Grow your own apples

September 25, 2009

appletreeFridayI don’t have my own apple trees but I do live a short drive away from Pine Orchard Farms, a wonderful orchard in King City, Ontario where row after row of wonderful apples grow in abundance. Although home gardeners will never plant trees on this scale, the same rules apply whether you have to tend to two trees or 200.

• Choose a location that offers 8 hours of sun per day (trees in shady areas won’t produce ample fruit).
• For pollination to occur, you need to plant at least two trees within 3 o 4 m of one another.
• Well-drained soil is very important since too much moisture will harm the roots of both new and established trees.
• Likewise, the soil needs to be rich; abundant nutrients are essential for a bountiful crop, so when planting, work compost, bonemeal or bloodmeal into the planting holes dug for each sapling.
• To maintain richness in the soil, add compost each fall or spring around the base of the trees as far out as the drip line; top up with mulch except near the trunk where excessive moisture can cause rot.
• Each fall clear fallen fruits from around the base of the trees to minimize the occurrence of apple maggots and other pests that can ruin the next crop of fruit

This wraps up apple week! Check out 10 tasty ways to eat apples for more suggestions on how to make the most of the season.

Apple traditions

September 24, 2009

sausage with apples

The heady, sweet smell of freshly baked apple desserts always reminds me of mothers. My own mother loves apples and for years one of her signature fall and winter weekend treats was a wonderful apple upside down cake served with warm caramel sauce. In fact, whenever we moved while I was growing up, one of my mom’s first gardening projects was to plant a couple of Cortland apple trees so that she could have a ready supply of fruit both for snacks and for making into this dessert.

Although my mother-in-law Lise Kouprie doesn’t grow her own apples, she is quite famous in her own circles for her excellent Dutch apple tart. Made with tangy, firm Granny Smith apples, she serves large wedges of this not-too-sweet pie with mugs of café au lait as a dessert but also for breakfast and as an afternoon snack, too.

On my own dinner table, apples turn up cooked not only in desserts like these ones, but in many savoury recipes where these delicious fruits add just the right texture, depth and sweetness that make other ingredients such as onions or cabbage taste even better than they do on their own.

Sausages with Onions, Apples and Swiss Cheese

2 tbsp (30 mL)         melted butter

1                               very thinly sliced Vidalia or Spanish onion, about 12 oz (375 g)

1 tbsp (15 mL)          brown sugar or maple syrup

1/2 tsp (2 mL)          dried thyme leaves and pepper

1/4 tsp (1 mL)          salt

1                                clove garlic, minced

2                                apples, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp (30 mL)         chopped fresh parsley


6                               bratwurst or other sweet pork sausages, about 1 1/2 lb (750 g) total

3/4 cup (175 mL)     apple juice or chicken broth

3                                slices Swiss cheese, halved diagonally

Melt the butter in a skillet set over medium heat.  Add the onions.  Cook, stirring often for 8 minutes or until softened.  Stir in the brown sugar, thyme, pepper, salt and garlic.  Increase the heat to medium high.  Add the apple and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden.  Scrape the apple mixture from the pan to a bowl. Stir in the parsley and reserve, covered.

Slash sausages a couple of times on each side. Return the skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer sausages, cut-side-down into the skillet. Cook, turning as needed for 4 to 5 minutes or until browned all over.

Add the apple juice to the pan and reduce the heat to medium.  Cook, partially covered, for 12 to 15 minutes longer or until sausages are cooked all the way through. Drape a slice of cheese over each sausage.  Cover the pan and cook for 1 minute or until the cheese is melted. Serve the sausages topped with the apple mixture. Makes 6 servings.

Note: this photo and recipe appear in my book, Dana’s Top Ten Table (Random House 2007).

Kids stuff

September 23, 2009

caramel appl

The wonderful autumn tradition of caramel apples brings out the kid in all of us. After all, who hasn’t sunk their teeth into a sticky, gooey, messy caramel apple at least once in their life?

I created the following recipe years ago for Gardening Life magazine and it’s still a favourite I pull out and use once every autumn, usually right after Oliver and I get back from Pine Orchard Farms where we pick apples every year.

