Wednesday, September 13, 2006
When we're not thinking of apples as a fresh, crunchy snack, we usually consider them for desserts. And why not? Who doesn't love the aroma of cinnamon-scented apples baking between two flaky crusts, bubbling in a biscuit-topped cobbler or simmering in a caramel-sweet pandowdy?
But apples are also a wonderful savory, perfect for fall cooking. As a chef, I have often paired apples with pan-seared foie gras or calve's liver on autumn menus. The idea is hardly new. In Normandy, the French have used apples and the apple brandy Calvados for generations in fowl and mutton dishes.
There are more than 2,500 known apple varieties worldwide. Only a handful are produced commercially for today's markets, but Virginia growers still boast more than 200 vintage varieties that can readily be found at local farmers markets, apple festivals and pick-your-own orchards.
In the Colonial era, and especially in New England, apples were often cooked as a savory: baked apples stuffed with pork sausage, or apple rings fried in bacon and served with baked beans and Boston brown bread for a simple Saturday supper. That, of course, was partly out of necessity. Before refrigeration and long before overnight shipping, barrel apples, or "keepers," were cellar-kept through the long winter and into spring. They found their place alongside squash, root vegetables and potatoes and were used to flavor roasted pork or cured ham.
Cooking with apples creates endless possibilities. Begin by selecting the right variety. Each apple has a particular use. Some, like the crisp, sweet and juicy Winesap, are best for making cider. McIntosh I love for eating out of hand. But for cooking, look for apples that are not too tart, not too sweet, and not too juicy -- apples that hold their shape and don't easily fall apart when cooked. Among my favorite varieties commonly available in local markets are Rome Beauty, York, Golden Delicious and Jonagold.
Russell Cronkhite, former chef at Blair House and author of "A Return to Sunday Dinner" (Multnomah, 2003), last wrote for Food about sandwich wraps to eat at your desk.