As a fruit, apples have been evolving for centuries and "modern" apples have been cultivated for their resistance to disease and pests, as well as for taste, shape and high harvest yield. In 1892, there were about 735 unique varieties of apples; today fewer than 50 varieties are mass-grown. Some varieties, like Red and Golden Delicious, are popular favorites in the United States; others such as Fuji and Gala are relative newcomers to the U.S. apple market. In recent years, some regional and "heirloom" varieties have returned and can be found at local orchards and farmers markets.
I have two indelible apple-related memories from years past. One memory, dating back to my early adolescence in Newark, N.J., is of a regular Saturday morning errand. Every weekend I had to walk several blocks to the local Jewish bakery to buy challah bread. The smell of freshly baked challah as I entered that neighborhood bakery filled my nostrils and immediately started a chain reaction of anticipated pleasure. I had to take a plastic number and wait to be called yet I always ordered a single item - one loaf of plain challah bread with a braided top and an egg-washed shine.
I carried the still-warm loaf in its paper bag under my arm all the way back home, in winter and summer, sun or snow. As soon as I entered the second-floor walk-up apartment, family members congregated in the kitchen, already warm from the oven's heat. We sliced chunks of the yellowy bread, one for every person, slathered butter on each slice, and laid the slices on the little pull-out drawer that was the oven's broiler. As the buttered slices were removed from the broiler drawer, we spread generous quantities of apple butter on the toasted bread. Everyone ate their slice as slowly as possible to savor every bite. The loaf was consumed and we each got on with the rest of our weekend chores. To this day, when I see a loaf of challah or a jar of apple butter, the sensation of that culinary experience floods back to my mind and I want a slice of that hot apple-buttered bread.
The second memory comes from my early parenting days. When the children were young and the weather was nippy enough to require a jacket, we took our annual autumn drive into the country sides of Michigan, New York or Missouri to find a pick-your-own-apples farm, always with a farm animal or two for extra entertainment. We picked and sampled our way through the yearly adventure, rewarding our efforts with mill-pressed cider and homemade donuts, then loaded the car with bags of apples and large pumpkins to decorate the front porch. In those cold climates, the pumpkins lasted through Halloween but the apples did not. They quickly ended up as school lunches, dried snacks, applesauce, apple cakes, pies and tarts. My children acquired handy knowledge about farms and I acquired wonderful apple recipes.
Apples are not just nutritious, portable and tasty but they can provide many lasting memories for your family. Whether you buy them or pick your own, eat fresh or cook with them, find a good apple recipe that can become a family tradition in your household. Teach your children to make a classic apple pie or tart. That recipe will serve them well over the years, at holidays or family dinners or to one day impress a guy or gal.
As a Southern gal, I'm partial to pies but tarts can be slightly lower in carbs and easier to create. What's the difference? Pies have two distinct features: a filling and a pastry crust, although variety allows for a single crust, a double crust, a lattice top, a crumble top, etc. Pies are most often baked in round, shallow, slope-sided pans, but a deep-dish pan can also be used to yield a thicker pie. Similarly, tarts consist of a filling and a pastry shell. The key difference is in the tart dough, which is lighter and slightly sweeter than pie dough. The other difference is that tarts are always open-faced - they never have a top crust. Tarts are usually baked in a straight-sided pan, often with a fluted edge, but they can be baked in different sized and shaped pans (including individual mini-pans) or on open sheets.
Here are three always-successful apples recipes - one for apple butter, one for a classic apple pie, and one for a simple apple tart. With the bounty of apples available this season, try all three. Better yet, send me your favorite apple recipe and I'll include it in a future column. Whatever you do, create an apple memory!
Jacqui Love Marshall lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Spiced Apple Butter (makes 7 cups)
2 lb McIntosh apples, peeled and cored (about 6 large apples)
2 lb Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored (about 4 large apples)
1 cup apple cider
2 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
7 1/2-pint preserve jars & lids
1. Cut McIntosh apples into 1-inch pieces; cut Granny Smith apples into smaller dices.
2. Combine apples and cider in a very large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently for 20 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half.
3. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and lemon juice. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and boil gently for about 25 minutes or until mixture is very thick. There should still be some tender apple chunks remaining. Remove from heat.
4. Ladle into sterilized jars; wipe jar rim to remove any stickiness. Since the sugar does most of the preserving, you need only boil the jars to kill off any contaminants that might have gotten in during the filling process. Preserve the butter using the short procedure: Center lid on jar; apply screw band just until fingertip tight. Place jars in large pot of boiling water and adjust water level to cover jars by 1-2 inches. Cover pot and return water to boil; begin timing when water returns to a boil and process for 5 minutes. Remove jars and let cool. Note: If the apple butter will be refrigerated and consumed within 30 days, there is no need to process beyond using sterilized jars.
Classic Apple Pie (serves 6-8)
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
10 Tbsp (1-1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
About 4 Tbsp ice water
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1-3/4 lb. sweet apples, such as Spartan or Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, thinly sliced (about 5-1/2 cups)
1-3/4 lb. tart apples, such as Granny Smith or Pippin, peeled, cored, thinly sliced (about 5-1/2 cups)
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp plus pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, diced
1 Tbsp whole milk
1. Whisk flour and salt in large bowl to blend. Add butter and shortening and blend with fingertips until very coarse meal forms.
2. Sprinkle with 3 Tbsp water; toss until moist clumps form. Add more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is too dry.
3. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Chill about 1 hour. (Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated; place on counter and soften slightly before using.)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 9-inch-diameter deep-dish pie dish with nonstick spray.
2. Stir all apples, 3/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and vanilla in large bowl to blend.
Let stand until juices form, about 15 min.; mix in flour.
3. Roll out 1 dough disk on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Place dough in pie dish; spoon in filling mixture; dot with butter.
4. Roll out second dough disk to 13-inch round. Drape dough over filling. Seal top and bottom crust edges together; trim to 1/2-inch overhang. Fold crust overhang under; crimp decoratively. Cut slits into top crust with knife (or make holes with fork tines). Brush pie with milk. Combine remaining 1 Tbsp sugar and large pinch of cinnamon in small bowl; sprinkle over pie.
5. Transfer pie to baking sheet; place in oven. Immediately reduce temperature to 375 degrees. Bake pie until crust is golden brown, apples are tender and filling is bubbling thickly, about 2 hours. Cover crust edge with foil if browning too quickly. Cool 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely; store at room temperature.)
Easy Apple Tart (serves 6-8)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (1/2 of 17.3-oz package), thawed
3 medium Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, sliced very thinly
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbsp cinnamon sugar (or 3 Tbsp sugar mixed with scant 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon)
1/4 cup apricot jam, melted
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold pastry on parchment paper.
2. Using tines of a fork, pierce 1/2-inch border around edge of pastry, then pierce center randomly all over.
3. Arrange apples atop pastry in 4 rows, overlapping apple slices and leaving border clear. Brush apples with melted butter; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
4. Bake 30 minutes. Brush melted jam over apples. Bake tart until golden, about 8 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.