Monday, August 15, 2011

The Apple of My Eye

Here's my August column from the Petaluma Post:

Not too long ago I was asked, if I could only have two things to eat what would they be?  This was not as a hard of a question as one would think, actually quite easy.  I said mac n cheese and an apple.  Some of the best things in life are the simplest.  I am picky about my apples and enjoy trying the great number of varieties that come available over the summer and fall months.  I think that is one of the things that I like best about apples, that they are always available.  I remember at Christmastime when I was a child our stockings would always have an apple and some mixed nuts in them.  They pack and ship so well we are able to enjoy them at any time of the year.  They can be used in savory or sweet recipes, baked, boiled, juiced, or more.

As August rolls around we are lucky to have one of the best apples in our own back yard, the Gravenstein apple.  To us it is “our” apple.  In the United States it almost exclusively grown in Sonoma County.  It is the one we used to pick in our back yards, or take that long drive as kids to Sebastopol for the first box of the season.  My dad loves a tart apple pie, which means Gravenstein pie.  I remember my mom always trying to get the earliest apples, which did not have a high enough sugar content to be eaten. We would head out to the corner produce stand on Bloomfield road, it would always be hot sitting in the back seat, but we would be rewarded with an apple juice popsicle.  Just a cup of frozen fresh pressed juice with a popsicle stick in it for the ride home.  That might be why today at the farmer’s market if I find the apple juice still is a little frozen I can’t resist it.

It is believed that the gravesteins originated in Denmark in 1669, so it is not surprising that so many of the German/Danish immigrants (like much of my family back in the 1800’s) brought them to our area.  The apple itself has a sweet, tart flavor profile and a very short shelf life.  It has not been engineered to last, making it a perfect apple for the heirloom produce movement.  It is at its best as a cooking apple and freezes quite well too.  I think of it as the pie apple.  They are small and irregular in size, so they take an extra bit of work to use, but worth it.  Their tender flesh cooks quickly, so you do not want to over stuff a pie with these apples.

Apple Pie Crust
 cups flour
1 cup salted butter (cold and cut into chunks)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ to ½ cup cold water

Place the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse it several times; you still want chucks of butter.  Add the water two tablespoons at a time with just a short pulse.  You don’t want to run the machine and warm the dough up.  You also still want to see butter bits.  Remove from the machine and split in half to make both the top and bottom crusts.

Gravenstein Apple Pie Filling
2 lbs gravenstein apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
1 Tbl butter (cut into small pieces)
¾ cup sugar
2½ Tbl flour
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
Juice of ½ lemon

Prepare the apples, then toss with lemon juice to insure they don’t turn brown.  Then mix the dry ingredient together, and toss with the apples and butter.  Place the filling in the rolled pie crust, topping with second crust.  Brush the top with a light egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Finally bake at 350 degree for 35 to 40 minutes; cover with foil for the last 15 minutes if too much color is developing.

Allow to cool for two or three hours before eating.  I know you want it sooner, but the juices need to cool.

Another great way to enjoy gravs is to make apple sauce, however I have another great alternative I prefer.  Roasted apples!  This is between a sauce and a baked apple.  Serves great on a roast pork loin or chops.

Roasted Apples
1 lbe gravs (or any firm apple like fuji, braeburn, or granny smith – these might need an extra bit of sweetener)
3 Tbl honey
1 Tbl canola oil
Pinch Salt and pepper

Peel and core the apples, the dice into medium chunks.  Toss with the oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish and bake at 350 degree for 12 to 15 minutes till the apples just start to turn color.  Remove from oven and the add honey, stir well and return to the oven for approximately 10 minutes till bubbly and golden.

Remember an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  They never said how you had to eat it!

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