Q: I cut a granny smith apple into quarters and, during the course of the day, ate three sections. The fourth section stayed on a plate for 24 hours. By that time, most apples would have oxidized. It was still creamy white. After nearly 60 years of eating quartered apples which always browned in minutes, I am wondering what they are using to embalm apples and if it is hazardous to my health.
A: The only additivies permitted in apples are insecticide sprays applied to the blossoms and during fruit development which, when the fruit is marketed, are present in trace amounts; and waxes and fungicides sometimes applied to increase storage life. There are no additives used in whole apples to keep them white.
Geneticists found a "better" solution. Our newton pippins, rhode island greenings, northern spy's and gravensteins have been replaced by more productive varieties with flesh that browns slowly. The mutzu, granny smith and cortland varieties belong in this category.
The slow browing has to do with tartness and a lower concentration of polyphenols (tannins), common plant pigments which turn brown on exposure to air. Tartness inhibits the enzyme that speeds the reaction of these pigments with oxygen. And, if there are fewer of these pigments to begin with, then less discoloration occurs.
As with other human solutions to divine problems, one is always forced to make trade-offs. In this case, the reduction in polyphenol concentration means the apples lack the astringency, which is an important flavor component. While they may be pleasant to eat, they lack the character necessary for cooking, baking and juicing.
Q: Every recipe for oatmeal cookies that I've tried yields the same crisp, dry wafers. Do you know how one makes them moister?
A: Oats pull moisture out of the cookie batter as it bakes. One way to prevent this is to mix them with a little boiling water in order to raise their moisture content before mixing into the cookie batter. Pastry flour keeps the cookies soft and tender. If your supermarket does not carry pastry flour, a health-food store probably does. The cookies should not flatten when baked; if they do, add 1/4 or 1/2 cup more flour. And finally, bake the cookies until just firm in the center and only lightly browned around the edges. Here's a recipe that produces the cookies you want: OATMEAL PILLOWS
(Makes 24 3-inch cookies)
1/2 cup boiling water
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup butter, softened, plus extra for cookie sheet
2 cups pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pour boiling water over oats in mixing bowl. Cover with plate and let steep for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and blend on medium speed until thoroughly mixed. Drop from tablespoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until center of each cookie is just firm, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a cool cookie sheet or plate. Store in tin or tightly covered container when cool.