The saying, “As American as apple pie,” is referred to as the symbol of America. The word “apple” comes from the Old English word “aeppel.” Apples probably have more symbolic value than any other fruit on earth, from the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve to the offering of the Evil Queen to Snow White, the apple has always represented beauty, love and good and evil.

Carbonized remains of apples have been found by archeologists in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland, dating back to the Iron Age. There is also evidence to show that apples were eaten and preserved by slicing and sun drying during the Stone Age in Europe. In China, Egypt, and Babylon records were found that mentioned man understood the art of budding and grafting fruit trees as long as twenty centuries ago.

When the English colonists arrived in North America they found only crab apples. Crab apple trees are the only native apples in the United States. European settlers arrived and brought with them their English customs and favorite fruits.

Johnny Appleseed

One of America’s fondest legends is that of Johnny Appleseed, a folk hero and pioneer apple farmer in the 1800s. There really was a Johnny Appleseed, however, his actual name was John Chapmen (1774-1845) and he was born in Leominster, Massachusetts. His dream was for the land to produce so many apples that no one would ever go hungry. Most historians today classify him as an eccentric but very smart businessman, who traveled about the new territories of his time, leasing land and developing nurseries of apple trees.

When covered wagons traveled over the Oregon Trail westward, they carried apple trees and “scion wood” for grafting as part of their cargo. Often the family orchard was planted before the ground was broken for their log cabin home. Josiah Red Wolf, a Nez Perce leader, planted apple trees at Alpowa Creek near the Snake River in southeast Washington. He is probably the first Native American to have had a European-style garden and orchard. Red Wolf’s trees lived for decades. America’s longest living apple tree was reportedly planted in 1647 by Governor Peter Stuyvesant in his Manhattan orchard on the corner of Third Avenue and 13th Street. The tree was still bearing fruit when a derailed train struck it in 1866.

There are approximately 10,000 different kinds of varieties of apples grown in the world with more than 7,000 of these varieties grown in the United States. Apples are a member of the rose family of plants and the blossoms are much like wild-rose blossoms. There are between 25 to 30 kinds of wild apples grown throughout the world with seven kinds in the U.S. Most wild apples are crab apples with small, sour, hard fruit. 

Resource Information: Apples: History, Folklore, Horticulture and Gastronomy, by Peter Wynne, Hawthorn Books, New York, N.Y., 1975.

How To Care For Apples                                                                                                                                                        

Short Term Storage

Apples do best in the fruit drawer of the refrigerator, where they keep for up to 3 weeks. At room temperature, they ripen too quickly and become mealy after 2 days. Storing apples next to broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, greens or cauliflower could cause these vegetables to spoil faster, since apples give off ethylene gas, which causes faster ripening.

Long Term Storage

Almost any kind of apple will keep for three or four months, or even longer, if stored properly. It’s cheap and easy to do. All you need is newspaper, a box or basket, and apples. A root cellar is optional, but not necessary.

The main causes of apple spoilage are time, bruises, and contact with a rotten spot on another apple. Only perfect apples should be used for long-term storage. Even minor imperfections speed spoilage , so scan them and set aside any with bruises for immediate use.

Prevent contact between apples stored for the winter by wrapping them individually in sheets of newspaper. The easiest way to do this is to unfold a section of newspaper all the way and tear it into quarters. Then stack the quarters.

Place an apple on top of the stack and fold the top sheet of paper up around the apple, wrapping it in paper. Give the corners a slight twist—just enough to make them stay wrapped. If you twist them too hard, the paper will tear. It’s not necessary to exclude air. Just twist hard enough so the paper does not come unwrapped before the apples are boxed. The paper prevents contact between apples, so just one rotten apple won’t spoil the whole bunch. 

Boxed apples need to be kept in a cool, dark spot where they won’t freeze. Freezing ruptures all of an apple’s cells, turning it into one large bruise overnight. Keep wrapped apples in a cardboard box. It need not be airtight, just tight enough to impede air circulation. Store the boxed apples in an unheated basement, a pantry, an enclosed porch, an unheated attic or a root cellar

Apple Equivalents:

1 large apple = 2 cups sliced or chopped = 1 1/2 cups finely chopped =1 1/4 cups grated.

