Food festivals abound at this time of the year, from those celebrating pumpkins to oysters to apples, but the tastiest and most versatile of all these fall delights for the home cook must be apples. Orchards and farmers markets sport baskets of uncommon as well as the more familiar varieties of those shiny globes. It is no wonder they have inspired the old cliches, such as being someone’s “apple of his or her eye,” or the quintessential saying about “motherhood and apple pie.”
The tart and sweet flavor of a juicy fresh apple is a joy in itself, but apples are also wonderfully adapted to complement a variety of foods from salads to soups made with ingredients such as pumpkin and squash. Shredded apples can brighten up morning pancakes or muffins. Fried apples make a wonderful accompaniment to a pork roast, or even turkey. Still, we mostly tend to think of apples for dessert, where their uses are only limited by the cook’s imagination.
Apple pie and apple crunch currently seem to be most popular apple desserts, but there are also less caloric and simpler ways to make apple desserts.
Cut a quarter-inch slice from the blossom end of six baking apples, such as Winesap, Cortland. Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or another firm apple. Carefully hollow out the core, leaving a hole in each apple, and set in a baking pan with 1 ½-inch sides. Fill holes with some seedless raisins, chopped walnuts, or pecans, and ½ cup sugar mixed with ½ tsp. cinnamon. Pour enough water or cider in the pan to about ½-inch depth and bake the apples in a 350-degree oven for 45–60 minutes until easily pierced with a fork. Serve warm or at room temperature.
These can be used as an accompaniment to meat or as a basis for a quick dessert. Cut 4-6 tart flavorful unpared apples in quarters, quickly core and slice in 2 or 3 lengthwise slices. Melt 2-3 tbsp. butter in heavy 10-inch skillet and cook apples gently before they discolor, for 4 minutes. Turn apple slices over with a pancake turner and sprinkle with ¼ cup sugar. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for 1-2 more minutes until sugar is absorbed and underside is lightly brown. For dessert, sprinkle with an additional ¼ cup sugar, ½ tsp. cardamom, and ¼ tsp. cinnamon. If serving for dessert, a scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream make this dish especially festive.
Apple Brown Betty
This is an old-fashioned dessert that seems to have gone out of style, but is easy, quick, and delicious when made with apple cider.
Butter or spray with baking spray a 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Lightly toast six slices of several-days-old bread and pull into bite-size pieces and drizzle with ¼ cup melted butter. Toss well and place one-third of the bread into the prepared pan. Cover with 3 cups of cored and thinly sliced apples Mix ½ cup white or brown sugar with ½ tsp. cinnamon and spread half over the apples. Cover with one-third of the crumbs, another 3 cups of sliced apples, the rest of the sugar, and the last one-third of the bread. Drizzle with ½ cup cider, cover tightly with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes until the top is browned and crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature with or without whipped cream.
This old-time dessert with an intriguing name is an adaptation from the 1955 cookbook “The Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking,” by Meta Givens, and has served us well for many years. Butter or spray with baking spray an 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Unless the apple skins are tough, just core 4 or 5 medium tart cooking apples and coarsely shred in the prepared baking pan, spreading uniformly over the bottom. Sift a ¼ tsp. salt over the apples to prevent discoloration and sprinkle with ½ cup white sugar mixed with ¼ tsp. nutmeg. Cover and place in oven for 10 minutes while preparing the cottage pudding. Cottage pudding: sift together 1 ¾ cups flour with 2 tsp. baking powder ¼ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. baking soda. In a bowl, cream 1/3 cup soft butter with 2/3 cups sugar, ½ tsp. vanilla, and ½ tsp. lemon extract, and beat in 1 egg until fluffy. Add flour and 1 cup buttermilk alternately in 3 or 4 portions. End with flour and beat batter until smooth. Assembly: top apples from oven with 1/3 cup dried currants (optional) and spread the cottage pudding mix evenly on top. Bake 30-35 minutes until the pudding tests done with an inserted toothpick. Cool on cake rack, then loosen the sides with a knife and invert cake on a serving plate.
Old-time cookbooks have some rather imaginative names for other apple desserts, such as Apple Grunt. Interestingly, there are none that imply “moderation” in eating.
(I. Winicov Harrington lives in Waldoboro. She is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)