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Almost before you know it, apple season is here and gone. I usually begin to crave apples as soon as I smell that crisp autumn scent on the air and launch into a frenzy of apple-related activities — apple picking, apple spice cookie making, applesauce stewing, Mom’s sour cream apple pie baking, you name it.
I remember one evening last fall when an friend of a friend brought by a bag full of heirloom apples and we had a spontaneous apple tasting. Never having had any experience with heirloom apples before, I was shocked to find that each one tasted very different from the last. Some were spicy, some were tangy, some crispy and some soft. Some tasted like pear, and some tasted more apple-like than any apple I’d ever had before. Even blindfolded, I could have picked out each and every one for its distinct taste.
I gained a new appreciation of apples that day. I’d always seen them as merely a vehicle to bring me to a higher goal (dessert!). After tasting the differences between apples, though, I became convinced that I wanted to someday own (or work on) an heirloom apple orchard.
But I like cooking, and for that, raw apples just don’t cut it. Yes, I’m sure are some pretty fantastic salads out there with, say, walnuts, goat cheese and apples (yum) or maybe a sandwich on a crispy baguette with brie, honey mustard and apple (double yum).
But I leave those inventions to you. How about, instead, we go as far as we possibly can from crispy, raw apples? This weekend I was lucky enough to pick apples (while being nuzzled by goats) at the house of the wonderful Jessie Raymond. And I thought, well, when life gives you apples, why not make apple butter?
I used a crock pot because I knew I was going to be in and out of the house, but a good heavy pot will do just as well. You also theoretically need a food mill, but I pulled through pretty well with my pasta strainer.
The recipe I was working from recommended 4 pounds of apples. I used about 13 or 14 — enough to fill the crock pot — and didn’t quarter or peel them, as per the recipe. After four hours on low, the apples were very mushy. I pushed the apples through the strainer (don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty), which took forever but worked well in the end.
And then it was all waiting, because as it turns out, apple butter is just very sugary applesauce that’s been cooked down. On high in the crockpot, with occasional stirring, it took hours. Liberal spoonfuls along the way told me that it was very sweet (I think next time I’ll be cutting the sugar down a little) and had a definite vinegar bite at the end. This worried me, but my roommate reminded me that it’s for eating on things, not by the spoonful.
And, of course, she was right. This morning I had apple butter on my toast, and it tasted just like the apple butter I used to eat after a long day of elementary school classes.
I ended up with two pint jars of apple butter and a little bit left over, which, I think, is going to last me a very long time. Plus — an added bonus — my house still smells like apples and cinnamon.
Mom’s sour cream apple pie
Based on a recipe from the New York Times
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teasp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 tbsp water
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp flour
1/4 teasp salt
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. lemon rind, grated
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup raisins
2 1/2 cups apples, sliced
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 Tbsp. butter
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine the pie crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it resembles a coarse meal.
3. Remove the dough onto wax paper and, using the wax paper, roll the dough into a ball. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour. (Don’t let it get too hard!)
4. Peel, core and slice apples.
5. Beat eggs and add 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tbsp flour, the salt, sour cream, lemon rind and juice, raisins and apples. Mix well.
6. When filling is ready, take out the dough and line a 9" pie plate with pastry. Pour filling into the pastry-lined pie plate.
7. Bake for 10 mins. Meanwhile, combine remaining flour, sugar and nutmeg. Cut butter with 2 knives until mixture is crumbly.
8. Take pie out and sprinkle mixture over top. Continue baking for 30-35 minutes, until crumbs are brown and filling set. Chill before serving.
Fall certainly warrants further exploration of apples, so this post is the first in a two-part series. Stay tuned for apple cider next week!
Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.