Growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, I loved fall. Along with picture-perfect foliage, marching band practices, and Friday night football games I adored all the apples and apple butter, sauce and cider that the season ushered in. While my fruit treats came from the local temple to all-things-apple, Apple Castle, you could find a fresh, crisp, juicy apple virtually everywhere. Although I now live far away from Western Pa., I’m still crazy about fall and, of course, a good apple.
Considered the most important fruit in North America and Europe, the apple has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years. Early trees produced hundreds of tiny, sour fruits. These little orbs resembled crabapples and possessed a large core with little flesh.
During classical Roman times people discovered that they could produce heartier, tastier and more consistent apples through grafting. To do this, they took cuttings from healthy, productive trees and transplanted them onto sturdy roots. Their horticulture methods worked for today we have close to 8,000 varieties in existence.
In the U.S. we grow around 2,500 varieties. We owe this diversity, in no small part, to the efforts of folk hero John Chapman a/k/a Johnny Appleseed. During the 18th century Chapman collected apple seeds from various cider mills. He then traveled around America, planting the seeds throughout the land. Today Michigan, New York and Washington are our leading apple-producers.
Although Europeans differentiate between eating and cooking apples, Americans typically use the varieties interchangeably. Jonagold, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Empire, Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Macoun are all great for baking and eating raw. Their tastes range from sweet to tangy-tart while their colors vary from pale yellow to wine red. They pair well with such flavors and foods as allspice, apricots, celery, cinnamon, clove, curry, ginger, nuts, onions, pork, poultry and vanilla. Versatile and delicious. No wonder I love them.
When apples hit their peak in the fall, I often buy more than I need. All that fresh, delicious fruit. How could I not take it home with me? Yet, back at home, I wonder what I should do with all the Cortlands, Crispins, Pink Ladies, Rome Beauties and Winesaps overtaking my kitchen.
Along with eating them out of hand, I frequently bake apples in a simple tart, cobbler or crisp. I use them in breads, muffins, pancakes and crepes. Likewise, I add them to stuffing for poultry and pork. I also slice and top them with a little brown sugar, cinnamon and yogurt for a sweet breakfast or after-dinner treat.
When I feel pressed for ideas, I either dig out a copy of Christensen’s and Levin’s The Apple Orchard Cookbook (The Countryman Press, 2010) or set the fruit aside until I concoct a recipe. If unbruised, apples can keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If left out on the counter, they’ll last about two days before they become mealy.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a 9-inch, oven-safe pan.
Place the apples, cut side down, in the pan and cook over medium heat until a light colored caramel has formed, about 10 minutes.
Place the puff pastry over the top and then tuck in the edges. Poke a few holes in the top of the pastry and then place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and puffed up. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Invert onto a serving platter. Serve warm with optional side of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.