Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Falling for Apples

A great way to encourage children to try new things is to invite them to try new varieties of things they already like.  Fall apples are a perfect opportunity.  While you can buy apples year round, some varieties are only available for a short time and that’s now.  Local orchards and farmers markets offer more unusual apples in the fall and even your supermarket will have a larger choice.  Names like Macoun, Jersey Black and Roxbury Russet rub elbows with the more familiar Granny Smith, McIntosh and Delicious flavors.

Bring home an old favorite and a few new cultivars to try.  You can set up a competition judging for your family to select its favorite in a blind taste test.  Place each variety on its own plate.  Cut slices from each and hide the name under the plate.  Try the apples alone or with a bite of cheddar cheese.

Some very juicy and sweet apples are better for eating. Some are firmer and pleasantly tart.  These hold up well to cooking in pies and applesauce.  I made the applesauce in the photo here last night from two types of apple that we love to eat and cook with: Jonagold and Stayman Winesap.  Jonagolds are large and are a cross between the Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples.  Stayman Winesaps are dark red and dense.  They provide a tartness that adults enjoy raw and mellows beautifully in pies.

Applesauce is easy to make.  Even with many good store brands available,  homemade is still special and a bit of a revelation to little ones.  This recipe uses a little brown sugar but you can substitute white granulated sugar or honey—or even leave out the sugar entirely.  After you’ve tried the basic recipe, make up your own variations or try some of the ones below using other fruits and natural flavors.

Applesauce is a quick and simple snack.  Layered with chopped nuts and yogurt, it is a breakfast with lasting power. A cup or two of chunky applesauce can be rolled into filo dough to make a quick and elegant dessert (or terrific pop tart replacement in the morning). I also like it as a side dish with pork.

Simple Applesauce
yield: about 2 cups
4 apples
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons water
squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

Peel apples and cut large chunks away from the core.  Chop chunks into smaller pieces.  The smaller the pieces, the finer the sauce and faster it will cook.  Place apples into a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan with remaining ingredients.  Cook over low heat until apples are softened, stirring as needed.  Cover with a lid and allow to cook on low.   For a chunky applesauce, the applesauce is ready when apples are tender to the bite.  For a smoother applesauce, cook on low until apples break down.  The water in the mixture will prevent the apples from burning before they release their juice. If your applesauce is too thin, remove the cover and cook down to desired consistency.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before storing in refrigerator or enjoy warm.  When cooled, use an immersion blender or food processor to create a smooth consistency or leave your applesauce chunky and enjoy it as a topping for oatmeal and in yogurt parfaits.

Fun and Fruity variations:

  • Frozen or fresh berries- strawberries, blueberries or cherries.  Puree a handful and add to applesauce to add flavor and change the color.

  • Cranberries—cook a cup of cranberries with 1/3 cup sugar until cranberries are soft. Puree and add to applesauce as above.  This is a fun Thanksgiving mid-morning treat with a shake or nutmeg on top.

  • Peeled and cored pears can be substituted for apples or can be cooked together for Pear-Applesauce.