DESPITE THE bad reputation apples have had since the dawn of time (or perhaps because of it) they have been the symbol of love and beauty, health and good fortune, sexual vigor and fertility and eternal life.
As it turns out apples may also have had a bum rap. Biblical scholars have knwon for a long time that the "forbidden fruit" in the Garden of Eden is not mentioned by name and the Hebrew word for apple doesn't even appear in the biblical version of Adam and Eve. Waht's more, according to the experts it's unlikely apples existed in that part of the world at the time. Some say the forbidden fruit was the apricot, but the message has not gotten out.
Who knows? If it did, the popularity of the forbidden fruit might decline. And what a pity that would be -- just at a time when interest in apple varieties beyond Delicious and McIntosh has been increasing. Even the supermarkets have caught on and the crisp, tart, juicy, green Granny Smith was readily available most of the summer even though it must be imported.
Roadside stands provide the other interesting varieties that are no longer widely available in this area: Rambo, Grimes Golden, Rhode Island Greening.
I'd love to try a Baldwin again to see if it is as good as I remember from my childhood. I'm tired of hearing how wonderful Courtlands, Red Astrachan, Gravenstein, Macoun, Fameuse, Northern Spy and Pippin are because I can't find any. In the early 1900s, 1,000 varieties of apples in this country were available. Good, bad and indifferent, most of them have disappeared.
Not that this area is bereft of good, tart apples -- Jonathans, Winesaps, Yorks when they are fresh are excellent and if you can catch a Mac before it goes mealy -- a trick indeed -- it's nice.
But like so much American food in the late 20th century the biggest selling apple, the Delicious, is bland. It is, however, better than it used to be. When it first appeared the Delicious had a texture of mush; now at least the mush is gone. The apple is available year round, thanks to a storage technique called CA (Controlled Atmosphere). Developed in England shortly after World War II, apples are placed in cold storage where the atmosphere has a higher than normal level of carbon dioxide. This slows down the apple's breathing which keeps it "fresh" up to 10 months. Like year-round strawberries these apples look better than they taste.
One thing hasn't changed though -- the apple-a-day maxim. Advised a Vermont publication, "the Household" in 1881: "If families could be induced to substitute the apple for the pies, cakes, candies with which children are too often stuffed, there would be a diminution of doctors' bills sufficient in a single year to lay up a stock of this delicious fruit for a season's use."
Not that apples are an outstanding source of nutrients, but they are an excellent source of fiber when they are raw and fiber, which acts as a scrubbing brush onece it gets inside and is something in short supply in the highly processed American diet. An apple also acts as a toothbrush. Eating a raw apple is supposed to cleanse the mouth of "96.7 percent of oral bacteria."
But eating apples raw or even baking them in pies is not what the early colonists did with most of their fruits: they turned them into cider -- by the barrelful.
Hard cider was drunk by young and old, and among the poor it was a beverage for every meal. How much did the colonists consume? Well, a 1724 document said that a town consisting of 40 families made 3,000 barrels in one year, and there are 3 1/2 gallons in a barrel. But cider along with other far more intoxicating beverages was swept out with the temperance movement of the 1800s. Some fanatics even called for destruction of the apple trees.
Like today's most popular apple, modern day apple juice is a pale copy of the early cider. True hard cider is difficult to find.
Still, with all the tragedies that have befallen the apple, there's much more good to be said for it than bad.
Apples make marvelous pies, cakes and puddings, are excellent paired with meats, poultry and fish, add a fine consistency to certain creamed soups, are harmonious with vegetables and are more than capable of standing by themselves in pancakes, fritters, dumplings, jelly and butter.
They will also perform the following tricks:
Placed in a bag of potatoes an apple helps to prevent the potato from sprouting.
Brown sugar will remain moist if an apple is put in the container. The apple will do the same for cookies.
