Apples, apples, everywhere! Piled in a bowl on the counter, crammed into the refrigerator crisper, simmering on the stove, roasting in the oven. The essence of autumn, apples figure into appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and (of course) dessert.
The true apple of my eye is the Keepsake. These small, often irregularly shaped apples are palm-sized and perfect for the pocket. Hard, crisp, tart-sweet, slightly nutty, their flavors seem to mellow with age. Faithful to their name, Keepsake apples also store well.
Our farmers market stalls are stocked with many local varieties. Along with Keepsake, you’ll find Honeycrisp, Haralson, Zestar, Chestnut Crab, Honeygold, Regent, Fireside, Prairie Spy, to name but a few. Many of our farmers at the markets offer samples, so taste as you choose.
Look for apples that are plump and firm; size has nothing to do with flavor. Once home, store the apples in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper; they need the humidity that sealed bags provide. Denser, crisper apple varieties, such as Keepsake and Haralson, will keep for several weeks or longer.
In the kitchen, the sweeter apples are more likely to hold their shape when baked. The sharper apples tend to collapse. For pies and applesauce, I like to use a mix of apples. The tart apples melt into a lush sauce, while chunks of the sweet apples hold their shape.
To make applesauce: Core and chop the apples, leave the skin on for a rosy color. Toss the apples into a pot with about 1 to 2 inches of cider and simmer until it’s thick and lush. (For a smooth sauce, turn it into a blender). Add cinnamon, allspice, cardamom or nutmeg, and sweeten with honey or maple sugar to taste. That sauce will become apple butter if you continue cooking and stirring until it is very thick and caramel brown.
To make a savory sauce: Add little fresh sage, thyme, chile pepper, horseradish, lime or grapefruit to taste as it cooks. Serve savory applesauce with pork, lamb, grilled sausages or roast duck.
If you’re in a hurry, try pan-roasted apples for dessert or to garnish roasted meats, or a plate of cheese and cured meat. There’s more than one way to enjoy an apple a day.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.