A late-Autumn snow storm reminds me of what a fleeting season Autumn really is … it only lasts a short time here in the crisp, Ontario country air. Before you know it, the brilliant trees are bare and the leaves make a glowing carpet of red, gold and orange on the forest floor. After a very busy summer and early Fall canning and preserving grape jelly from my vines, hundreds of mason jars of heirloom tomato compote, Spicy dilly beans, caramelized plum jam, peach barbecue sauce, hundreds of pounds of blueberries, basil puree, drying herbs including coriander seeds- I thought I never wanted to see another canning pot or mason jar again. I had canning and preserving fatigue!
However I had the incredible good fortune to discover an abandoned apple orchard at the back of the farm property. I gathered a crew and we set out on a few visits to harvest the jewels that hung like Christmas bulbs from the tree: The yellow variety ware so large that the branches drooped under their weight.
We all had great fun trying to decide what variety they were. We were unable to come up with a consensus. What I did know is that they were insect free … yes they had blemished skin, but the inside was pristine. Too many people expect perfect fruit and vegetables and refuse to buy any that are bruised or imperfect. As a small-scale organic farmer – I know that in its natural growing condition- each piece has its own personality, appearance and taste for that matter. There is no generic perfect apple and as a Chef and farmer I am glad. The red apples flesh was a gorgeous pink hue. I was very excited about cooking with the apples to see if they would hold up to the heat.
I must have been facing well over one hundred pounds of wild yellow and red apples. What to do with all of them? I immediately baked an apple crisp pie with a pure butter crust. It was sensational. I recall that as a child, when eating apple pie you expected to be offered a piece of sharp cheddar or have it served a la mode. Now, instead of ice cream there is frozen yoghurt, marscapone or creme fraiche. I also prepared chunky apple, toasted pecan cake, chunky applesauce with local apple cider made by friends.
As I write this I have apple butter cooking in the slow cooker. I plan to batch cook this, label and freeze it to use in barbecue sauces and baked goods. Intensely flavored Apple butter can be used anywhere jams and jellies are used.
Apples are an Ontarian way of life … I grew up eating them and I took my children to pick them. We used to visit Chudleigh’s regularly until it became impossible even to find a place to park the car. We then started visiting Long Lane Orchards … a much quieter alternative where I could bring the kids to pick and where my son and I could trout fish.
My father would bake apples with raisins and walnuts and drizzle them with his beloved maple syrup … he seemed to have found a way to get maple syrup into everything he cooked. Farmers would visit our neighborhood selling bushels to the bustling households. On the street I grew up on – almost every family had 6- 8 kids. We would place the bushels in the cold cellar … but they never lasted very long. There were ten of us and they were a delicious after school snack. I used to be horrified when my childhood best friend would sprinkle the apples with salt.
I was lucky enough to have a European housekeeper who made the most delicious apple fritters that she would dust with cinnamon and lots of sugar … one of the best treats to come home to, after that 2 mile walk back from school. She also taught me how to make homemade strudel with dough gently dragged over a cloth -draped table. Do you recall when you would hate it when someone handed you an apple instead of candy on Halloween? Or that rumor- never eat them because they had razor blades in them? What would a Halloween party be without bobbing for apples?
I would like to toast the mighty apple and next time I see a boy scout selling apples. I will wear the apple badge with pride and walk away with at least six! They always had the crispest and juiciest Macs. What was William Tell’s target? It was the apple-shot. Which child did not offer up an apple as a gift to their teacher? Every parent told us that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. We have lost many varieties of apples and those growers who are trying to preserve ancient varieties face an uphill struggle.
One of my complaints is that many of the apples that are for sale are old and woody and lack the crisp tart flavor that I so enjoy. Here in Midland you can find farm fresh apples such as Winesaps, Idared, Crispins, Cortlands, Empire, Spy and my favorite Honeycrisp to name a few.
Debate rages about whether it was a forbidden fruit or in fact an apple- which was the term for all fruit and nuts until the 17th century- http://hotword.dictionary.com/adam-eve-apple/
I can understand why the ancient Celts considered apples the fruit of the Gods and why the unicorn lived under an apple tree. The unicorn was wise. Discovering that apple orchard in the wild was magical.
So if you’ve missed your chance to go and pick some apples at a local farm … you can still find large varieties at indoor local farmers markets. Snack on a few to decide what you like best and to keep warm I suggest you sip on some warm mulled cider.
Here is a recipe for a Simple Quick and Delicious Loaf- Use your favourite apple variety
Apple Cinnamon Loaf
1/2 cup chopped pecans- or walnuts – make sure they are fresh – taste one.
1/3 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sour cream or yoghurt
2 medium apples, peeled and chopped- I like Granny Smith, Cortland or Spies.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts together in a bowl and set aside.
Beat white sugar and butter together in a bowl using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated; add vanilla extract.
Combine flour and baking powder together in another bowl; stir into creamed butter mixture. Mix sour cream or yoghurt into batter until smooth. Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Next add half the apples and half the brown sugar cinnamon mixture. Lightly pat apple mixture into batter.
Pour the remaining batter over apple layer; top with remaining apples and add more brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Lightly pat apples into batter; swirl brown sugar mixture through apples using a wooden spoon.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. This is delicious while still warm but keeps well if wrapped in parchment or foil.
Here is a great link to give you all the facts on APPLES. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/apples/facts.cfm