Be sure to store apples in the refrigerator to slow down decay and then use the varieties you find as follows:
Jonathan -- All purpose, including eating. McIntosh -- Juicy, sweet but tend to disintegrate during cooking. Rhode Island Greening -- Tart, good for cooking, especially pies. Stayman or Winesap -- All purpose, spicy. York -- Good for pies and cooking, holds its shape. Delicious -- Desserts, salads. Golden Delicious -- Dessert. Granny Smith -- All purpose. SHRIMP SAUTE WITH APPLES (2 servings) 1/2 pound shelled, deveined
shrimp 4 tablespoons butter 1 apple, thinly sliced 3 tablespoons brandy Salt and freshly ground black
pepper to taste
In skillet heat butter and add the shrimp and apples. Toss until shrimp are pink; add brandy and ignite. When flame dies down, season with salt and pepper.
Serve over rice. Garnish with toasted walnuts.
Adapted from La Charcuterie, Philadelphia
This cheese apple bread tastes better the second day. CHEESE APPLE BREAD (Makes 1 loaf) 1/2 cup butter 2 eggs 2/3 cup sugar 2 cups flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup peeled shredded apples 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Combine butter, eggs and dry ingredients in large mixing bowl; blend well. Stir in apples and cheese. Turn into well-greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until center of loaf tests done. Cool thoroughly before removing from pan. Serve with sweet butter.
This bread freezes well. APPLE ONION CASSEROLE (6 servings) 3 large mild onions, sliced 1/2 cup brown sugar, or less Salt and freshly ground black
pepper 1/4 cup butter 6 tart apples, peeled and sliced Buttered bread crumbs
Lightly grease casserole. Arrange layer onions in bottom; sprinkle with half of brown sugar. Season and dot with half the butter. Add half of the apples in a layer; top with remaining sugar. Season and dot with remaining butter. Top with bread crumbs and bake at 300 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. SPICED APPLE COOKIES (2 dozen cookies) 2 tart apples, peeled and finely
chopped 1 cup strong coffee 1 cup sugar 1/4 pound butter 1 cup raisins 1 teaspoon cinnamon 3/4 teaspoon cloves 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups unbleached flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans Confectioners' sugar for topping
Cook apples with coffee, sugar, butter, raisins and spices in pot until apples are tender. Cool; add vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients except confectioners' sugar. Drop by heaping spoonful onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Cool and sprinkle with sugar. AMARETTO APPLES (4 servings) 4 large firm apples 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup amaretto Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
Combine sugar, amaretto, orange rind and juice in a heavy saucepan. Heat to bubbling slowly. Meanwhile, peel, core and thickly slice apples. As they are sliced, add them to pan. Simmer until apples are tender and all liquid has evaporated.
Chill and serve plain or with creme fraiche or whipped cream. AMARETTO APPLESAUCE 2 pounds firm apples, peeled 1 1/2 cups pitted Bing cherries* Water 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 cup amaretto Peel and core apples and cut in chunks. Combine with cherries and water to partially cover the apples. Cook, uncovered, until apples are soft. Spoon some of mixture into blender, or food processor, and blend until smooth.Repeat until all of the mixture is pureed. Return to pot with sugar to taste and cinnamon. Boil gently, stirring occasionally so apples don't stick to bottom of pan, for about 15 minutes until sauce reduces and thickens a little. After 10 minutes add amaretto and continue cooking.
Serve warm or cool. Freeze if desired.
*Use fresh cherries when in season. It takes about 10 ounces to make 1 1/2 cups pitted cherries. When cherries are out of season, use frozen or canned cherries. If canned cherries are used, drain syrup. CURRIED CHICKEN WITH APPLES AND CURRANTS (3 servings) 4 chicken breasts, boned, if
desired Flour 2 tablespoons oil 5 ounces chicken stock 1/2 teaspoon salt Pepper to taste 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon dry sherry 1 tablespoon soy sauce 3/4 teaspoon curry powder 1 tablspoon honey 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 2 medium apples, peeled and
sliced 1/2 cup currants or raisins 1/2 cup walnut pieces
Dredge chicken breasts in flour. Heat oil and fry chicken on high heat, 2 to 3 minutes, until brown. Remove from pan and discard oil. Cook together chicken stock, salt, pepper, garlic, sherry, soy sauce, curry powder, honey and parsley.
Return chicken breasts and add apples, currants or raisins and walnuts. Cook about 10 minutes until chicken is done and sauce is thickened. Adapted from "Easy Gourmet"