October 14, 2010

The Sweet Blend of Apples!

In one of our earlier blog postings, The Maine House discussed some well known apple varieties after our apple picking day on Libby Farm. But there are so many more varieties that perhaps you were not familiar with. How wonderful to have so many choices and recipes to try with the bounty of apples the season offers.

The best baking apples offer a balance of sweet and tart flavors as well as flesh that doesn't break down in the oven. These are a few, sometimes not very well known, great baking apples! Once you know which apples to look for, experiment, mix and match to find your tastiest combination. My mother's favorite was to blend Cortland and Melrose in her scrumptious apple dumplings! Oh, how I long for those in October. We would often have just the apple dumplings for Sunday supper in Autumn! It seems the more varieties you use, the richer the blend of flavors!

Jonathans and Jonagolds
You will recognize Johathans and Jonagolds as deep red classic apples, mainly grown in the midwest, They are tart and tangy and have been favorites for baking pies for well over 90 years. Jonagolds are daughters of Jonathan and Golden Delicious, with the best of both worlds--firm flesh and a sweet-tart taste. Both Jonathans and Jonagolds excel as pie apples.

One of the sweetest apples around, this Midwestern favorite is good for anything--including baking. It boasts a distinctive juicy crispness and is firm enough that it won't cook down much. It complements just about any other apple variety to make a stellar pie. But be ready to grab Honeycrisps; they're only available for a few months in the fall.

Granny Smith
One of the most popular baking apples, the classic Granny Smith puts the American in apple pie. It's a tart and tangy apple with a firm flesh. If you like a splash of sweetness, pair it with some slices of Honeycrisp in your recipe.

The Melrose is the state apple of Ohio--and was one of Miss Helen's favorites. It's a cross between Red Delicious and Jonathan, a combination that gives it "just a good tart, apple taste." Harvested in October, they taste best after 2-3 weeks off the tree so they can develop their full aroma and flavor.

With a crisp bite and a mellow sweetness, the Gala complements any recipe--you can even get away with using less sugar because of its natural sweetness. The crispness helps it retain its shape throughout baking so it doesn't get mealy.

So, let's chose our apples and get to baking!

Estelle's Apple Dumplings
2 cups all purpose flour

1 t. salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg yolk
2 T. water
2 T. fresh lemon juice

Sift together flour and salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two (2) knives. First cutting in 1/2 of the shortening until mixture looks like "meal," then cutting in the remaining shortening until particles are the size of giant peas.

In a small bowl, mix together egg yolk, water, and lemon juice. Sprinkle over the flour/shortening mixture. Mix in with a fork until dough stays together. Gather dough up into a large ball (if desired, divide dough into 2 or 3 parts to make it easier to handle.) roll dough 1/8-inch thick on a lightly floured boards. Cut into six (6-inch) pastry squares.

Apple filling
Three large Granny Smith apples and three large Cortlands, peeled and cored

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups water
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch pan.
 Place an apple on each pastry square with the cored opening facing upward. Cut butter into 6 pieces. Place 1 piece of butter in the opening of each apple; reserve remaining butter for sauce. Divide brown sugar between apples, poking some inside each cored opening and the rest around the base of each apple. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg over the apples.
With slightly wet fingertips, bring one corner of pastry square up to the top of the apple, then bring the opposite corner to the top and press together. Bring up the two remaining corners, and seal. Slightly pinch the dough at the sides to completely seal in the apple. Repeat with the remaining apples. Place in prepared baking dish.
In a saucepan, combine water, white sugar, vanilla extract and reserved butter. Place over medium heat, and bring to a boil in a large saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved. Carefully pour over dumplings. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Place each apple dumpling in a dessert bowl, and spoon some sauce over the top.

"Listen! the wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!"
 Humbert Wolfe

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