Posts tagged fall
Posts tagged fall
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
It is cabbage season and apple season both. It is cabbage season and apple season for a long damn time in Maine, so good thing I really, really love this recipe for braised cabbage with cider and apples.
(Note: I made this two years ago, so this recipe may be familiar if you’ve been with me here for a while)
Cider Braised Cabbage
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the foaming subsides, add the apple and cook until just beginning to brown (5 min). Add the cider, thyme, and caraway seeds and cook to reduce slightly (3 min). Add the cabbage, stir, and cover. Cook 7 - 9 minutes, or until the cabbage just becomes tender. Taste it as you go to avoid overcooking the cabbage. It’ll taste kind of raw and not great and then all of a sudden it’ll taste sweeter and not raw anymore. Stop cooking then. Season with salt and pepper.
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.
I’m part of a heritage apple CSA (which I enjoy immensely, but is just one step shy of CSA ridiculousness*). So I have a lot of apples. Which is fine, I love apples, and I love apple crisp, and I feel overcome with the bounty of the season, etc etc. So I made apple crisp, and applesauce, and braised cabbage with apples, and when I was done I used the leftover apple cores to make apple bourbon.
I didn’t have a ton of bourbon hanging around,** so it’s not a big batch, and despite my best efforts, the apple cores keep trying to reach the air, but I’m hopeful.
The big technique was:
1. Gather up your apple cores (I didn’t have peels because I now have a policy of not peeling things unless I really, really have to, and apples don’t make the cut).
2. Put them in a jar.
3. Cover with bourbon.
* I will let you know when we start our booze CSA.
** That’s not true. I actually have a lot of bourbon hanging around (which is what happens when someone who loves bourbon gets pregnant and then breastfeeds— I haven’t had more than one drink at a go for 18 months). I just didn’t have much that I was willing to sacrifice if this didn’t work out well.
Are in season! I found them at Rosemont Markets a few weeks ago labeled somewhat generically (Maine pears maybe?). But they’re easy to identify because they’re itty bitty, maybe 2.5 inches long, and are green with a deep red blush.
You can find some pears nearly year-round at the grocery store, but not seckels. And they’re my favorite. They’re crisp and crazy sweet and not as grainy as some pears. I like them best when they’re still a bit crunchy.
According to usapears.com:
Seckels are believed by many to be the only truly American variety of pear grown commercially. Unlike other varieties planted in the U.S. from European cultivars, Seckels are thought to have originated as a wild seedling near Philadelphia. They were discovered in the early 1800’s. This may or may not be true, however. It is possible that German immigrants travelling westward through the area dropped fruit or left seeds behind.
I love a good bit of informational background that ends with “this may or may not be true.” Henceforth I will end all my blog posts that way.
In any case, apart from eating them fresh, which is obviously the best possible way to handle seckel pears, the canning folks like them because they’re small enough to stuff into a jar without cutting up. Except some canners cut them up anyway. You do you, home food preservers.
It’s starting to feel real fall-like outside these days (I wore a cape this morning BOOM) which means the sad end to cold drinks with sweetened condensed milk.
My current favorites include iced coffee with scm and batidos (from the lovely Black Cat Coffee that recently opened just down the street).
To make up for the fact that the Ham Hock Soup recipe doesn’t have a photo, here’s a photo of some trees in our backyard. It’s been gloomy and rainy quite a bit lately, but today is gorgeous, the kind of day that convinces me that fall is my favorite season.
First, a request:
I would like magazines and cookbooks to stop telling me to “just ask the butcher”* if they have bones or offal or sundry excess animal parts lying around in back that they’d be happy to part with for free! or next to nothing!
I have asked. The butcher does not have extra ham bones sitting in back. Maybe your butcher in Park Slope does, and bully for you. I have also never met a butcher who has parted with anything for free. The whole idea feels vaguely un-American to me. And Christ, that animal died for you. If my time comes and I am slaughtered for food, and someone wanted some random section of my shin, I hope that my butcher would have the good sense to charge them for it. Have some respect.
What I’m saying is that the meat counter at Whole Foods was able to dig up a bag of ham hocks, but they did not have ham bones. And that’s how I ended up making Ham Hock Soup instead of Ham Bone Soup.
There are no pictures because there is nothing photogenic about ham hock soup. It’s a cabbage/vegetable soup with a big chunk of pig leg in the middle of the pot.
It’s very good, though, and I am quickly becoming a convert to the practice of seasoning dishes with a bit of vinegar.
BEFORE YOU COOK: The recipe is not hard, but it does take some time, in part because it’s made with dried beans and in part because it’s not made with stock, so you want to cook the ham bone long enough for all the boney goodness to leach out. Give yourself an extra hour or two to soak the beans (or soak them overnight) and count on an hour and a half or so of cooking. On the upside, the soup is even better the next day, and I imagine it would freeze really well.
Ham Hock Soup
(Recipe loosely based on Melissa Clark’s Ham Bone, Greens, and Bean Soup recipe from Cook This Now)
1. Either soak the beans in cold water overnight (I have never done this), OR bring the beans a plenty of cold water to boil. Boil for a minute, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the beans sit for at least an hour. Drain the beans and proceed.
2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve. Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the bacon fat in the pan. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes (this step took me longer). Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
3. Add the ham hock and bay leaf to the pot and add 8 cups of water and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt (I ended up needing to add a bit more water at the end). Bring the mixture to boil over high heat; add the beans, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cabbage and simmer for 45 minutes (if you have kale, stir it in after the cabbage has been cooking for 30 minutes and simmer for another 15 minutes).
4. Remove the ham hock, chop up the meaty bits, and stir them back into the soup. Season with pepper, a bit of the vinegar, and more salt (I thought the vinegar sounded weird, so I didn’t add it at first, and it felt like the soup was missing something. Then I added the vinegar and it was perfect. Don’t skip the vinegar!). Crumble the reserved bacon on top.
* “If you don’t see ham bones in your butcher’s case, just ask; they will most likely have them stashed in the back.”
** I almost never eat a whole package of bacon at once, so when I make something that involves bacon, I wrap the rest up in tin foil in sets of 3 - 4 strips and freeze it. I chop it up while it’s still frozen and it thaws as it cooks.
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.