1 medium apple = 1 1/3 cups sliced or chopped = 1 cup finely chopped = 3/4 cup grated.

1 small apple = 3/4 cup sliced or chopped = 3/4 cup finely chopped = 1/2 cup grated.

1 pound apples = 4 small apples or 3 medium apples or about 2 large apples

1 (9″ or 10″) pie = 2-1/2 pounds (4 to 5 large or 6 to 7 medium or 8 to 9 small apples)

Peck = 10-1/2 pounds

Bushel = 42 pounds (yields 20-24 quarts of applesauce)

Below is a chart with some of the best baking and cooking apples in North America.

Name Best Uses Flavor Characteristic, Appearance
Braeburn Sauce Tart, sweet, aromatic, tall shape, bright color
Cortland Pies, Sauces, Fruit Salad Tart, crisp, larger than McIntosh
Fuji Baking Sweet and juicy, firm, red skin
Gala Dried, Cider Mild, sweet, juicy, crisp, yellow-orange skin with red striping (resembles a peach)
Granny Smith Baking Moderately sweet, crisp flesh, green skin
Jonagold Pie, Sauce Tangy-sweet, Yellow top, red bottom
Jonathan Sauce Tart flesh, crisp, juicy, bright red on yellow skin
McIntosh Sauce Juicy, sweet, pinkish-white flesh, red skin
Newtown Pippin Pie, Sauce, Cider Sweet-tart flesh, crisp, greenish-yellow skin
Rhode Island Greening Pie Very tart, distinctively flavored, grass-green skin, tending toward yellow/orange
Rome Beauty Baking, Cider Mildly tart, crisp, greenish-white flesh, thick skin
Winesap Sauce, Pie, Cider Very juicy, sweet-sour flavor, winey, aromatic, sturdy, red skin

 

Italian Apple Desserts

Italy is a major apple producer, one of the top five worldwide. The region most Italians associate with apples is the Val di Non, in Trentino. It’s not alone, however. Apples are also grown in Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto, Piemonte, and Campagna areas. The crop begins in August and continues on through spring. As is the case elsewhere, most of the commercial production concentrates on a tiny fraction of the roughly 7,000 known strains of apples, and if you visit an Italian market, you will likely find (depending on season) Granny Smiths, Goldens, Golden Delicious, Starks, Renettes, Gravensteins, or Galas.

In modern Italian cooking, apples generally appear at the end of the meal, either in a bowl of fresh fruit or in a cake prepared for a special occasion. Golden Delicious apples are favored eating apples, while the Red Galas are a more recent addition in Italy and have become extremely popular.

When one thinks of Italian fruit desserts, it is usually a dessert made with pears, figs, or nuts. Apples are not usually associated with Italy. Apples are typically American! However, I learned in doing research for this post that apples are plentiful all year round in Italy and apples are used in a variety of dishes.  A very common dessert in Rome, and other parts of Italy, is the torta di mele, meaning a simple apple cake.

Granny Smith Apple Sorbet With Muscat Wine and Grappa

Marcella Hazan writes in her book, Marcella Cucina, about this recipe:

This is the most deliciously fresh sorbet, I know, she says. What makes it so is the felicity with which the ingredients act upon each other. The Granny Smith apples and the grappa both have bite, but the grappa isn’t all bite. It is packed with the aromatic esters of the pomace, the grape skins left over after making wine, from which it is distilled. The honey is all suavity with its characteristically musky aftertaste. The Muscat brings its own soft touch and the scent of peaches and apricots. These qualities don’t stand apart, but coalesce to produce this sorbet’s unique, zephyr-like refreshment. If you have all the choices in the world, use the low-alcohol Moscato naturale d’Asti, a shyly sweet Muscat from Piedmont. Only slightly less desirable, but far more available, is Asti Spumante, which you must beat lightly with a fork to drive away some of the bubbles.

