The Apple of My Eye
Copyright © 1998 Tarla Fallgatter. All rights reserved.
Do you remember that crisp, rosy apple you always found in your lunch pail? Did you ever go apple picking, filling basket upon basket with apples that had fallen on the ground? Did you ever bite into an apple to help pull out that tooth which was truly loose? Did you bob for apples on Halloween? Do you remember if they were cooking or eating apples?
Since the beginning of civilization, the apple has played a part in religion, mythology, folklore, history and fairy tales. Adam and Eve ate what we traditionally think of as an apple, although it was simply identified as the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Paris gave Aphrodite a golden apple that caused the Trojan War, although it is believed by most historians to have been a quince or an orange. William Tell shot an apple off his son's head and Italian composer Rossini turned the incident into music. Snow White's stepmother used an apple to poison her, and Isaac Newton's legendary inspiration was supposedly an apple that fell from the tree under which he was sitting.
The Origin of the Apple
For hundreds of years the apple has been the subject of art and legend, yet its exact place of origin is not known. Because of the horticultural needs of apples, central Asia is thought to be a possible location, and carbonized apples dated from 6500 B.C. have been found in Turkey. They were planted along the Nile in the thirteenth century B.C. by Ramses II, were being cultivated in Greece in the seventh century B.C., and the Romans had several varieties under cultivation in the time of Cato the Elder (234-249 B.C.). The apple traveled to England with the conquering Romans in the first century B.C., where it soon became a major crop.
The American History of Apples
American apples are different from European varieties because they are grown from seeds brought by early immigrants on long voyages and thus developed differently from those grown by graft in Europe. Crossbreeding with native American crab apples differentiated them further. Of the more than seven thousand apple varieties grown in the United States, only a couple of handfuls have commercial significance.
When we refer to someone or something as American as apple pie, there is good reason. In colonial times, when the pork barrel ran out and the bean pot was emptied, apple pie was more than dessert -- it was breakfast, lunch and dinner. It wasn't rare for the colonial farmer to have some hundred apple trees in his orchard, and a hint of an American nursery can be found in the records of John Endecott of Salem, Massachusetts, who swapped 500 apple trees for 250 acres of land in 1641. By 1730, Robert Prince was developing over 80 varieties on his Long Island farm, and for four successive generations, the Princes would supply the Eastern seaboard with new and old varieties such as the Royal Russet, Cat-Heat, Morgan and Pearmain -- one of the first apples cultivated at the old Plymouth colony. It wasn't until the late 1700s when John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, started his trek west, not scattering seeds along the wayside as the tale goes, but planting apple saplings. By 1800 he had established a string of nurseries that stretched from the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania to Central Ohio. His favorite apple, the Rambo, can still be bought at some local farm stands there today.
In colonial times the most important products of the apple were derived from its juice. Hard cider (wine) and applejack (brandy) were used as beverages, and cider vinegar was important for preserving food. While in the United States apples are used for a wide variety of purposes including juice and sweet cider, cooking, baking and eating out of hand, in Europe and England much of the apple crop is still used for the production of cider -- a popular alcoholic beverage.
The British captain Aemilius Simpson arrived in what is now Washington state in 1824 with a few seeds of an apple he had eaten in London at his farewell party. He later planted them at Fort Vancouver. Although his first tree bore but one apple, its progeny is honored as the ancestor of the pacific Northwest's apple. Today, Washington is the largest apple producer in the world, followed by New York, Michigan, California and Pennsylvania. The Red Delicious remains the biggest-selling crop, with the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith trailing in second and third place.
The esteemed British food writer Jane Grigson tells a story of the apple farmers in Brittany. At the end of the picking season, one last apple was left at the end of the highest branch. If it clung to the branch until all the leaves fell in the autumn winds, there would be a good crop next year, not just on that tree but in the whole orchard, pear trees and plum trees as well. According to Grigson, this mother of apples "is the sign of fertility, the apple of good luck. It was once said that Adam and Eve were driven out of the Earthly Paradise because they had eaten this miraculous apple."
The Versatile Fruit
The apple is a natural representative of American cooking and culture. It is a common ingredient throughout most of the world's cooking as well, so international dishes appear to be right at home. It is an ingredient that can be manipulated in many ways, maintain its identity and still yield itself to its intended use. It can be sautéed, baked, fried, grilled or just sliced. It works wonderfully with meats, in salads, in desserts or by itself.
The skin of the apple is a valuable ingredient, containing what many consider to be the essence of the apple's flavor. It is useful in some recipes and obtrusive in others. The skin of an apple has a high concentration of fructose (natural fruit sugar) and a substance called pectin, which provides a gelatinous, thickening element to recipes such as jams or jellies. (Pectin can be extracted from apple skins, and is sold commercially in powder form.) In a recipe for applesauce or apple butter, where the pectin and fructose contribute highly to the final outcome of the dish, the skin can be cooked along with the meat and core and seeds (which also contain smaller amounts of fructose and pectin) to great advantage. After they have given off all they can give, the entire fruit can be forced through a sieve so just the meat is used and the skin, seeds and core are discarded.
