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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Apples: Simple, healthy, and delicious

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Eve ate an apple and gained knowledge. Isaac Newton watched an apple fall and developed insights into the Law of Gravity.

And we all know what eating one a day does, doctor-wise. They even knew it centuries ago: “Ate an apfel avore gwain to bed, makes the doctor beg his bread” is how they put it in Old English.

The old English knew what they were talking about. Apples are an excellent source of potassium, folic acid, Vitamin C, and fiber. Additionally, a recent study suggests they may help delay the onset and progress of Alzheimer's Disease.

And there is even more value to apples than that. They were rare in ancient Greece and quite expensive, so a suitor could propose marriage to a woman by tossing her an apple. Then, the couple would share one on their wedding night.

If we want to be comforted with apples, as the Song of Solomon suggests, it is easier for us today. Apples are the most commonly grown fruit in the United States. About 2,500 varieties are grown here, from Aceymacs to Zuccalmaglio's Reinettes, with around 100 grown commercially. Some, like the most popular Red Delicious variety, are available year 'round.

Right now, local orchards are hip deep in apples. The season actually came a little earlier than usual this year because the spring was so early. Steve Elzinga, owner of Erie Orchards and Cider Mill, said that when the spring comes early, apple growers worry that their crop will suffer from an early frost.

“We were on pins and needles. … When you're in full bloom, you're very vulnerable to 30 degrees or less,” he said.

However, Mother Nature — in the form of weather patterns — smiled on the area's apple growers.

“This year, you wouldn't believe it. Every tree of every variety is just absolutely full,” Mr. Elzinga said.

Erie Orchards in Erie, Mich., devotes about 30 acres to apples. At roughly 500 bushels to an acre, that means the orchard grows around 15,000 bushels of apples. Johnston Fruit Farms in Swanton has about 40 acres of apples. The area's largest, MacQueen Orchards in Holland, devotes fully 175 acres to apples.

At all three orchards, the most popular variety right now is Honeycrisp, a fairly new cross between a Macoun and a Honeygold developed by the University of Minnesota.

“It's a sweet, tangy apple,” said Martha Mora, co-owner of Johnston Fruit Farms. “Its flesh is really crisp and breaking — that's a word they use in apple terminology. You don't have to bite all the way, you can just bite partway and it just breaks off. It's very juicy.”

All apples are partly sweet and partly tart, and it is the different proportions of each that help distinguish the different varieties. The sweetness comes from sucrose and fructose, with the tartness deriving mostly from malic acid and a bit from citric acid.

Also distinguishing the varieties from each other are the texture of the flesh and even the thickness of the skin. Red Delicious apples, for instance, have thick skins while McIntosh apples have thin skins and a soft flesh.

At MacQueen Orchards, co-owner Marlene MacQueen said that the softness, along with the taste, is why a lot of her customers buy McIntosh apples for applesauce. She, however, prefers her applesauce chunkier, so she uses a mixture of Golden Delicious and Jonathans, which are firmer.

She uses the same combination of Jonathans and Golden Delicious (four Jonathans and three Golden Delicious) for her pies, too. “It gives it that sweetness and that tartness, also,” she said, adding that she uses her favorite, Golden Delicious, for baked apples as well.

Mr. Elzinga encourages customers who like Honeycrisps to try Jonagolds for applesauce and eating. He said they are “kind of mellow,” without the sweetness found in the perennially popular Red and Golden Delicious varieties.

However, like Ms. McQueen he makes his own applesauce with Golden Delicious and Jonathans.

Johnston Fruit Farms has 28 varieties in production, and a staggering 60 varieties planted, although most of these have not yet come to maturity. Some of the varieties planted last spring were created 200 years ago or more, while others are brand new.

Among the more popular varieties that are available there is the Mutsu, a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Japanese apple called an Indo. A Mutsu, Ms. Mora said, is “a spicy, sweet apple, it's a firm apple. … It's good for everything, whether it's eating or baking or sauce, and it keeps well.”

Her orchard also sells the little-known Holiday apples, which are a little more tart than sweet, and Melroses, which are the state apple of Ohio.

If you are overwhelmed by the number of apple varieties available, Ms. Mora has a delicious suggestion: Hold a tasting party. Invite friends over to sample several different types of apples, different cheeses, different breads, and different wines.

But if you're going to get your apples at an orchard, you'll need to act fast. The early spring means the apple season came early, which means it will end early, too.

“We will probably be out of apples by mid-October. Usually we carry them through Halloween,” Mr. Elzinga said.

“You need to come now. If you wait until the 20th, you're going to find pretty skimpy pickings.”

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade or 419-724-6155.

