Sunday, August 30, 2009

Apples: Fall’s Favor, Local Flavor


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         If summer must end, and end it must, at least we can face Labor Day with the comfort of pie for breakfast. The apples are coming in, and we can look forward to fresh, not storage, apples, for two months or more, if all goes well. I’ve written before about Lodis and Yellow Transparents, very nice apples for a simple tart or for sauce, but another fine early apple is the Mutsu, a dead ringer for a Granny Smith, but actually a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Japanese variety, the Indo—the apple, in fact, is Japanese in origin. I’m not a fan of the Golden Delicious—to put it nicely—and the Mutsu is not my favorite—for that honor, I still hold the Gravenstein, Stayman Winesap, Cortland, and Jonathan and Baldwin dear—but it is good, juicy, crisp, and tart-sweet—and here now. You may know it as a “Crispin,” another, apt name for it. Use whatever tart, juicy apple you can find, as they will be superior, even if not as cosmetically unreal, as apples from the store. As the great Joni Mitchell sang, “give me spots on my apples"; these Mitsus were beautifully imperfect.

The Mutsu makes good sauce, but I’ve had a hankering for apple pie with store cheese since earlier this summer. Talking one day about food, a new friend and I discovered that the hands-down favorite breakfast of both of us was apple pie. Old New Englander that he was, from a pioneering farm family whose family has lived in Little Compton for hundreds of years, his fondness was for pie with melted cheddar cheese on top; this was the way it had been served to him from childhood. I had grown up eating it with heavy cream or ice cream (yes, even for breakfast), and had not had it with cheese until I came to Rhode Island for college. But I had never had it with melted cheese, only accompanied with a wedge of cheese on the side. I knew apples and cheese were a popular combination for pies in New England—I’d even had cheddar cheese baked inside them, and cheddar crusts. But the idea of cheese melted on the crust was news to me.

So of course I had to try it. There’s an old saying, “An apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” See what you think. Me, I quite liked the savory-sweet-spicy combination of the fruit pie and cheese. But it would probably have been even better with a little ice cream, too.

Apple Pie with Store Cheese

My friend says his mother always used yellow cheddar, but I used the ultra-sharp store cheese, which I almost always have on hand.

Pastry for a double-crust pie

Use any crust recipe you like—homemade, please—or my usual butter-lard crust or all-lard crust. Make according to directions, pat into two discs, and chill, wrapped in wax paper, in the refrigerator. Remove when you start the pie so pastry is still cold and firm but not hard when you are ready to roll.

The pie

8 large apples
¾ cup sugar
1 ¼ tea best, fresh ground cinnamon
¼ tea ground cardamom
pinch salt
3-4 T flour
2 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 F. Use a 9” pie plate, preferably glass and deep dish.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Place the sugar and spices in a large bowl. Using a small sharp paring knife, peel and quarter apples lengthwise; starting at the stem end (which helps prevent   breaking), core the apple quarters—the cores generally pop out. Slice each quarter into 4 or 5 slices right into the bowl, tossing briefly with the sugar after each apple to prevent browning. (Lemon juice, by the way, is unnecessary with fresh apples, which contain a lot of pectin, and I don’t particularly like the added  taste). Add the flour and toss; I use the full ¼ cup flour for very juicy apples, 3 T for less juicy ones.

On a floured board, roll out your dough into a circle 2-3” larger than your overturned pie plate—I use a deep dish plate, so that implies the larger circumference. Loosen the pastry and fold it lightly in half, lift, and unfold into the plate, fitting and smoothing it in gently along the bottom and letting the edges hang over. Pile the apples into the plate, pushing some down into edges; pour over any remaining juices; and dot OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         with the butter. Roll out the second round of pastry, roll it loosely around your pin to lift it up, and unroll it over the top of the  apples. Tuck both crusts under along the rim of the plate, crimp, and prick around the edge and in the center with a fork. I do not glaze my pie. Bake in the center of the oven until golden; the syrupy juices begin to ooze out; and a skewer enters and removes easily from the apples. Turn once during baking; if the edges get too brown before the pie is done, cover the rim with foil or one of those handy pie protectors (an aluminum ring that sits on the edge). Total baking time will be about 40-50 minutes, depending on your apples.

Cool completely or to nearly room temperature before cutting. To serve with cheese, grate store cheese over the top and broil briefly until melted and the cheese begins to brown.



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