Grappa is one of Italy’s most popular alcoholic drinks, with somewhere in the region of forty million bottles of grappa being produced every year. It’s also a very Italian drink; since 1989 the name has been protected by the EU, meaning that the drink can only be called grappa if it’s sourced and produced in Italy. The main ingredient of grappa is pomace, which consists of the grape skins, seeds and stalks that are left over from the wine making process. These are taken through a second process of distillation, which extracts the remaining flavors from the pomace before the waste is discarded. The grappa is then either bottled at once, which creates white grappa (grappa bianca), or aged in wooden casks to create the yellow or brown-hued grappa known as riserva.

Muscat is the only grape to produce wine with the same aroma as the grape itself. Sweet Muscats have a rich nose of dried fruits, raisins and oranges. Muscat grapes range from white to almost black in color. Muscat vines and wines are found throughout Italy usually producing light wines with distinct aromas. The basic wine styles made are spumante (sparkling), frizzante (half-sparkling), and sweet dessert wines, some of which are fortified. (Fortified wine is wine to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) has been added).  This unique wine is often labeled simply as “Moscato” or if it’s grown and produced in Italy’s Northwest region of Piedmont, it’s labeled with its full name of Moscato d’Asti (named after the grape, Moscato, and the Italian town of Asti). A close relative of Piedmont’s Asti Spumante, Moscato d’Asti is generally produced in smaller quantities than Spumante.

Marcella Hazan’s Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 Granny Smith apples
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Freshly squeezed juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 1 cup muscat wine or other sweet wine
  • 2 tablespoons grappa.

Directions:

1. Peel and core the apples and cut them into pieces about the size of a walnut.

2. Put the honey, sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil over low heat. Cook down to a syrup half its original volume.

3. Put the apples, the honey and sugar syrup, the juice from the lemon, the muscat wine and the grappa in a food processor and puree to a creamy consistency.

4. Freeze to a very firm consistency in your ice-cream maker. Serve when done or transfer to suitable containers and store in the freezer.

Yield: About 2 pints sorbet.

The following recipe is a typical method of preparing fruit for the end of an Italian meal. 

Apples Simmered in Wine

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 pounds Golden Delicious apples
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white wine, not too dry
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • The juice of a half a lemon

Directions:

Add the lemon juice to a bowl of cool water. Peel, core, and slice the apples, slipping the pieces into the bowl of water to keep them from discoloring. When you are done, drain the apples and transfer them to a pot with the wine, sugar, and butter. Cook them over medium high heat, stirring them occasionally, until they are just tender. Don’t overcook them or they will be mushy. Transfer them to a heated serving bowl, arranging the slices so they don’t appear jumbled, pour the cooking liquid over them and serve. A scoop of frozen yogurt is a nice addition when you serve this for guests.

How Did Strudel Get To Be Italian?

People generally think that strudel is an Austrian dish, however, this sweet is originally Turkish. In fact, the precursor to the strudel is baklava, a Turkish dessert stuffed with dried fruit and spices. The Hungarians and Austrians were introduced to baklava during the invasion of Eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century. From 1526 to 1699, the Turks controlled Hungary and, during these two centuries, the Hungarians adopted many different aspects of the Ottoman culture, including various Turkish recipes.

In 1699, when the Turks lost their power over Hungary to the Hapsburgs, the recipe for baklava spread throughout Austria and became known as strudel. Unlike traditional baklava, strudel was made with the apples that grew across Europe. Then, during the Congress of Vienna in 1816, Austria gained control of Venice and the surrounding region and strudel spread throughout Northeastern Italy.

Italian Apple Strudel

Make the pastry and the filling the day before you want to serve it.

Ingredients for the pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions for the pastry:

Place all the ingredients in the work bowl of the processor. Mix until the dough forms a ball

If the mixture is too dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time.

Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead a few times.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature 2 to 3 hours or in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. (Remove refrigerated dough to room temperature at least 1 hour before rolling the dough.)

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 2 lb. firm apples, such as Granny Smith
  • 1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
  • 1/4 cup raisins, golden is preferred
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons Rum
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • Powdered sugar

Directions for filling:

Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a pan, add the bread crumbs and brown well. Set aside until you roll out the pastry.

