Everything You Need to Know about America’s Favorite Fruit
Its undeniable: the days are getting shorter, the grasses are going to seed, the beginning of autumn is here! Sure, you’ll have to pack away the beach gear and pull out the scarves soon, but there is so much to love about the food of the fall!
The first harbingers? Apples! I started seeing this season’s apples a few weeks ago at the farmers market, but I wasn’t quite ready to pack in the summer fruits. But now, as the air crisps up, I’m ready for another harvest of a most perfect fruit.
All the Varieties!
Unlike the three or four predictable choices at the conventional grocery store, bushel baskets line up on tables at the farmers markets advertising names like American Beauty, Maiden’s Blush and Winter Sweet. Like learning to taste wine, apples are best enjoyed comparatively. Instead of buying five pounds of Empire Golds, get a few of each variety on offer and slice into them at the same time. Some farmers markets will even set up a little tasting for their customers so that you can have a sample of several different types of apples right at the market.
The Right Fruit for the Job
Making Pie? Cake? Chutney? Sauce? Fresh-pressed Cider? The best resource on what apple will do the best job for you is the person that grew the apples. They know the whole story of the growing season and can point you in the right direction. Don’t be shy. Most farmers love to talk food and you might walk away with a new preparation. Some folks make it extra easy and put right on the price tag which apple is just yearning to be made into jelly.
How to Pick an Apple
In general, apples are beautiful and ripe when they easily come off the tree. Once they make it to the market, look for fruit that have an intact skin and are free of bruises and gashes. They’ll only be super shiny if they’ve been sprayed with a food-grade wax so don’t be discouraged if the apples lack the reflective sheen you find in the grocery store.
An especially memorable outing is a trip to the orchard. PickYourOwn.org is an international resource for pick-your-own farms, complete with customer feedback. Just select your state, scroll through the technicolor typography, and find a list of farms that provide an orchard open for a day trip.
Now, what to do with those beauties once you’ve got them home. Here are a few recipes to get you started. And for further reading, I highly recommend Apple: A Global History, written beautifully by the eloquent Erika Janik. Get a history lesson on the ubiquitous fruit while your sauce simmers away and the sun sets on summer.
The World’s Easiest Applesauce
Fresh Apple Cider
- Cut all the apples that you can fit into your largest pot into large chunks. (If you have a fine chinois strainer or a food mill, you don’t need to peel or core the apples, just chunk them. If not, peel and core the apples before cutting into chunks.)
- Add enough apple cider to fill about an inch in the bottom of the pot.
- Pour on just enough maple syrup until the top layer of apples is shiny and coated, like you would on an ice cream sundae.
- Add a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, a few scrapes of fresh nutmeg, and about half as much ground ginger as cinnamon, plus a tiny pinch of kosher salt. Stir to combine.
- Cover and cook over low heat until the apples are very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and pass through the food mill or strainer if you have one, or mash with a potato masher for chunky sauce or purée with an immersion blender for a smoother sauce. Taste and add more spices if you like a more fragrant sauce. This will keep in the fridge for about 5 days, or you can process the applesauce using a basic water bath method to keep it longer or give away as a holiday gift.
Apple Cider Braised Pork Roast
Fill your home with the delicious smell of autumn and instead of a puddle of Yankee candle wax, you’ll have dinner at the end. The applesauce is a perfect accompaniment to this roast.
1 4-5lb bone-in pork roast
Salt and pepper
Grapeseed or vegetable oil
5 yellow onions, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
5 juniper berries
5 allspice berries
1 T peppercorns
2 twigs fresh rosemary
2 twigs fresh thyme
3/4 c Bragg’s apple cider vinegar (usually found in the natural or organic foods aisle)
1 1/2 c apple cider
2 c chicken stock
- Salt and pepper generously all sides of your pork roast.
- Coat the bottom of a large Dutch oven or a heavy bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid with oil. Heat the oil on high heat until it shimmers. Add the pork to the pot. It should sizzle and spit. Roll it around to sear all sides. You want it very brown but not burned. When all sides are seared, including the ends, remove the pork to a plate and set aside.
- Add the onions and stir to coat with the oil and rendered pork fat. Cook until the onions are caramelized on the edges. This requires that you resist the urge to stir. You’ll cook them for about 10 minutes, stirring only once or twice.
- While the onions are cooking, make a sachet of the celery, garlic, bay leaves, juniper and allspice berries, peppercorns, rosemary and thyme. To do this, cut a large square of cheesecloth. If the holes are big, double it over so none of your peppercorns get away. This sachet is just for flavor so at the end, you’ll pull it out and toss it into your compost pile. Lay your cheesecloth flat and pile all the spices in the middle. Pull the four corners up and tie around the top with kitchen twine. Think of a hobo’s sachet. It should look like that. Set aside.
- When the onions are caramelized, add the cider vinegar and cider. Scrap the bottom of your pot to get all the bits off the bottom and into the sauce. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Put the pork back in, along with the sachet, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer 3 hours, turning every 30 minutes or so.
- When the pork is done, it will have shrunk significantly and should register 160º on a meat thermometer against the bone. Remove to a plate and loosely tent with aluminum foil. Remove and throw the sachet away. Simmer the braising liquid until it reduces by half. That’s your gravy.
- Serve with applesauce, potatoes (boiled, mashed, baked or otherwise), a green vegetable and the gravy.
*If you prefer a thicker gravy, you can make a roux. Put 2 T of butter into a skillet. Heat to high and stir in 2 T all-purpose flour. Stir constantly with a whisk until the flour smell is gone. Add 1 T finely minced celery and pull from the heat. The celery stops the cooking – don’t skip this step. Stir the roux into the gravy one teaspoon at a time until desired thickness is achieved.
Buttermilk Apple Fritters
These are too easy to make – dangerously easy. You’ve been warned.
1 c buttermilk
2 eggs, separated
1 t sugar, plus extra for coat the cooked fritters
Pinch of salt
2 c flour
1 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 1/2 s finely diced tart apples
Vegetable oil for frying
- In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg yolks, sugar and salt together.
- In a separate bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg together, then mix into buttermilk mixture until just combined.
- In a third bowl, beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks, then fold egg whites and chopped apple into buttermilk and flour mixture.
- Heat 1” oil in heavy pan to 375º, then drop batter by tablespoonfuls into hot oil. Cook until golden brown, then roll over and cook the other side until golden also. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Roll in sugar to coat and serve immediately.