can break out warmer sweaters without having to bundle up in winter boots and coats and hats and gloves every time you leave the house, the trees turn beautiful colors, and it’s apple season.
I can’t wait.
I signed up for the Out on a Limb apple CSA again this year, so I’m looking forward to a wide variety of unusual apples. For those of you further afield, or not excited about quite so many apples, New England farmer’s markets are full of apples come fall.* And apple picking is probably the most wonderful of all pick-your-own experiences, what with the shade, cooler weather, ease of picking, and mulled cider and/or cider donuts (always and, never or).
We got our first Out on a Limb newsletter today, in advance of our first pickup tomorrow. I find the newsletter fascinating, although I now accept that some people do not (“Don’t eat those first! They save well. Didn’t you read the newsletter?” “No.” “It’s half the fun of the CSA!” “…”). In any case, this newsletter had a whole section on some of the common blemishes that you might find on non-grocery-store apples that I thought would be of wider interest to people buying local apples:
What are those spots on my apples?!
The apples you receive from OOAL CSA will probably never be as “perfect” as the ones you can buy in the grocery store. (Of course, we think that they are all perfect in their own way.) So, what are those various spots and blemishes that you’ll see from time to time on the fruit? Do they taste bad? Are they bad for you or your family?
Round blackish spots about the size of a small thumb tack are probably “scab”. Scab is the most common fungal defect found on apples in Maine. In extreme cases, it can completely cover the fruit, making it inedible, and it can even defoliate a tree. The most susceptible variety to scab is McIntosh. Most of the heirlooms and other varieties we provide are resistant to scab. While you may find a small scab spot here and there, it won’t negatively affect the fruit.
Sometimes you might see a light tan bump on the skin. Usually these are bug bites that have healed over. Cut them out if you like, but they rarely damage the fruit or cause any off-taste.
Tiny black dots in clusters of a dozen or so are called “fly speck”. They usually show up in conjunction with a smoky film called “sooty blotch”. Both are fungal defects. Neither is harmful in any way, nor do they have any taste.
None of these dings or spots or blemishes is bad for you or your family. Feel free to cut them out – or leave them!
I can confirm from experience that sooty blotch and fly speck are not noticeable when you’re eating apples. They also offer the unique pleasure of being able to use the phrase “sooty blotch” in conversation.
* It’s actually not been a great year for apples, unfortunately, but I’d still be really surprised if you didn’t see apples at farmer’s markets.
Hi Guys. I need help. I have a lot of apples in my fridge. A lot a lot. I have had apple crisp for breakfast and dessert every single day this week. Some of the apples are slowly getting squishy. We have moved beyond the point where an apple in a braised cabbage recipe or two apples in a tea cake will solve our problems.
Do you have suggestions beyond applesauce? Has anyone ever canned pickled apples?
This Wednesday I picked up my first of my Out on a Limb apple CSA share of the season, and yesterday I made my first apple crisp of the season, and this morning I had my first breakfast of apple crisp of the season. I am thrilled about apple season.
Even better, it seems to be a great year for apples. Last year was a little rough because of the warm, early spring followed by a series of hard frosts (fruit trees in general do not enjoy that type of bait and switch). But this year things look really good!
The Out on a Limb program is dedicated to distributing (local and) unusual historic and modern apple varieties. Every two weeks we get about 10 pounds of apples along with a newsletter describing the history, flavor, and recommended uses for the apples.
Here’s a note about apples: they vary a huge amount, not just in flavor but in texture and in the way they react to cooking. This means there are dessert apples well suited to eating raw, sauce apples that break down well in a sauce, pie apples that hold their shape and have nice flavor when baked, and cider apples that I don’t actually know a huge amount about but which are presumably well suited for cider pressing. My Joy of Cooking has a chart outlining different apple varieties and which are good for which use, but that seems like a lot to remember, and it’s also not comprehensive because there are just so many varieties of apples and new varieties have become popular since it was published (Gala, for instance, and Honeycrisp). If you’re buying apples or picking for a particular purpose, I’d recommend asking the farmer or fruit seller for advice. Or just playing around! But know that a sauce apple might make for a pretty flat pie. Or pie apples in applesauce might make for a chunkier sauce. I also sometimes cut my losses by mixing a variety of apples together.
The apples in the picture above are Garden Royal, originating in Sudbury, MA around 1790. According to this week’s apple newsletter:
"Garden Royal is one of the more famous dessert apples of the past. AJ Downing, in the 1860 edition of his Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, calls it ‘very tender, juicy, rich, vinous, aromatic, a beautiful and excellent fruit.’ Garden Royal fell out of favor as commercial nurseries and commercial orcharding became popular. The tree itself grows slowly in the nursery and rarely produces large apples."
These apples also have sooty blotch, which is ugly, but apparently harmless and tasteless. So they’re kind of unappealing looking when stacked up next to some of the lovelier apples we got in our share this week. But prettiness actually doesn’t have much to do with tastiness, and there were some seriously ugly apples last year that were surprising and wonderful.
A link to another article about apples and biodiversity from Smithsonian magazine.
Apples are amazing.
1. I just made another crisp, this time being really careful about using apples that my little CSA apple handout says are good for baking. It was completely different from the first crisp (I suspect I used apples rated for baking AND sauce in that one). It was delicious, but instead of disintegrating almost completely,* the apples retained their shape** and even, sort of, texture really well in the crisp. I used some Priscilla apples and some Wolf River apples. The Wolf Rivers are dry, and I think actually the crisp was a tiny bit too dry, so next time I’ll mix in more of another variety.
But then I started thinking about how two varieties of the same fruit behave COMPLETELY differently when cooked and it blew my mind a little bit. Genetic variation in apples is amazing.
2. The apple CSA last week also included a bag of Gray Pearmains, which are crazy and delicious. They look really weird, kind of grayish (imagine that) and taste like a more flavorful asian pear. Here’s the blurb from the handout:
"Late Fall. Unknown origin. If you had your eyes closed, you’d think you were eating a crisp, delicious pear. Reminiscent of a Bosc. The best of both worlds, it is a juicy and mildly tart dessert apple. Dense sweetness. Firm white flesh. Also produces good juice. We eat a lot of them every year. The skin is a soft opaque greenish-yellow with a rosy pink blush, a bit of a russet veil, and a grayish bloom. Will store reasonably well although it may shrivel like a Golden Russet. One of the most popular of the many unusual varieties Steve and Marilyn Meyerhans grow at the Apple Farm in Fairfield, Maine. There were five or six of the trees in the orchard when they purchased it over thirty years ago from Royal Wentworth. Those trees were already very old. Unfortunately they never thought to ask the soft-spoken Wentworth about the origin of the apple. Recently we found a brief mention of it in a 19th century Maine Ag report growing in Skowhegan (very near the Meyerhans) but with no further details. Its origin may forever remain a mystery. Grown using IPM (integrated pest management), from The Apple Farm."
They’re delicious and not at ALL what you expect from an apple from Maine.
* The disintegrating apple crisp was a little disappointing hot, but once it was cold it was actually really satisfying because it solidified a bit.
** Credit where credit is due: I left the skins on based on the advice of my little brother, and he was totally right. They may have helped the apples stay together, and at the very least, they were tasty and unobtrusive. I have decided that all crisps from now on will have apple skins. In addition, if I wanted to be fussy about cooking apples, I would be making tarte tartin. And I’m not.
Photo from the LIFE Photo Archive on Google. Taken in Portsmouth, NH in 1963 by Leonard Mccombe.