Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tempted By An Apple

A couple of weeks ago, my husband Brian and I took a short drive east along Long Island's north fork, the fall landscape peppered with signs beckoning visitors to come and 'pick your own' apples.  As with flame-hued pumpkins and jewel-toned mums, apples announce to us all that autumn has arrived on the scene.  Harvest time for apples peaks during the months of September through November.  While the slogan which boasts that an apple a day keeps the doctor away may be a bit too ambitious, apple consumption can only help as they are a good source of vitamins A and C as well as fiber.  So there really is no excuse not to take advantage of picking a peck or two of that not-so-forbidden fruit.

Apples have been cultivated for 3000 years, resulting in hundreds of varieties which treat us to a vast array colors,  from lemony yellow to yellowish-green to the deepest shade of crimson red, textures from tender to sharply crisp, and flavors from tart to sweet.  Some delicious apples for snacking on include galas, honeycrisps, ginger golds and winesaps.  My personal favorite is the Arkansas black, garnet in color and very crisp, tantalizing the taste buds with notes of wine in its complex sweet flavor.  I recently had the good fortune to try a mutsu apple, which was originally cultivated in Japan.  The greenish-yellow specimen rewards with a crisp bite and a tart flavor, and now also heads my list of favorites.  For cooking and baking, granny smiths and macouns are ideal choices since they are firm enough to hold up through the baking process and their flavors orchestrate the right balance of tart and sweet.

Once you have migrated to the nearest apple picking mecca and make your homecoming with all those apples in tow, what can you do with all of them?  Aside from the obvious choice of eating them au natural as a healthy snacking alternative, apples seem to have infinite destinations.  In the fall they are the number one choice for baked goods such as apple pies, crostatas, crisps and muffins.  They can be pressed into apple cider, or fermented into hard cider for your seasonal drinking pleasure; and speaking of imbibing, Calvados - an apple brandy - is something worth adding to your bar goods.  When made into jellies and butters, these can be used to season savory dishes of pork, poultry and salmon.  Apples can even be sliced and cooked right in the pan with pork chops and a fall vegetable such as fennel or acorn squash.  Slices of apple are a perfect pairing on a cheese platter, particularly with cheddars, aged goudas and blues.  They are enjoyed in salads for an added sweetness and crunch.  They can be cooked down with sugar on the stovetop until you have applesauce, and we all remember one traditional Halloween treat: the caramel or candied apple on a stick - the nineteenth century Welsh adage touting an apple a day wards off the doctor, not necessarily the dentist.  Lastly, apples in their various hues make for elegant decor as they fill a basket or a wooden bowl and grace your dining or coffee table.

To store apples, they keep best in a cool, dark place.  The coldest section of your refrigerator will do; or, if you stockpiled in case of a winter-long, blizzard-induced quarantine, keeping them in an unheated part of your basement will work as well.

Oh, so many choices!  I would suggest purchasing one variety with which you are already familiar and that you love, plus one or two new varieties that your taste buds have yet to embark on.  Lastly, pick up some macouns, since granny smiths are obtainable in any supermarket at any time of year, and try this simple recipe for a perfect fall dessert.

Cranberry-Apple and Pear Pie
2 pie crusts
1 ¼ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg             
1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
3 apples, cored, peeled and sliced
1 anjou pear, cored, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg white, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Turbinado (raw) sugar crystals

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Gently stir in apples, cranberries and pear.  Toss lightly until the fruit is incorporated into the sugar mixture.  Place mixture into one pie crust, then dot with the butter.  Cover with the second crust and cut four or five small slits into the top.  Seal and crimp the edges.  Brush the egg white mixture over the pie crust, then sprinkle with the raw sugar.  Bake for about 50 minutes.

So have you been inspired to take a bite out of your nearest apple orchard?  If there are none in your area, most farm stands and farmers' markets are brimming with a variety of the season's apple bounty.  If you happen to live on Long Island, however, I would highly recommend that during your next trek out to the east for all of its vineyard splendor and farm stands with their wagons overflowing with pumpkins galore, add one more stop to your itinerary. Woodside Orchards has two locations with apple picking opportunities: one in Aquebogue on route 25, and the other located in Jamesport on Manor Lane.  

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