Caramel Apples

6 unwaxed small granny smith, royal gala, Macintosh or other apples
Popsicle or lolli sticks
1 cup (250 mL) each granulated sugar and light brown sugar
3/4 cup (175 mL) 35 % whipping cream
1/4 cup (60 mL) corn syrup
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
pinch salt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
Chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds or peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, etc

Polish the clean apples with a clean, dry dishtowel until completely dry and smooth. Insert a popsicle or candy stick into the stem end of each apple. Place a parchment lined baking pan in the refrigerator.

In a medium, deep, dry saucepan combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, whipping cream, butter, corn syrup and salt. Place pan over medium heat and stir often until sugar is dissolved and caramel is bubbling. If necessary, brush down the sides of the pan once or twice with water to dissolve any sugar crystals clinging to the sides.

Place a candy thermometer into the saucepan and increase the heat to medium-high. Boil caramel, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 240 F (115 C).

Remove the pan from the heat. Shielding hands with oven mitts, stir in vanilla. Let caramel stand with the thermometer in the mixture until the temperature falls to 200 F (100 C), from 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the baking sheet from the fridge. Place over a baking pan filled with ice cubes.

Dip and slowly turn the apples in caramel until coated all over. Transfer to the chilled baking sheet. Let stand while you dip remaining apples. Fold any caramel that pools under the apples. Dip coated apples into chopped nuts or candy sprinkles, pressing the garnished lightly into the bottom and up the sides of the apples; chill until set. Makes 6 servings.

When’s the last time you had a caramel or candy apple?

Topline Trends Tuesday: Cider presses forward

September 22, 2009


Photo credit: Sea Cider Farm

One of my fondest memories of my first trip to France was the excellent artisan hard ciders served in champagne-style bottles in Normandy. Although often cloudy and not as pretty as the sparklingly clear apple cider drinks I’d had in Scotland before that time, Norman ciders were more nuanced and really fantastic served with a big bowl of mussels meuniere.

Today, apple cider is a growing category in the liquor store. It’s not the Scottish-style pub cider that’s taken off or the Norman-style cider that we’re seeing more of but the sweet, sparkling ice ciders from Quebec and the wonderful range of still and sparkling quaffing ciders from British Columbian growers like Sea Cider Farm.
Do you ever serve cider when you entertain? If not, would you consider it?

The right stuff

September 21, 2009

Monday apple

Welcome to apple week! I don’t usually write about one topic five days in a row, but I’m making an exception for this wonderful fruit – after all, who doesn’t like apples? Seriously, after all the debate caused by Friday’s post, I’m looking for a bit of consensus building!  So, let’s see if we can all agree that apples are delicious and share our tips, recipes and stories. Enjoy!

Of the seven thousand plus known and catalogued apple species, only a couple of dozen are well known, widely cultivated and sold in significant numbers in Canada. And, of this small number of apples, only a handful has the right texture and consistency to be good for use in recipes. Although many people define a cooking apple as one that’s used primarily for cooking rather than eating fresh, many of my favourite cooking apples are also my favourite eating apples. For instance, I treat apples such as the Granny Smith, Cortland, Spartan and McIntosh as dual purpose fruits.

In a nutshell, by my definitions, an apple qualifies as good for cooking if it has a tangy flavour and a firm flesh that softens but doesn’t break down too much when cooked. For applesauce and apple butter, I have another category that I call sauce apples; apples in this category have great flavour and cook down to a pulpy consistency.

To ensure that you have the right apple for the right usage, simply cut a wedge of apple and place it in a small saucepan. Cover the fruit with water and simmer it until the apple is tender. If the piece stays intact when pierced with a fork and still has a true, desirable apple flavour, then it’s good for skillet cooking and apple desserts where firm pieces of apple are desirable. Use this chart to help you to choose the best apples I’ve found for each type of culinary use:

Good for cakes, pies, crisps, skillet cooking Good for baking whole Good for sauces
Northern spy Granny Smith Empire
Idared Jonagold McIntosh
Granny Smith Northern spy Royal gala
Spartan Mutsu/Crispin Greenstein
Cortland Cortland