Saturday, September 30, 2006

Apples of Maine

The height of apple season is arriving in Maine. Apples are one of the sweet treasures that distract us from the end of the glorious summer, and Friday I surrendered myself to distraction.

The weather Friday was cold and blustery, the perfect day for a delicious apple concoction to be baking in the oven, scenting the kitchen with apples, cinnamon and sugar. On the way home from work, I stopped at the Pleasant Pond Orchard to buy some good baking apples. Food snob that I am, a bag of utility Macs from the supermarket just won't do -- I like to cook with a mix of apples, heavy on the heirloom varieties, with their complex, sweet, winey tartness. Pleasant Pond Orchard grows over 30 varieties and I enjoy several trips there every fall, talking about apple varieties and tasting many with one of the owners, Mary Alioto.

We had a good chat, and I tasted some yummy varieties. It is still early apple-wise, but I came home with a mix of Wolf River, Winesap and Spencer apples. Some of my other favorites, Gravenstein, Northern Spy, and Pippins, are still to come. I decided to make my mom's apple crisp, mixing the three varieties and throwing in some Macs I had at home.

Over the summer at a tag sale, I found something I've been eyeing for quite a while, an old-fashioned Yankee Apple Peeling Gizmo. Purported to peel, core and slice the apple while I simply cranked, it seemed too good to be true. With all those apples, (I like LOTS of apples in my crisp) I decided to take it for a test drive. The first disappointment was that the clamp mechanism did not open far enough to clamp onto my counter, hmmm. (Newer ones use a suction base.) I solved that by clamping the Gizmo onto the edge of my breadboard, allowing just the edge to hang off the counter. The second disappointment was that the huge Wolf River apples (sometimes called pie apples because just one is enough for a pie), were too large to fit in the mechanism. I perservered, though, and with the smaller apples, the peeler worked a treat! In no time I had a large bowl of apples all peeled and ready for the topping. I LOVE the Gizmo, and best of all, it was $1. Tag sales rule.

I cranked up the oven, and cut together the butter sugar, flour, cinnamon, and freshly grated nutmeg. At the last minute, I added a handful of old-fashioned rolled oats to soak up some cholesterol. I mixed half the topping with the apples, layered them in the pan, and added the rest of the topping to, well, the top. I popped it in the oven, and in no time, my house smelled like a warm, cozy fall day....

The mix of apples was delicious, a complex blend of sweet, tart goodness. I love reading of the history of these heirloom apples, a fascinating read on the topic is Apples of Maine by George Stilphen. The FEDCO tree catalogue is another mouthwatering source of information on apple varieties, including not only cooking apples, but expanding into historic cider apples. It's a darn good thing my lot is only 3/4 of an acres, because after reading the FEDCO catalogue, I'm ready to plant an orchard. I'll take one of each heirloom please -- you can keep the modern apples.

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