It’s that apple time of year, when the farmer’s markets and groceries are overflowing with local apples of all varieties. No matter what your apple preference, there is something for you available right now. Don likes the good old Delicious variety, but I’m partial to Fuji or a good Gala. I like my apples sweet and crunchy. I look forward to the Honey Crisps every year, but some years the crop is spectacular, and some years, not so much. Same with Pink Ladies and Jazz. I’m not a fan of the tart apples, though I know you’re supposed to use tart varieties like Granny Smith for pies and candy apples. I’d rather just eat the caramel by itself if the apple is too pucker-making. A couple of days ago Don brought home a package of Kraft Caramels. I had a couple of Gala apples in the house, and the combination was so irresistible to him that rather than take the time to melt the caramels and coat the apples with it, he ended up just eating the two at the same time.
The apple is one of the most versatile of fruits, and in my humble opinion, few dishes, sweet or savory, do not benefit from the addition of an apple. I like to put an apple in vegetable soup. (The Indians know what they’re doing with mulligatawny soup.) I love that tiny hint of sweetness in with the savory.
In the world of my Alafair Tucker books, Alafair’s father-in-law owns a large apple orchard, so I write quite a bit about growing and using apples. In Hornswoggled, Alice describes her grandfather’s apple trees thus: “in the summer they make wagon loads of the tastiest little red apples. They’re tart and sweet all at once. Every restaurant and bakery and greengrocer in the county wants Grandpapa’s apples.” I’ve mentioned pies and cobblers, apple cakes, butters (my mother made apple butter to die for), jams and jellys, making pectin from apple peels, storing apples in barns, pressing cider.
But you certainly don’t have to do anything complicated with an apple to create a delicious and elegant mouth-pleaser. There is a very simple and very European desert I learned from Jacque Pepin which consists of sliced apples accompanied by walnut halves, water crackers, and a nice wedge of Stilton. The touch that makes this fruit and cheese plate special is that Jacque squeezes half a lemon over the apple slices, then sprinkles them with cracked black pepper.