Now is the season to bite into a just picked apple, so tangy it cleans your teeth. Farmers markets are stocked, and vendors are generally orchardists who know about the flavor and best use for each variety, whether it’s to cook or to eat out of hand. Or go directly to the source. Take an expedition to the nearest orchard, where you’ll discover that picking apples yourself makes them taste even better.
Be sure to sample a range a varietals — from McIntosh, for a flavorful sauce to the complex Macoun, best eaten out of hand, and including baking apples, such as Golden Delicious, Mutsu or Northern Spy. Savor your favorites, like the widely popular Honey Crisp, but taste heirlooms and regional varieties, like Pippin and Rhode Greening, both great for pies too.
Eating a wide variety of apples expands your culinary repertoire and seasonal pleasure. It also assures future generations will have access to a bio-diverse crop, because farmers won’t plant uneaten varieties. I adore following all kinds of apples as they go in and out of season, eating them at their peak, then savoring the best keepers during the long cold storage season ahead.
Of course, raw apples marry perfectly with local cheeses, which abound, especially cheddar, blue or fresh goat cheese. Or slice and throw them into green salads, where their sweetness pairs beautifully with bitter fall greens like escarole.
For a treat, I love them in an apple mignonette atop oysters on the half shell. For each dozen oysters, mix 1-1/2 Tbsp finely diced apple, 2 Tbsp apple cider, 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1-1/2 Tbsp minced shallot, 1 teaspoon chopped parsley with salt and pepper to taste.)
Cooked, apples transform into fall ambrosia in crisps, pies and tarts. I always cap the season with giant bags of utilities apples — sold in bulk, so inexpensive —used to make a sauce with mixed varieties in it. It’s a snap to cook and the homemade stuff is shockingly good. Simply quarter apples, peel and all. Cook them in a large pot until very soft with a little water or cider at the bottom to prevent burning. Put through a food mill, which miraculously removes the stems, seeds and skins.* (Or core, peel and cook.)
You can season your sauce with Christmas spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, sweeten it with sugar, honey or maple syrup, and add lemon for tang. But I prefer mine with apples only, served warm, for a flavor that brings smiles to even the most sophisticated diner. Each year I make enough to freeze and eat it all winter long as a snack or dessert, topped with yogurt, baked into a cake, or, as my husband enjoys it, with pork.
You can also stew chopped apples for a dessert to serve solo or with ice cream, yogurt or crème fraiche. Peel and chop. Flavor with local honey, brandy and spices, then simmer until soft. For a dessert soup, thin with a splash of cider. Then spoon it from a shallow bowl with vanilla ice cream as it melts.
Or cook apples into tangy chutney to accompany cheese or grilled poultry. For each cup, combine one tart apple, peeled and chopped, with 1⁄2 cup chopped onion, 3 Tbsp raisins, 1⁄4 cup each of brown sugar and cider vinegar, 1⁄2 tsp mustard seed and chopped fresh ginger, with salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Combine the ingredients, then simmer until the apples are soft and the flavors are married, about 30 minutes.
Baked apples are a childhood classic that’s simple enough to make after a hard day’s work. Just core one apple per person, peeling about ¼ of the top. Fill with whatever pleases you, such as jam and butter, cinnamon and maple syrup, dried fruit and honey. Bake at 350 degrees with a little cider in the pan, basting once or twice until soft, about 25 minutes.
I celebrate the apple season each fall by filling the house with the aroma of baking apples in a buttery crust. Rustic apple galettes are the ideal way to do so. They free the rushed or challenged baker from the fuss of pies and are just as good, if not better.
In this recipe, seasoned apples are casually gathered in a crisp crust, then glazed with jam. The kicker here is the garum masala, a warming Indian spice mix that varies regionally but often contains cinnamon, coriander, cloves and ground pepper. (If you don’t have any garum masala on hand, mix your own in any which way, as long as you go lightly with the last two ingredients.)
Serve your galette right out of the oven solo. Divine. Makes 4 slices
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 rounded teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons shortening (preferably without transfat)
about 3 tablespoons ice water
1 pound apples, about 3, your favorite local variety, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon garum masala (see above)
20 or so grates of fresh nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 rounded tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon orange marmalade, apricot or peach jam
1 tablespoon orange marmalade, apricot or peach jam
1. Blend together the flour, sugar and salt, pulsing it once or twice food processor. Add the butter and shortening, then pulse just until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some small butter lumps. (This can also be done with a pastry blender or two knives.) Pour about3 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the mixture and pulse (or gently stir with a fork) just to incorporate.
2. Empty the somewhat crumbly dough onto a work surface (or large piece of parchment paper). With heel of your hand, smear about 1/4 of the mixture once or twice in a forward motion to help mix in the fat. Repeat with the remaining dough, then gather it all up. Press into a ball, then flatten into a 5 or 6 inch disk. Chill for at least an hour or, better yet, overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rollout on a sheet of parchment paper into a rough circle of about 10-11 inches. Chill. Peel and slice the apples. Toss them in a bowl with the garum masala, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar and flour.
4. Turn the dough over onto a baking sheet and remove the parchment. Spread 1 tablespoon of marmalade or jam over all but a two-inch border. Spread the apple mixture over the jam, then fold in the border to hold it in. If the dough cracks, repair it so the galette won’t leak. Press around the circle gently.
5. Brush a little milk onto the exposed crust, then sprinkle with a touch of sugar. Bake until the crust is well browned and the apples are cooked, about 40 minutes. (If the crust browns too much before the apples are cooked, cover with strips of foil.) Melt remaining 1tablespoon of jam or marmalade. Brush over the apples. Serve warm with a little sifted confectioner’s sugar of the top, if you like.
* Alternatively, core and peel apples, but even for a once year venture, a food mill is worth the price, and you can often pick one up at a garage sale.)