Monday, October 8, 2012

Delve into the Autumn Harvest: Crisp Apples!

By Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Well, you missed your opportunity. New Hampshire's u-pick apple season traditionally ceases on Columbus Day weekend. Yesterday I hobbled down the big hill at Apple Hill Farm hugging a bushel of fresh-picked tart Cortlands and McIntoshes destined for my fridge, where they'll stay crisp for at least a month and fresh for a few months more. Most of the apples we see in grocery stores travel across have the globe to get to us and are kept in storage for many months - a fresh, local apple in autumn is a real treat. Fortunately, all hope is not lost for you - the Co-op will carries a selection of Apple Hill Farm apples for as long as possible, and right now they are as good as if you picked them off the tree yourself. Here are just a few of my favorite ways to use those amazing apples...

First, proper storage is key to a good apple. I like mine crisp and tart, and within just a day or two at room temperature, apples will begin to lose both these characteristics and, after about a week or so, begin to rot. However, if you can keep your apples at just a smidge above freezing temps - for example in your fridge or a really cold root cellar - your apples will keep that fresh-picked flavor for at least a month and remain good for eating and baking for several months. Check your apples periodically to cull any that seem to be going bad more quickly. If they're still good enough to salvage, use those to bake, freeze, or dehydrate.

To enjoy your apples, of course eat them fresh! Apples are a perfect snack solo or alongside sharp cheddar cheese, nuts, nut butter, toasted pumpkin or squash seeds, or toasted seaweed bits with sesame seeds. Dehydrate any apples that are still good but not as crisp and tasty as you'd like: Slice them about 1/8 inch thick for perfect dehydrating. No need to dip in lemon juice, but sometimes I like to sprinkle them with cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Applesauce dehydrates nicely on parchment paper or fruit leather sheets, and it can also be mixed with other fruit purees to make them chewy and roll-able.
I almost never peel my apples and find the recipes turn out just as good, if not better (and certainly more nutritious and less wasteful)! If you do happen to peel apples, the skins are good dehydrated into a snack.

Apple, Bacon & Cranberry Salad with Maple Mustard Dressing
This is my riff off of a delicious salad at the Barley House, which goes great alongside mashed kuri squash or pumpkin soup and a glass of hard cider. Serves 2.
• 4 slices bacon
• 1 small head of crisp lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
• 2 small apples, sliced
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup
• 1 tablespoon gourmet mustard
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon Shire City Herbals Fire Cider (or apple cider vinegar)
 Cook up the bacon and crumble it into bits. Divide the lettuce between two large bowls. Cover with apples and cranberries. Whisk together the maple syrup, mustard, olive oil, and Fire Cider (or vinegar), and drizzle it over both the salads. Top with bacon.

Mini-Apple Crisps
In our house, we fondly refer to apple crisp as "crack" because we will eat nothing else until its gone. One-cup ramekins help us keep portions in check and also makes it easy to make up a couple crisps for dinner quickly. I can even make just one or two in my toaster oven, but that will vary toaster to toaster - be careful that the top doesn't burn. Makes two. Multiply for more.
• 3 apples, chopped (skins on, about 1/2 inch chunks)
• 1 1/2 powdered cinnamon, divided
• 4 tablespoons butter, melted
• 3 heaping tablespoons quick oats
• 3 heaping tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour (ie: Brookford Farm's)
   GF folks could substitute oat flour or some other GF flour
• 2 heaping tablespoons dark brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon powdered cloves
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill two one-cup ramekins with the apples almost to the top, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. In a bowl, combine butter, oats, flour, sugar, and cloves with a fork or pastry cutter until fully incorporated. Divide and press into the tops of each ramekin. Bake until the apples are mushy when pierced with a knife and the crisp begins to get a golden hue, about 30 minutes.

Apple Steel-Oatmeal
A few minutes of prep the night before makes this steel-cut oat recipe a snap. This makes a LOT of oatmeal - about 4-6 cups - for several days worth of breakfasts reminiscent of apple crisp. Also great as an afternoon snack.
• 1 cup steel-cut oats
• 3 1/2 cups water
• 2 apples, grated (skin on)
• 1/2 cup maple syrup, or to taste
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
At night, bring the oats, water, and grated apples to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stir in the maple syrup and cinnamon. Let sit in the fridge overnight (it will finish cooking and soak up the remaining water) to enjoy in the morning.

Easy Applesauce
A food mill makes applesauce more nutritious and easy to make. You can use the water bath method to can your applesauce, or just freeze it.
• Apples, cut into quarters (leave skins and seeds) - enough to nearly fill a gallon pot
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup sugar, or to taste
• 1/4 cup teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves, or to taste      
Put apples and water in a pot and simmer, mashing periodically, until all the apples are soft and cooked, plus a little extra time, about 30-60 minutes total. Process it through a food mill and return the sauce to the pan. Season to taste.

Learn more about Apple Hill Farm at www.applehillfarmnh.com - You might actually catch the last of the picking this week! According to the staff, they will be closed by next weekend for u-pick, but the farm stand will remain open until November, and of course you can also get their apples at the Co-op.