How sweet are the taste of fall favorites

Published 6:54 pm Friday, October 31, 2008

Recently we went on a trip up through Virginia and on to New England, and it’s apple time there. Signs for U-pick and cider were evident. At a dinner we had at Watson Farm — a 1789 working farm on Conanicut Island in the Narragansett Bay of Rhode Island, we had freshly made cider, done by neighbors on the farm that morning.

There are said to be 7,500 varieties of apples in the world and 2,500 varieties in the United States (Sounds like a lot — where are they?) The most common variety is the red delicious and Granny Smith abounds. Most varieties just don’t make it into the stores. For these one needs to go to farms and local markets, but here in the deep South apple trees don’t perform well. The trees need a certain amount of chill time (accumulation of a certain number of hours between 32° and 45° F). I have recently planted some varieties that need low chill time and will see how they perform. Also to consider is how well the variety performs for eating raw, cooking, cider making or whether it is good for pies. Some varieties do all these jobs well and others are more specialized. If you are buying apples in the store, Granny Smith (from Australia about 1850) performs well in all categories. If you are planting trees, rootstock also matters. Standard rootstock has many advantages but takes 6-12 years to fruit. MM 111 rootstock bears fruit in 3-4 years and Bud 9 in 1-2 years. I think Trees of Antiquity in Paso Robles, Ca., does a great job of explaining all this (

Cider means different things to different people. The word comes from the French cidre, the fermented juice of the apple. Go anywhere in Europe and ask for cider, and it will be alcoholic. The term hard cider came into vogue as a means of distinguishing the fresh-pressed juice of the apple–today’s sweet cider from the fermented brew. The best cider is made from a blend of apples that balances sweetness with tang and body with clarity. Apples are categorized primarily based on their content of sugar, tannin, and acid. Americans tastes lean toward the sweet in fresh juice, but a more flavorful hard cider will result from a tart blend.

Cider apples should be set aside from two to four weeks to “sweat.” The apples yield their juices more readily after this mellowing and the flavor is fuller. When a good firm squeeze leaves finger indentations on the fruit, it is ready for grinding. Sweet cider kept cold is good for fresh drinking ten to fourteen days after pressing and perhaps 10 days more for those with some fizz tolerance. Cider begins to turn fizzy as the natural yeasts in the juice begin to convert the apple sugars to alcohol.

Cider makers are now required to pasteurize their juice if the product is going to be wholesaled (since an E. Coli incident in the 1990’s led to more government regulations). Regulations still allow small producers to sell real cider direct from the farm. Sweet cider sold in the grocery is akin to the “winter tomato.” Pasteurized juice is not cider. Antioxidants such as vitamin C in fresh juice is lost to varying degrees with pasteurization.

Whether you have some apples at home or buy them in the store you can still make apple pies.

Upside-down Apple Tart

Ground almonds are used in this tart dough, which is the base for thinly sliced tart apples. Serve the tart with whipped cream.

8 tablespoons (1 stick unsalted butter)

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons sugar

½ cup ground almonds

1 egg yolk

3 tablespoons ice water

Cut the butter into the flour in a bowl until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the almonds and sugar. Combine the egg yolk and water and slowly stir into the flour mixture with a fork. Stir well to combine. Shape the dough into a ball and place between two large sheets of plastic wrap. With a rolling pin, roll the dough 1 inch larger than a 9-inch round cake pan. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 20 minutes, while preparing the apples.

Apple Topping

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup sugar

5 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced very thin

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Place the butter and sugar in a 9-inch round cake pan and melt the mixture over low heat. Continue cooking, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is a light golden brown. Remove from heat, cool slightly, and add the apple slices, making sure that the top is reasonably flat. Sprinkle the apples with the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Unwrap the pastry and fit it over the apples, tucking the edges under the crust. Bake in a preheated 400° F. oven for 30-35 minutes or until the crust is lightly brown.

After removing the tart from the oven, immediately turn it upside down on a serving plate. Leave the pan on the tart for a few minutes to let all the juice permeate the crust.

Serve warm or cool. Serves 8.

Food and Wine magazine had a great looking apple pie recipe for the month of November. This recipe uses a mix of Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious.

Use whatever you can find at the local grocery.


Apple Pie

(8 servings)

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour; plus more for dusting

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cubed

½ cup ice water

6 large apples-peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks or thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

In a food processor, pulse 2 ½ cups of the flour and the salt. Add 2 sticks of the butter and pulse until it is the size of peas. Drizzle on the ice water and pulse until evenly moistened crumbs form; turn out onto a surface and form into a ball. Divide the dough in half. Flatten into disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Set a baking sheet on the bottom rack. In a bowl toss the apples, lemon juice, sugar, the remaining ¼ cup of the flour and cinnamon.

On a floured surface, roll a disk of the dough to a 13-inch round; fit it into a deep 10-inch glass pie plate and brush the overhang with water. Spoon in the apples and top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cubed butter. Roll out the second disk of dough to a 12-inch round and center it over the filling. Press the edges of dough together and trim the overhang to a scant 1 inch, fold the overlay under itself and crimp. Cut a few slits in the top of the crust for the steam to escape.

Bake the pie in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cover the edge of the pie if it begins to darken. Let the pie cool for at least four hours before serving.