October 1, 2009

Squirrels and Apples

I came to the embarrassing realization the other day, while walking home from school, that squirrels really do eat acorns. During this time of year, I see many, many squirrels busily zipping up and down the oak-lined streets and yards, gathering and storing acorns for the winter. They are so speedy that many times, you only catch a blur of a big, bushy grey tail.

The squirrel-acorn connection is very prevalent in society; as kids, we grow up making crafts and reading stories with autumn themes during these months (apples, changing leaves, hayrides, crisp air, pumpkins…). Where I come from (Arizona) the actual, physical celebration of seasons is pretty limited due to the lack of temperature fluctuation. Looking back as a child, I think it’s pretty funny that these images and symbols of autumn are ingrained in our minds—and I never even really looked around and thought: where exactly are these things happening?

Speaking of fall...oh my! I AM IN APPLE HEAVEN. I’ve always loved the fruit and appreciated many of the good hybrid varieties available in the western part of the country, but I had no idea how delicious apples can really be!

Take Macouns for example, my new absolute favorite apple. They are a cross between a McIntosh and Jersey Black, developed by the Canadian fruit grower W.T. Macoun in 1923. Many contend that it is "the finest eating apple in the Northeast" and I must say, I wholeheartedly agree. Other delicious varieties include Paula Red, McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, and Northern Spy. I am definitely planning a road trip soon to go apple picking, so look forward to a blog posting in the near future.

The apple bounty of the season means that there are plenty for eating, baking and canning. I was recently (generously) given two bags full of delicious Macouns and Cortlands. Frankly, the Macouns were just too good to do anything else with but eat. However, I thought the Cortlands would make a lovely apple butter.

The following recipe makes the best apple butter I have ever tasted—rich, buttery texture; a marriage of tart and sweet; and just the right amount of spice. I adapted the recipe from the “guide to preserving” book that came with the canning kit I recently purchased. If you are intimidated by canning (don’t be) or do not have the equipment, you can definitely make a smaller batch and store it in a sealed container. Experiment with your favorite local apple varieties, but I bet they won’t be as good as the apples I can get right here in the best place on earth to be in the fall—Massachusetts.

Keeping with the northeast theme, I am also providing my favorite Irish soda bread recipe that pairs extremely well with the apple butter. I am really looking forward to breakfast the next couple of days….Bon app├ętit!

Spiced Apple Butter

Makes about 40 ounces.

4 lbs apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 ½ cups natural cane sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1. Combine apples and 2 cups water in a large saucepan; bring to a simmer. Cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender throughout (cooking time will vary depending on type of apple and size of pieces). Allow to cool 5 minutes.
2. Puree apples in a food processor. Return puree to saucepan along with sugar, lemon juice and spices. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until thick and darkened, about 1 hour.
3. Ladle hot butter into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process 10 minutes (alternatively, spoon cooled butter into an airtight container and refrigerate).

Hearty Irish Soda Bread

Makes one large loaf or two mini loaves.

1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
½ cup rolled oats, blended
¼ cup wheat germ
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ cups buttermilk
½ cup raisins (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (if using a baking stone, place in oven before it is heated)
2. Whisk together flours, oats, wheat germ, salt, sugar, and baking soda in a large bowl. Pour in buttermilk and raisins and mix with a wooden spoon until stiff.
3. Shape the dough into a ball, and flatten into a round about 2 inches thick. Cut 2 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf forming an X. Place dough on an oiled baking sheet or preheated baking stone. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool before slicing.
*For mini loaves, divide the dough ball in half and form 2 rounds of the same thickness. Cooking time will be slightly less.

1 comment:

  1. love your post and the happiness in your writing!! Besos