Iranian Veal-Stuffed Apples

10 small to medium Rome Beauty, Jonagold, Stayman, Winesap, or other good baking apples

11/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons butter

2 small yellow onions, finely chopped

1 pound ground veal

11/3 cups water

21/2 tablespoons long-grain white rice

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons cider vinegar, or more if needed

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, or more if needed

Cut a 1/2-inch slice off the stem end of each apple, reserving the tops. With a melon baller or grapefruit spoon, scoop out the core from each apple, being careful not to pierce the blossom end, and discard. Continue to scoop out the apple flesh to form a hollow cavity with sturdy sides. Set the removed pulp aside. Sprinkle the apple cavities with the granulated sugar and set aside with the tops.

Preheat the oven to 350 .

In a frying pan, warm the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the veal and cook, breaking up the meat with the spoon, for 3-5 minutes, or until it is no longer pink. Add 1/3 cup of the water, the rice, and the cinnamon, and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Spoon the veal mixture into the apple cavities, dividing it evenly. Replace the tops. Pour the remaining 1 cup water into a baking dish large enough to fit the apples in a single layer. Arrange the stuffed apples in the dish, and then surround them with about three-fourths of the reserved apple pulp (save the remaining pulp for another use). Cover the dish with a lid or with aluminum foil.

Bake for about 30 minutes, then uncover the dish. Stir together the vinegar and brown sugar, mix into the pulp and juices in the bottom of the baking dish, and then baste the apples with the mixture. Continue to bake, uncovered, for 15 to 25 minutes longer, or until the apples are tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

Transfer the apples to a warmed serving platter and keep warm. Pass the pulp and liquid in the bottom of the baking dish through a sieve placed over a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and simmer until reduced to a nice sauce consistency. Taste and adjust with more cider vinegar and/or brown sauce to achieve a good sweet-sour balance.

Spoon the sauce over the apples and serve at once.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Source: An Apple Harvest

Apple Pie Shake

3 cups fresh real cider (see cook's note)

2 frozen bananas

11/2 cups of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

3/4 tsp cinnamon

Cook's note: Use real cider, not apple juice, and make sure it is cold. Half-frozen is best.

Mix all the ingredients in a blender. Serve immediately.

Yield: 1 serving

Source: Martha Mora

Applesauce

15 Golden Delicious apples

8 Jonathan apples

2 cups water

1 teaspoon cinnamon, to taste

Peel and core the apples. Put in pan with water over medium heat, cover, and simmer for 30-35 minutes. Use a potato masher to mash the apples into the consistency you like. Add cinnamon and simmer another 3 minutes.

Yield: About 1 gallon

Source: Steve Elzinga

Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Mustard Apple Relish

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 pork tenderloins, about 1 pound each

2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves

4 cups unpeeled thinly sliced red apples

2 cups thinly sliced onions

2 cups apple juice

2 tablespoons coarse-ground Dijon-style mustard

1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 . Brush tenderloins with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Cook in large skillet on medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Rub tenderloins with rosemary leaves. Place on flat rack in baking pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until internal temperature of each tenderloin reaches 160 F.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Cook and stir apples and onions until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in apple juice. Cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in mustard and sugar.

Slice tenderloin and serve with apple-onion mixture.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: Michigan Apple Committee

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed

4 cups apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 quart chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup walnut halves (optional)

4 ounces goat cheese, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the squash, apples, carrots, stock, and cinnamon and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the vegetables are soft when pierced with a fork, 20-30 minutes.

Ladle the vegetables and half the broth into a blender or food processor. Puree until very smooth. Return soup to the pot and stir in the remaining broth, one ladleful at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Season well with salt and pepper.

If you wish, put a few walnuts in the bottom of each soup bowl, shingle two slices of goat cheese on top of them, and ladle the soup around the goat cheese so that the cheese is visible atop the soup.

Yield: 6 servings

Source: The Comfort of Apples

Grilled Blue Cheese and Apple Sandwiches

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

12 slices dark, dense bread, such as rye or pumpernickel

11/2 cups crumbled blue cheese

2 sweet and tart apples, (if Gravensteins aren't available, try Jonagolds or McIntoshes) unpeeled, cored, and thinly sliced

Lightly butter one side of each slice of bread.

Melt 2 teaspoons of the reamining butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Place 2 slices of bread, buttered side down, in the skillet, top each slice with about cup of blue cheese and several slices of apple, and place another slice of bread on top, buttered side up. Cook until the sandwiches are golden brown on the bottom, then carefully flip the sandwhiches over and brown the other side. Transfer the sandwiches to a platter and repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.

Yield: 6 servings

Source: Adapted from Recipes From Home



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