In & Out of the Kitchen: Appealing apples
With the kids back in school, it’s time to turn our thoughts to autumn’s bounty, specifically the food most likely to end up on a teacher’s desk: apples.
New York is one of the biggest apple-growing states in the country, second only to Washington, and everyone around here seems to have their favorite variety, from McIntosh to Empire, Gala to Crispin. It’s a tough year for local apples: The warm spring brought on an early bloom, then a hard frost killed the blossoms. But while some local orchards are already done with apples, there are still plenty being shipped in from orchards in neighboring states.
So what to do with them? Plenty.
For starters, there’s the good ol’ American classic, mom’s apple pie. First, whip up some pie crust, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: Start with whichever recipe you’re used to using, but try swapping out half of the water for vodka. It sounds crazy, but the alcohol bakes out, and what you’re left with is a more tender crust. Once your crust is mixed together, divide it in half, form each into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and throw them both in the fridge.
Next, peel, core and slice up apples, around eight per pie, depending on their size. What kind? Whichever you like best in pie: my mom always used McIntosh, but I usually use Honeycrisp, while others might prefer the firmer bite and more tart flavor of varieties like Granny Smith or Jonagold. Throw the apple slices into the biggest bowl you have in the house. Add some sugar, maybe a half-cup if you’ve got sweeter apples, maybe three-quarters of a cup if your apples are more tart. Toss in a couple of tablespoons of flour, a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, a few pinches of salt and your spices: nutmeg and cinnamon, in about equal amounts, then just a little bit of allspice. I use my mom’s method for this, shaking in a bit of each, stirring it all up, eating a slice of apple and tweaking as necessary until I’m happy with the flavor.
When your mixture is all ready, pull out your chilled crusts, roll out one and use it to line a pie plate and heap the apples into it — you want lots of apples, way more than seems reasonable, because they’ll shrink down as they bake. Then, roll out the second crust, making sure to roll it wider than the first, and drape it over the pie. Crimp the edges together, cut a few slits in the top for steam to escape and bake at 375 degrees on the bottom rack of your oven for, well, however long it takes, maybe a half-hour, maybe an hour. Check on it to make sure it isn’t getting too brown too quickly, and if it does, cover the top (or just the edges) with some foil. It’ll be done whenever it’s nicely browned and the apples are done to your liking — I usually stick toothpicks through the slits in the crust to check.
Crisp an option
But what if you don’t feel like going through the effort of making pie crust? Apple crisp is just as delicious, maybe even more so (blasphemy, I know) and all you have to do for that is spread your apple mixture in the bottom of a greased baking pan. Then mix together about 11⁄2 cups of flour, three-quarters of a cup each of sugar and brown sugar, a cup of rolled oats and a teaspoon of salt, add two sticks of cold butter cut into pieces, and crumble this all together with your fingers, then crumble it over the apples. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, until the crisp is golden brown, the apples are tender and your house smells amazing.
Then again, maybe you’d rather save some of this autumn deliciousness for later. In that case, some applesauce is in order. Just peel, core and cut up enough apples to fill a large saucepan, add a splash of water, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and cook until the apples are tender.
Mash them up with a potato masher to whatever consistency you like (you could pull out a stick blender for this if you like your applesauce perfectly smooth), then add in a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice and some sugar, two-thirds of a cup or so. Bring to a boil so the sugar dissolves; if you’d like to add some spices into the mix, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice are well-placed here, too, but just a bit.
Once it’s all cooked together, either put the applesauce in the fridge to chill or ladle it into sterilized canning jars, place on the jar lids, screw on the rings fingertip-tight and process the jars in a water-bath canner for 20 minutes; then, turn off the heat, let sit five minutes and remove, carefully, without tilting the jars, to a spot on your counter that’s out of the way.
Leave them alone until they are completely cooled; overnight is best. Once this is done, you can have a taste of fall anytime you want.