This is one of the ugliest apples I have ever eaten. It is also one of the most delicious.
It is not a Delicious apple, though, as in Golden or Red Delicious variety apples. And you cannot buy one like it in any grocery store. I bought this apple direct from the farm about two weeks ago.
Unless you live where the kind of apples you find in a grocery store are grown, chances are that the apples that you buy in your local grocery store, even if it's a really nice grocery store like Whole Foods or Bristol Farms and even if they were organically grown, were picked weeks and months ago, far, far away, maybe continents and oceans away. There are only about a dozen or so varieties that are grown for sale in grocery stores, because there are only about a dozen or so varieties that pack and ship well and hold their saleability for weeks. Only a handful will travel equally well by boat from New Zealand or truck from Washington state to a shelf in Massachusetts, and still be pretty, and still be bought.
The only way you will ever taste a really fresh apple is if you buy one at the farm or farmstand where it was grown. And if you do, you might find some Fujis and some Golden Deliciouses, some Galas and some Braeburns, but here, at least, you are more likely to find Liberty or Melrose, Macoun or Baldwin, or some funny local hybrid that's so new it has a number instead of a name. If you don't live here, you are likely to find varieties I've never encountered. And they will be so fresh. And they will be made of the earth and water of which you are made, and of which your children are made. And the air around them, in the farmstand and in the orchard, will be sweet and fragrant, and when you take them home and bite into them or cut them open prior to cooking with them, there will be that fragrance, all over again, taking you back, back to your afternoon at the farm, back to every afternoon at every farm in every fall, back to my childhood, and maybe yours. Your parents will live again, and so will all your dogs, romping in leaves, with flannel, touch football and marshmallow cocoa for everyone. Hallelujah.
Every year my parents would take us to some mountains near Los Angeles County, up near Big Bear Lake, to a rural town called Yucaipa with a famous section known as Oak Glen. Here are apple orchards, and here we would buy bushel after bushel of wonderful apples I've never seen or haven't seen for decades for sale in stores. Enormous Rome apples for stuffing and baking whole. Tart Gravenstein and winesap for crisps and pies. And yes, yes, Granny Smith and golden delicious, but not like you'd find in a store. Never like you'd find in a store. These apples were crisp and potent and fresh as the day we bought them in cardboard bushel boxes and paper peck bags that would bear their fragrance out in the garage long after the apples were gone.
We would stuff ourselves on everything apple, apple candy, apple pie, insanely great apple dumplings (which are gigantic apples you peel and core, stuff with raisins or currants, cinnamon, and sugar or honey, then wrap in pie crust and bake 'til golden brown to serve tongue-burningly hot with ice-cold half-n-half or cream poured over so copiously it pools in the bowl halfway up.). We would buy tchotchkes shaped like appleish things and spoil ourselves and each other with trinkets found in the local souvenir shops. We would get tired and pick fights with each other. My brother would get the window seat by threatening to throw up; my sister would get the other one because of her headaches; I would sit in the middle with nausea and headaches and nowhere else to go while my father drove fast over the winding roads, fast enough to terrify me, fast enough to make my mother touch his arm which made him bark at her. We would stop at a general store and tourist trap along the way which always had a cooler of sarsaparilla in glass bottles, then drive to Big Bear and have dinner before heading home. One night every year, guaranteed, I would enter the family car, usually a station wagon, so full of an entire day's food I could barely breathe, in a dark forest dusted with the starlight of a clean, dark night and fall asleep dreaming of living in that quiet, scented world, only to wake up reluctantly in the little garage of our tract house on a small hill by the suburban sea.
This year I got an e-mail from Hutchins Farm, my little local organic farm, informing me that it would be closing for the season on October 31. As many times as I could that week, I went over there and packed the car. I bought kale and parsnips, celeriac and two kinds of potatoes, carrots and kohlrabi, shallots and poblanos, lettuces, tatsoi, bok choi. I bought sweet potatoes and leeks. And I bought apples. I bought bag after bag of wonderful apples.
