Recipe link: Oysters with Apple Mignonnette
Now’s the season to bite into a just picked apple, so tangy it cleans your teeth. When you can, buy directly from the farm. Right now, farmers markets are stocked with crates brimming with green and red apples. The Vendors are orchardists who are know about the flavor and best use for each variety, whether it’s to cook or eat out of hand. Better yet, go directly to the source. Take expedition to the nearest orchard, where the trees are now heavy with crop, and pick them yourself, which makes them taste even better.
Apples go in and out of season, so it’s best to ask your local orchardist what’s available and try it. Eating a wide variety of apples assures us that future generations will have access to a bio-diverse crop. Be sure to sample a range of varietals — from McIntosh, for a flavorful sauce to complex Macoun, best eaten out of hand, and including superb baking apples, such as Golden Delicious or Mutsu. Taste heirlooms and regional varieties, like Pippin, and Rhode Island Greens, both great for pies too.
In fact, it’s fun to turn dessert into apple tasting where three to seven varieties are compared for flavor and texture. We often get stuck in one favorite, like the fabulous tasting and widely popular Honey Crisp, but each apple has its season, which is sometimes short, and is best eaten when it peaks. Some hold better than others, so savor those that don’t and eat the keepers all winter long.
Freshly picked raw apples marry perfectly with local cheeses, which abound, especially cheddar, blue or fresh goat cheese. Or slice apples and throw them into salads, where their sweetness loves to be paired with a bitter fall greens like escarole. For a treat, I love them in an apple mignonette atop oysters on the half shell. (Recipe link above.)
Cooked, apples transform into a fall ambrosia. And homemade sauce blows the canned stuff away. I always pick up several giant bags of utilities apples — sold in bulk so inexpensive — to make sauce with mixed varieties in it. It’s a snap. Simply cut the apples in quarters, peel and all, then cook in a large pot until very soft with a little water or cider at the bottom to prevent burning. Put through a food mill, which miraculously removes the stems, seeds and skins. (Alternatively, you can core and peel apples, but even for a once year venture, a food mill is worth the price, and you can often pick them up at garage sales.) You can sweeten your sauce with sugar, honey or maple syrup and season it with lemon and Christmas spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. But, I much prefer it made with solely apples, served warm, when its flavor surprises even the most sophisticated diner. Each year I make enough to freeze extras and eat it all winter long, as a snack or dessert, topped with yogurt, baked into a cake, or, as my husband enjoys it, with pork.
You can also stew apples to serve with vanilla ice cream. Simply peel and chop, then flavor with local honey, brandy and spices. Simmer until soft. For guest, thin with a splash of cider for a dessert soup. Serve in a shallow bowl with the ice cream in the center.
Or simmer apples into tangy chutney to accompany cheese or grilled poultry. For each cup, combine one tart apple, peeled and chopped, with ½ cup chopped onion, 3 Tbsp raisons, ¼ cup brown sugar and cider vinegar, ½ tsp mustard seed and chopped fresh ginger with salt cayenne pepper to taste. Combine the ingredients then cook until the apples are soft and the flavors are married, about 30 minutes.