Cooking with apples can be a challenge, given the lavish variety. There are over 7,500 types of apples grown throughout the world; 2,500 are available in the United States alone. The most common apple in the American market is the Red Delicious. Stately, beautiful and dark red, it is what many most readily visualize when thinking of apples, that is, the ruby-red apple given to Snow White! Its success is not based on its flavor, which is really quite bland, as much as its ability to ship and store well. Another variety, Golden Delicious, is roundish and rich yellow with little black freckles. The Golden Delicious has a sweet, juicy flavor and is excellent for salads because of its resistance to browning. There is the Granny Smith, increasing in popularity, a bright green apple with an extremely firm texture and a tart, dry flavor. When the Granny Smith is cooked, the tartness is mellowed but the texture tends to dry a little; this is easily remedied by adding sugar to such recipes as apple pie. The Rome (or Rome Beauty) is large and deep red, almost perfectly round. Primarily a cooking apple, it has a bland flavor when eaten raw, but when baked, a richly mellow, almost savory flavor emerges. The Northern Spry is large and pale yellow-green with thin pink stripes coming out of the center. It is a beautiful apple with a gentle, tart flavor, and is great for salads or for sautéing. Another favorite apple is the Winesap. This apple has a dense, red skin with black-and-white freckles and very firm, white meat. It is most succulent and juicy, almost wine-flavored.
The following is a general guideline on how to use the wide variety of apples available, but don't be afraid to experiment with apples outside of these categories.
Cortlands, Empires, Granny Smiths, Gravensteins, Jonathans, Lady apples, Macouns, MacIntoshes, Newtown Pippins and Northern Spies are considered all-purpose apples, suitable for cooking or eating raw. Within this group, some are often better than others for certain applications: Cortlands are great for baking whole because they maintain their shape; Jonathans and MacIntoshes can be a good choice for quick-cooking methods or for applesauce or soup, because they tend to lose their shape; and the Northern Spry's flavor develops well when cooked, but Gravensteins taste better raw. Red and Golden Delicious apples are best eaten raw. Three varieties are most often cooked before eating: Crab Apples, Greenings and Romes. One other factor to keep in mind when looking for an apple substitute is flavor -- tart substitutes for tart, sweet for sweet, and so on.
Nutritionally, the apple is very healthful: an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It is not a major source of any particular nutrient, but gives small amounts of several important ones. The apple is very high in fiber (both pectin and cellulose) and a valuable source of vitamin C, with some A and several of the B complex, as well as potassium, iron and phosphorus. An apple helps to aid digestion, quench thirst (85 percent water) and clean teeth. A medium apple (two-and-a-half inches in diameter) contains 87 calories with 21 grams of carbohydrate for quick energy. It contains virtually no sodium.
The All-Purpose Fruit
Apples are one of the most adaptable of all fruits. You can start your day with a dish of applesauce or an apple compote for breakfast, have an apple at morning break, apples with soup or salad for lunch, apple cake for tea and apples with fish, meat or poultry for dinner, not to mention the dozens of delectable apple desserts. Nearly every spice and condiment can be used in dishes from soup through dessert. Apples work as well with onions and garlic in a vegetable dish or entree as they do with nutmeg and cinnamon in a pie. Poach apples in a light syrup flavored with lemon as a dessert, sauté in butter, or braise in lime juice to accompany an entree, or bake in a pie flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice. Serve raw in salads combined with other fruits and nuts in a light yogurt dressing, or try whole slices with a curry dip. Cheddar cheese may be served with raw slices or with a wedge of hot apple pie American style.
To clarify the confusing terms of apple-juice products, in the United States sweet cider -- that quintessential flavor of fall -- means the juice of fresh-pressed apples of any variety, preferably unburied. The slight fizz it develops in a few days is a sign of fermentation which can be checked with freezing. Hard cider can be dry or sweet, depending on the apple varieties used and whether fresh cider was added back after fermentation. The alcoholic content can range from three to seven percent. In the past, homemade hard cider could be as rough as moonshine, but likewise it could be very fine. European cider is usually naturally sparkling, bottled before fermentation is complete, or perhaps with carbonation added afterward, as in lower-quality beer.
Apple wine is fresh apple cider with sugar added ("chaptalized," in wine terminology) to increase the alcoholic content to 10 to 14 percent, usually about 11 percent. Normandy's Calvados is a distilled and aged spirit made from apple pomace, the mash residue left after pressing. Its alcoholic content is much higher than that of cider or wine, about 40 percent. Applejack, with roots in New England, is the American equivalent of the brandy.
Apple juice is a vague term that for marketing purposes means a pasteurized apple product containing preservatives, often made from concentrate, and with sugar added. Compared to fresh cider, it has no "real tang nor smack," as Henry David Thoreau described bland cultivated apples in his essay "Wild Apples." Apple juice has its place, but not in cooking.
One of my favorite apple recipes can be made weeks ahead and is delicious served on grilled chicken, pork or even lamb.
Apple Dried Cherry Chutney
2-1/2C apple juice or apple cider
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
3 large shallots, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4" dice
1 large firm pear, preferably Bartlett, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4" dice
1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4C dried cranberries or dried Michigan cherries
1 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
Combine the apple juice, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, shallots, ginger, mustard seeds, cumin, red pepper flakes and salt in a large pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture has reduced to one cup -- about 10 minutes.
Stir in apple and pear dice and reduce heat to moderate. Simmer until fruit is tender and mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest, dried cranberries and Italian parsley. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes: 1 cup
When you are next in New York City be sure to have breakfast, lunch or dinner (or even drop by and take out something delicious!) at Bouley Bakery, 120 West Broadway, New York City 10013 (telephone: 212-964-8362). They make wonderful artisan breads and have a bread cart in the restaurant filled with delicious breads which they cut for you on the spot! Don't miss this treat.
Tarla Fallgatter is a well-known Orange County caterer, chef, teacher, restaurant consultant and kitchen tool manufacturer. She trained at Paris' Cordon Bleu, La Varenne, and Ecole Lenotre cooking schools, and was the first foreign woman to cook in the kitchens of Maxim's. She has traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world, "sampling" the local cuisine. She markets her "Tarla" all-copper rolling pin in fine cookware shops.