Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time to Pick On the Apples!

October is now upon us, the signs are evident: colorful leaves carried on the cooling winds that blow, autumnal hues popping up on every landscape, and hand-painted signs at local farms inviting us all to a day of fresh air, pumpkin picking and apple picking. We all participate in the annual pilgrimage to select the perfect pumpkins for our decorative ideas. These pumpkins are usually destined for a date with the carving knife in their quest to become jack-o-lanterns on our front steps and in our windows. While there are a few comforting dishes which call for pumpkin, such as pumpkin bread or pumpkin soup, the apple seems a much more versatile specimen.

Now is the season to celebrate the apple. The apple has held many bookmarks in literature and culture throughout the ages. Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden apple. Snow White took a bite of the poisoned apple, plunging her into history's record longest comatose state. The famous Halloween party activity is that of bobbing for apples. A proud father informs his much-adored daughter "You're the apple of my eye." The son who displays an inherited less than admirable character trait is declared as "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Finally, medical advice is prescribed through the old adage of "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." While consuming a daily apple may not keep the doctor away completely, it certainly is rich in vitamins and nutrients, qualifies as one of the government food pyramid's recommended daily servings of fruit, and can be enjoyed in so many different ways.

For those who live on Long Island, I would recommend taking a ride to the eastern north fork. There are several farms where apple picking is welcomed, and one location in particular which Brian and I visited last week was Woodside Orchards. A variety of apples are available for harvest at varying points throughout the season. If picking the apples yourself is not your thing, there are plenty of pre-picked apples available for purchase there as well. There are so many different varieties of apples, the orchard offers the opportunity to try something new and different from the usual supermarket red delicious and granny smith. We have sampled and enjoyed some macouns and honeycrisps. My personal favorite is the Arkansas black, a deep red variety which has an ever-so-slight hint of wine flavor to it. You can also find varieties such as empires, Jonathans and winesaps. Many apple orchards also vend their own apple cider, and for the childhood sweet tooth in all of us, candied apples, caramel apples, apple pies, apple butters and cider doughnuts are also offered.

There are infinite ways in which to savor the culinary delight of the apple. Baking is perhaps the first option which comes to mind with the classic apple pie. There are many ways to amp up the classic, which is basically apples with sugar and spices baked in a pie shell. I like to add a second fruit with the apple, such as cranberries. The tartness of the cranberries balances out the sweetness of the apple very nicely. My mother makes an amazing apple tart with a cinnamon custard-like filling. Last Thanksgiving I sampled an apple pie which someone had baked using five different varieties of apples. For those who seek an even simpler option, crisps are the answer. The filling simply gets poured into a pan, then topped with a crumbled streusel mixture. I like to make a crisp with apples and pears combined. I also make an applesauce cake from a very old family recipe. Baked apples are also a very simple yet elegant presentation, filled with a little brown sugar, cinnamon and butter and baked until tender and just starting to caramelize on the cut edges. Some people stuff baked apples with a streusel and raisin mixture. The apple is not fussy, you can pair it with just about anything you like. A single apple can also enhance many savory dishes. I make a fall chicken and root vegetable pot pie which also contains wild mushrooms, chopped hazelnuts and one chopped apple. I also make a mash of potatoes with a couple of root vegetables and an apple goes into that as well. The flexible apple also has the ability to take on a co-starring role in entrees. Pork chops baked with sliced apples, onions and acorn squash is a fall favorite in my house. Roasted chicken or Cornish hens take on a very nice flavor when basted with a glaze made from apple jelly. The simplest way to enjoy an apple is in its original form, either munched away to stave off the afternoon hungries until dinner, or cut into wedges and plated with a high quality cheese or two. However you choose to serve up the results of your apple picking expedition, your options are boundless.

Apples which are not destined for the baking pan can be a charming fall decor until consumed. Instead of relegating them to the refrigerator where they may be forgotten, find a container large enough to hold about eight or nine apples, such as a basket or an attractive galvanized container or decorative wooden box, all of which you can find in a craft store. Place a variety of apples in the container and leave it either as a centerpiece on the table, inviting diners to a healthy snack or dessert, or in any welcoming spot in your kitchen or living room. I like to display granny smiths, golden delicious and galas for an eye-pleasing color variety. A friend of mine displayed red delicious apples mixed with pine cones all in a big basket.

October is the peak time for fall festivals and harvests. Before we know it, Halloween has come and gone. Take advantage now of all of the produce that fall has to offer, such as acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, pears and of course apples. Make a day of it, take the family out for brunch and then spend a leisurely afternoon of always-needed quality family time as you pay homage to your local farms, orchards and vineyards. When you return home, you will reap the tasty rewards and nutritional benefits of the bounty. By storing apples in ventilated wooden crates in a very cool basement or garage, you'll be able to treat yourself for anywhere from two to four months depending upon the variety of apple and the storage conditions. After that, it is back to the supermarket for your fruit purchases. So enjoy the not-so-forbidden fruit, and the pies and other culinary delights which result from the apple's versatile and delicious enhancement.

Happy picking!

1 comment:

  1. Lets not forget Lindemans Pomme. A most excellent apple flavored beer.