The first visit that week, I put everything in the car, and then, since it was a gorgeous autumn day, I grabbed one of the apples I had just bought, a big shiny Melrose. I bit into it and tasted the scent of that orchard and every Oak Glen autumn. I breathed in the aroma of my mother's baking about to happen in her pink kitchen thirty years ago. I ate the whole thing, threw the core into the orchard, and picked up another one. I ate that one, too. Then I went inside and bought more bags full.
I have been insatiable for those apples. I have eaten meals of only apples. From all those apples I bought, I am down to about a peck, half Baldwin and half Liberty.
These apples are not only apples you cannot find in the store, but they are not apples you would choose even if they were available. Look at them, all gnarly and "imperfect." They are tiny, smaller than my fists. Three out of these six I could fit one at a time but whole into my mouth. The Baldwins have rough skins, and the Liberty, though breathtakingly flavorful, have not kept well and are already soft. We do not cook with the skins, though, and texture is less relevant at 350°F and above.
As they age so alarmingly rapidly, it becomes imperative that I begin to bake them up. My mother would have made apple butter and apple jelly and sealed it in Ball jars so we could taste that autumn all the way into the next July, but I do not can; I only bake. A pie with these apples is going to be like no pie you have eaten this year, unless you have some from the same crop. These apples are so intensely sweet and tart and fruity they are almost spicy. The lightest kiss of cinnamon with which I bake them is almost too much.
Instead of a pie, last night I made muffins. I couldn't decide between a butter-frosted apple sheet cake or muffins, but I decided upon muffins simply because it has been too long since I've had one. I made an error reading the recipe and chopped the apples instead of grating them. Then I made some other changes. Here is the recipe I ended up with, mutated from my mother's.
Incidentally, the batch of 12 lasted 17 hours. Enjoy.
Sara by Stephanie's Autumn Apple Muffins
1½ C flour
2 C apples, peeled and chopped into ¼-½" cubes
½ C sugar
1 T baking powder
1/3 C shortening
½ t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1 jumbo egg
1/3 C milk
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Combine sugar, shortening and egg. Beat until well blended.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together baking powder, flour, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon until evenly blended.
4. Add milk to wet ingredients and blend evenly. Add apples and mix until evenly coated.
5. Dump dry ingredients into wet mixture. Mix gently with a spatula until all that is dry has become moist. Do not beat. Do not mix one moment longer than necessary.
6. Distribute batter evenly amongst the 12 well-greased cups of a large muffin pan and bake 20 minutes or until tester comes dry. Do not be worried if the muffins seem a little dry and toasty when you bring them out of the oven. You are about to remedy that.
½ C sugar
1 t cinnamon
¼ C melted butter
1. Whisk together sugar and cinnamon until well blended.
2. While muffins are still warm, remove them from pan.
3. Dip the top of each in melted butter. Make sure every nook and cranny is buttered and that butter comes up the sides a little bit from the upside-down top.
4. Dip/roll every buttered bit of each muffin in the sugar/cinnamon mix.
5. Place muffins right-side-up on a plate and serve warm.
6. Try like heck not to eat them all yourself.
A Note About Ingredients:
The better your ingredients, the more sensational will be your results, no matter what you are cooking. Here's what I use. Remember, no one is paying me to tell you this; these are just products I've tested over and over again and really like, which are in these muffins, and which are always in my kitchen (with one highly seasonal exception that should be fairly obvious).
- flour: King Arthur organic artisan wheat flour
- apples (this time): organically grown Liberty apples from Hutchins Farm in Concord, MA
- sugar: organic Florida Crystals evaporated cane juice
- baking powder: Hain gluten- and sodium-free, potassium-based baking powder
- shortening: Spectrum organic nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
- salt: sea salt
- nutmeg, cinnamon: Frontier Co-Op organic nutmeg and cinnamon
- egg: Country Hen free-range, organic egg grown here in Massachusetts
- milk: plain, light, organic Vitasoy soy milk (not because we need it but because it bakes so beautifully)
- butter: Organic Valley salted sweet cream butter
Remember, you have only 4½ days (more or less) to enter my contest!