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Apples: The Fruit of Fruits

There are four apples resting on a small shelf above my kitchen sink. There’s nothing unusual about this, but it’s their place of origin that I find interesting. Sitting side by side, they look only slightly different. All are various crimson shades with subtle variations. The difference is that one was grown a mere 30 miles from where I type these words, while the others were grown in Washington State, Argentina, and New Zealand. Not only is New York State the second-largest apple-producing region in our country (Washington State is the first), Western New York is also the oldest. According to the New York Apple Country Web site, French missionaries planted apple orchards near the Niagara River as early as 1700.

So the conundrum is, I suppose, why there is a need to ship apples from another hemisphere to this apple-rich area?

The apple is a very old fruit indigenous to the area around the Black Sea. The Greek writer, Homer, gave mention of apples growing in his father’s garden prior to the eighth century BC. And when Eve wandered the Garden of Eden, she found a fruit so perfect and enticing that she was in awe. Historians have claimed the tempting fruit was an apricot, banana, and even a pomegranate. But it’s most often written that it was an apple. The Latin word for apple is pomum, which is also the word for fruit, implying that the apple is the “fruit of fruits,” or at least the most noble of them. Apples are still referred to as pommes in French.

It’d be difficult to write an article about apples in our country without giving mention to John Chapman, a legend of American folklore. He was the quirky character who became known as Johnny Appleseed, who had a penchant for traipsing around the country planting apple orchards. But he was not the scatterbrained wanderer that most parodies suggest. He was a deeply passionate and religious man who chose a life of simplicity. It’s said that his only possessions were what he wore, and that he relied on the generosity of people he met for food and shelter. Because of him apples became a staple in the pioneer’s diet. He is also said to have planted his first orchard on his uncle’s farm in what is now Olean.

Apples are a highly nutritious food. They are a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber. One medium-sized apple has only about 80 calories but contains more than 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of fiber, more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and insoluble fiber aids the digestive tract. And in addition to potassium and vitamin A, apples are also rich in vitamin C. What’s more, according to the New York State Apple Association, daily consumption of apples may help with healthy lung function, improve your memory and learning capacity, and prevent certain types of cancer. This claim is echoed by the American Cancer Society, which says that because the fruit is so rich in phytochemicals, apples are better antioxidants than vitamin C and other supplements—a miracle fruit. Most of the fiber and vitamins are located in the skin, so it’s best not to peel them. An apple a day really will keep the doctor away.

Apples, like most fruits, can be used in almost any preparation, but they truly shine in desserts. One of my favorites is the French upside-down apple tart called tarte tatin. It takes its name from its creators, the Tatin sisters who owned a small hotel in the Loire valley in the beginning of the last century. According to legend, their hotel stood close to the train station and the newly constructed line from Paris brought people to the hotel each day. Trying to impress the influx of sophisticates, and having a wood-fired stove without an oven, they developed a tart made from local apples. This tart was “baked” upside-down on top of the stove under a covered dome, and the reason was this: If the delicate pastry came into direct contact with the heat it would burn before the apples were cooked. By placing the apples in the pan first, both the apples and pastry cooked while butter and sugar formed a caramel.

Apples are at their peak during late summer and early fall; October, in fact, is National Apple Month. Select apples that are firm and free of bruises; they should have an overt fruity, apple fragrance. Apples kept in refrigeration will last up to 10 times longer than those left at room temperature—up to 90 days, according to the US Apple Association. Apples also absorb flavors and odors easily, so it’s best to store them away from foods with strong odors. Apples also emit ethylene, a naturally occurring gas that encourages ripening. Thus, it’s best to store apples separate from other produce, or in a plastic bag, to prevent them from accelerating the ripening of other fruits and vegetables.

While I ate my dinner this evening, I ate a slice or two from each of the four apples. I was surprised at how delicious and fresh they all tasted, given the considerable lengths some of them traveled to get to my table. They each had their own particular nuances in flavor, texture, and aroma. I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but the one that was grown in Niagara County tasted the best.


Yield: 3 quarts

3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 slices ginger, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 apple, diced
6 cups chicken broth
3 cups diced, cooked chicken
1/2 cup cooked white rice

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot, add the onion, cel¬ery, carrot, and red bell pepper, sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar, curry, cumin, pepper, salt, and hot pepper, sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 5 minutes over low heat while stirring. Add the apple, stir in the chicken broth and chicken; simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the rice before serving.

Tarte Tatin

Yield: 1 tart

6 Granny Smith apples
4 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 recipe pâte brisée (listed below)

Preheat an oven to 350F. Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Melt the butter and sugar in a 10-inch skillet. Add the apples skin-side down. Cook the until the sugar begins to caramelize and turn a rich golden brown, about 15 minutes. Shake the pan often to alleviate sticking. Remove the pan from the heat.

Roll the pâte brisée out to approximately 1/4 inch thick. It should be just larger than the skillet. Carefully cover the apples in the skillet with the dough and push the edges down slightly. Place the skillet in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes. The tart is done when the dough is a light brown and when you tip the skillet the caramel is a dark brown color. Remove the skillet from the oven and, very carefully, invert the tart onto a large plate. Serve warm or at room temperature with either, whipped cream, crème fraîche, or ice cream.

Bratwurst Braised with Onions & Apple Butter

Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 pounds bratwurst
2 small onions, sliced
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Heat the oil over high heat in a heavy skillet. Add the bratwurst and cook until brown. Sprinkle the onions in the pan, turn the sausage, and stir until the onions are golden brown. Add the chicken broth and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the apple butter, salt, pepper, and vinegar; cover and cook for another 10 minutes.

Apple, Walnut, & Blue Cheese Salad

Yield: 6 servings

3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 head leaf lettuce, washed and torn into pieces
2 apples, halved, cored, sliced lengthwise
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup walnuts, chopped

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon, mustard, shallot, oil, salt, and pepper. Place the lettuce, apple slices, blue cheese, and walnuts in a salad bowl. Drizzle the dressing over and mix gently.

Pâte Brisée (Tart Dough)

Yield: 1 (10-inch) tart dough

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cold water

Combine the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a food processor and pulse for approximately 15-20 seconds, or until it resembles coarse cornmeal. With the motor running, add the water. Remove the dough from the machine and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

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