Fall is in full swing, and a late-autumn snow storm reminds me of what a fleeting season autumn really is … it only lasts a short time here in the crisp, Ontario country air. Before you know it, the brilliant trees are bare and the leaves make a glowing carpet of red, gold and orange on the forest floor. After a busy summer and early fall canning and preserving grape jelly from my vines, hundreds of mason jars of heirloom tomato compote, spicy dilly beans, caramelized plum jam, peach barbecue sauce, hundreds of pounds of blueberries, basil puree, drying herbs including coriander seeds, I thought I never wanted to see another canning pot or mason jar again. I had canning and preserving fatigue!
However, just when I thought I could not face another mason jar or piece of fruit, I had the incredible good fortune to discover an abandoned apple orchard at the back of the farm property. I gathered a crew, and we set out on a few visits to harvest the jewels that hung like Christmas bulbs from the tree: The yellow variety ware so large that the branches drooped under their weight.
We all had great fun trying to decide what variety they were. We were unable to come up with a consensus. What I do know is that they were insect free … yes, they had blemished skin, but the insides were pristine. Too many people expect perfect fruit and vegetables and refuse to buy any that are bruised or imperfect. As a small-scale organic farmer, I know that in its natural growing condition each piece has its own personality, appearance and taste. There is no generic perfect apple and, as a chef and farmer, I am glad. The red apples' flesh was a gorgeous pink hue. I was very excited about cooking with the apples to see if they would hold up to the heat.
I must have been facing more than 100 pounds of wild yellow and red apples. What to do with all of them? I immediately baked an apple crisp pie with a pure butter crust. It was sensational. I recall that as a child, when eating apple pie you expected to be offered a piece of sharp cheddar or have it served a la mode. Now, instead of ice cream, there is frozen yoghurt, marscapone or creme fraiche. I also prepared Glazed Chunky Apple Pecan Cake, and chunky applesauce with local apple cider made by friends.
As I write this, I have apple butter cooking in the slow cooker. I plan to batch cook this, label and freeze it to use in barbecue sauces and baked goods. Intensely flavored apple butter can be used anywhere jams and jellies are used.
Apples are an Ontarian way of life … I grew up eating them and I took my children to pick them. We used to visit Chudleigh’s regularly until it became impossible even to find a place to park the car. We then started visiting Long Lane Orchards … a much quieter alternative where I could bring the children to pick and where my son and I could trout fish. Sadly, this year I found out they had closed their doors. Another casualty.
My father would bake apples with raisins and walnuts and drizzle them with his beloved maple syrup … he seemed to have found a way to get maple syrup into everything he cooked. Farmers would visit our neighborhood selling bushels to the bustling households. On the street I grew up on, almost every family had six to eight children. We would place the bushels in the cold cellar … but they never lasted very long. There were 10 of us, and they were a delicious after-school snack. I used to be horrified when my childhood best friend sprinkled the apples with salt.
I was lucky enough to have a European housekeeper who made the most delicious apple fritters dusted with cinnamon and lots of sugar … one of the best treats to come home to. After that iconic 2-mile walk back from school that we all seem to remember, I would open the huge front door and I could smell delicious. She also taught me how to make homemade strudel with dough gently dragged over a cloth-draped table. Do you recall when you would hate it when someone handed you an apple instead of candy on Halloween? Or that rumor, never eat them because they had razor blades in them? What would a Halloween party be without bobbing for apples?
I would like to toast the mighty apple, and next time I see a scout selling apples, I will wear the apple badge with pride and walk away with at least six! They always had the crispest and juiciest Macs. What was William Tell’s target? It was the apple. Which child did not offer up an apple as a gift to their teacher? Every parent told us that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. We have lost many varieties of apples and those growers who are trying to preserve ancient varieties face an uphill struggle.
One of my complaints is that many of the apples for sale are old and woody and lack the crisp tart flavor that I so enjoy. Here in Midland, you can find farm fresh apples such as Winesaps, Spys, Idared, Crispins, Cortlands, Empire, Spy and my favorite Honeycrisp, to name a few. I would suggest you try a new variety just for the fun of it. Many farmers offer free samples of their fruits.
Debate rages about whether it was a forbidden fruit or in fact an apple, which was the term for all fruit and nuts until the 17th century, that tempted Eve.
I can understand why the ancient Celts considered apples the fruit of the gods and why the unicorn lived under an apple tree. The unicorn was wise. Discovering that apple orchard in the wild was magical.
So if you’ve missed your chance to go and pick some apples at a local farm … you can still find large varieties at indoor local farmers' markets. Snack on a few to decide what you like best and, to keep warm, I suggest you sip on some warm mulled cider.
Here is a recipe for a Chunky Apple Cake. It keeps well if it lasts that long! Use your favourite apple variety.
Glazed Chunky Apple Pecan Cake
Yields 8 to 10 servings.
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each of ground cardamom, cloves and nutmeg (optional)
3 1/4 cups peeled, coarsely chunked Granny Smith or Spy apples 1 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted
1/2 cup of dried cranberries or raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons Calvados, Brandy, Spiced Rum or Pure Vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan; set aside.
Iin large bowl (you can use a stand mixer if you like), beat together oil and sugars until thick, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each edition. Add the vanilla.
In a separate large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to oil mixture until well blended.
Toss apples, pecans and dried cranberries in 1 tablespoon flour to lightly coat. This prevents the nuts and dried fruit from sinking to the bottom. Then stir fruit and nuts into batter along with Calvados until pieces are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Try not to over mix.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove the cake from the Bundt pan and allow cake to cool completely.
If you are planning on using the glaze, here is a hint: Use a wooden skewer to poke holes in the cake so that the glaze can penetrate deep into the interior of the cake. This step is totally optional.
Pour glaze over the cooled cake while the glaze is still warm. If you like, you can slice the cake and pour the glaze over the individual slices. If the glaze thickens, gently reheat and then glaze.
Serve the cake with frozen yoghurt or whipped cream. This is also great as a coffee cake. Feel free to switch up the fruit – use pears or plums if you prefer.
Apple Cider Glaze4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons Calvados or Rum, Vanilla (any liquor you prefer)
6 tablespoons sweet cider or tart fruit juice
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Over medium low heat, melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in both sugars. Cook until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook for 4 minutes, or until thick.
Here is a great link to give you all the facts on apples.