Peel the apples and cut them into quarters. Cut away the seeds and cores and cut the apple quarters into 1/2-inch-thick wedges.

Mix the apples with the pine nuts, raisins, grated lemon zest, sugar, cinnamon and the rum.

For best flavor, refrigerate the apple filling at least overnight. Filling will last in the refrigerator for up to a week in an airtight container.

Assemble and Bake the Strudel:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pastry dough at room temperature.

  1. Flour the rolling surface and pin lightly as you work to prevent the dough from sticking.
  2. Roll out the dough from the center to the edges into a very thin rectangle that measures about 36 x 24 inches. The dough will relax more as you roll it. As it gets thinner, you should be able to pull and stretch it gently with your hands to coax it into the shape you want; it doesn’t have to form a perfect rectangle.
  3. Place the dough on a clean, dry kitchen towel. Arrange the dough with one of the longer sides facing you. (This will help you move the strudel to the baking sheet once it is formed.)
  4. Spread the bread crumb mixture evenly over the dough leaving a 1 1/2-inch-wide border on all sides of the rectangle.
  5. Arrange the apple mixture in a long mound along the side closest to you. The mound of apples should measure about 4 inches wide and as long as the bread crumb mixture, remembering to leave the 1 1/2-inch-wide border.
  6. Using the towel for assistance, fold the pastry closest to you over the apples. Begin rolling the strudel into a fairly tight roll, starting at one end of the apple mound, giving it a half-roll and gradually working your way down the roll. Repeat as necessary, working your way down gradually down the roll each time.
  7. You should end up with a fairly even, lumpy looking roll that is centered, seam side down, on the kitchen towel.
  8. Use the towel to transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet, bending the strudel into a crescent shape, if necessary to fit it on the pan. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining half tablespoon of butter.
  9. Seal the ends of the strudel by folding the ends of the roll underneath and pressing them firmly with your fingers. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 375º F. Bake 30 minutes. Check the strudel: the top should be a light golden brown. If deeper in color than that, reduce the temperature to 350º F.
  10. Rotate the baking pan in the oven so the strudel cooks evenly. Continue baking until the strudel is deep golden brown and the crust is firm, about 30 minutes. Remove the strudel from the oven and cool 30 minutes. With two metal spatulas, carefully lift the strudel to a wire cooling rack and let stand until completely cooled. Dust with powdered sugar.
The Second Fold

Use a kitchen towel to help roll the strudel.

Apple-Ricotta Coffee Cake

This coffee cake is perfect for a brunch and will keep for a couple of days, so it can even be made the day before you plan to serve it.

Cake Ingredients:

  • 2 firm cooking apples; peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1 lemon                                                                                                                                                                   
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus more to dust cake pan
  • 3/4 teaspoon. baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon. salt
  • 1/2 cup Smart Balance butter blend sticks for baking; at room temperature
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar or light sugar alternative
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1 cup skim milk ricotta cheese

Streusel Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons Smart Balance butter blend sticks for baking; cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans 

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and dust with flour.

Sprinkle the apple slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown, while you prepare the cake mix.

Streusel Directions:

Combine all the dry streusel ingredients (except butter and pecans) in a food processor.

Add butter in pieces. Pulse about 10 times then process for 5 to 10 seconds until there are no visible lumps of butter.

Cake Directions:

Mix together 1 and 3/4 cups flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer beat the butter for about 30 seconds, then beat in granulated sugar and vanilla.

Add eggs, one at a time or 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.

Alternately add flour mixture and ricotta cheese to batter. Mix on low speed after each addition until combined. Note: this batter will be rather thick and stiff.

Assemble and Bake:

Spread 1/2 of the batter into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the filling mixture and half the pecans: then the diced apples. Spoon remaining batter over apples. It will not spread smoothly, so drop dollops of batter over the apples. Sprinkle with remaining topping and nuts.

Bake 45-50 minutes more or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool at least 1 hour on a wire rack.

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