Fruits of 2012, Part Two: From Apples to Apples

Of all the fruits I picked and processed, apples were the most abundant in my kitchen this year. I’d estimate I netted about seventy pounds between two harvests (one early September and one mid-October) with the Portland Fruit Tree Project, so I think this fruit deserves a whole post of its own to cover it all.

Eating Apples: I wish I had bothered to note the names of the different varieties I picked, or to separate them from each other, because some made much better eating than others. Of the few I could remember and identify, the Winter Banana apples weren’t crunchy enough to be satisfying, nor were they tart. (Yup, those are the same things I don’t like about real bananas), but the small, dark red ones that I think were Empires were very tasty and crunchy. As I learned from a Vermonter a couple years ago, cutting up an apple and eating each slice with a piece of sharp cheddar cheese is an excellent way to do it. The sharper the better.

Baking with apples: The other obvious thing to do when you have a lot of apples. I made apple crisp and apple muffins, and shared them both with the folks at work. A quarter of my office-mates are gluten-free, so I subbed a gluten free flour blend for regular all-purpose flour. They both turned out…fine. I think in the future I’d be sure to add extra seasoning when using gluten-free flour, because I’m not really used to the taste of it.

I didn’t make a pie this year, but that same Vermonter who introduced me to the apple-cheddar combination introduced me to apple-cheddar pie – an apple pie, but with cheddar cheese in the crust. Amazing and highly recommended. And of course, there are a million other baked apple treats out there, too. But there’s always next year.

Cooking with Apples: Shortly before my second big apple haul, a friend served me a squash and apple dish, which was a fortuitous reminder of the possibilities of cooking with apples. I made a few simple variations on cabbage and apples, and my favorite ended up being searing a couple pork chops with onions in a big pan, then adding cabbage, apples, and a little chicken broth and letting it all simmer. I did some mild cinnamon and a couple other spices, but I also think curry would have been interesting with a different meat.

I also made a tasty apple concoction that I’ll call Red Fall Chutney to go with brussels sprouts. I started by cooking some chopped up bacon (or rather, I would have chopped it up if I hadn’t been a cheapskate and just bought ends and pieces), then setting it aside and cooking red onion, apples, and cranberries in the bacon fat. I mixed the bacon back in at the end. It was a great tart-sweet side for those sprouts, and I’m sure it would accent other things well, too. Is it a chutney or a relish? What’s the difference?

Preserving Apples: I made and canned several quarts of regular old applesauce, a project in which the new food mill I got for grape processing was a big help – no peeling or coring of apples before cooking them down! I made some unseasoned, some seasoned, and one particularly good seasoned batch of apple-nectarine sauce with a bunch of nectarines purchased at a roadside stand in Yakima on an early September roadtrip. Yum.

Then I made some more applesauce to turn into apple butter by cooking it down in a crockpot with the lid cracked. I cooked the first batch down on a stovetop with a friend, but the crockpot is a much better method. (got that idea, and many other excellent basic fruit processing tips from www.pickyourown.org. Check it out, and don’t be put off by the formatting — it’s got a lot of great information about a wide variety of fruits and things to do with them.

I made several batches of apple butter, because 1) given the size of my crock pot, I had to, and 2) because I was excited to experiment with seasonings. Successful experiments: apple-cranberry butter, garam masala apple butter, and apple-rosemary butter. Unsuccessful experiment: garlic-sage apple butter. I maintain that this was worth a shot, because those three ingredients could go together very well in some contexts, such as turkey stuffing, for instance. They made for weird apple butter, though. I have a quart of it in the fridge, because it clearly wasn’t worth canning, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to throw it out. My idea is to give it a chance in a savory meat dish before getting rid of it.

I might be concerned about the amount of apple butter I have if I hadn’t made an amazing cocktail innovation. I don’t usually appear in the same sentences with cocktails, but I have some dark rum that I bought for a chocolate cake recipe, so I knew that hot buttered rum was a possibility as the weather got drearier. I’m a big butter fan, so when it occurred to me that I could have double buttered rum – with butter and apple butter – I was pretty ecstatic. That’ll be happening pretty often around my house this winter.

 

I also dried quite a few apples in the good old dehydrator. I got through quite a few before I realized that I should be dusting them with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves before putting them it to create apple pie chips. Definitely the way to go. I don’t mind having a bunch of unseasoned ones, though, especially after my above successes cooking with apples, because I’ll be able to incorporate them into interesting things this winter.

Notes for Next Year: Overall, I’m pretty happy with my apple haul this year. It was a large quantity, but not enough for something crazy like the cider making that happened two years ago. I’ll look at the big picture next year and see how big I want to go on apples.

Another note I could make for next year is that had I actually recorded any of the spice combinations and proportions I used in my apple butters, I could recreate them more exactly next year. But then again, I could also just re-season to taste. Some general notes: The apple-rosemary was good with fresh rosemary and a hint of nutmeg, and the garam masala apple butter (the blend in the jar from Whole Foods bulk spice aisle) was good with just a little honey for sweetness – I should make more of that one next year. And despite the failure of my garlic-sage experiment, I want to try again for a savory apple butter. I’ll at least do a sage one, and maybe I can come up with some other ideas. Another general note about seasoning to taste is that whether or not I’m trying to track quantities, it’s fun to add things bit by bit and see what happens. And the interplay of spice and sweetness is fun.

Questions: I’m looking for your best apple ideas, and also for your thoughts on seasoning to taste in a reproducible way. Should I measure quantities as I add them? Or not track quantity, but keep some kind of tasting notes? I’m not very good with food critic terms, so I’m not sure how that would work, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

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