Monday, 24 October 2011

An Ode to Apples

Nothing screams "Autumn" like a bucolic day of picking apples in the countryside. This was an activity that I did pretty much every year growing up...our favorite place to go was an orchard owned by an order of somber but well-fed monks. The orchard was on a rolling hillside with mountain views (if only the gray Maine weather would warm up enough for the fog to burn off).

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It had been a few years since I've been able to do this, and it was love at first bite once again. Apples are always my favorite fruits: they are usually consistently good year after year. I love the fleeting sweetness of good plums, peaches, cherries, and berries but I feel like apples will rarely let me down. A decent apple is usually better eating than a rock-hard peach or pucker-inducing plum. Their consistency is comforting to me.

Also, you can't make a bong out of a peach. It just doesn't work.

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A trip to Rose Hill Farm in Duchess county fit the apple-picking bill nicely.

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While it was late in the season for apples, and many of the trees were picked bare, what was left were these enormous apples high on the tree. It took some work to get to them, but you could make a pie with two of them. I munched on one for 20 minutes before my jaw started aching and I had to give up without making much of a dent in it.

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Once I get over eating as many fresh apples as I can, I move on to the kitchen. Nothing smells better than apples bubbling away in the oven, or stewed on the stovetop.

Want a recipe? I made these apple muffins over the weekend and they were just fabulous. It's my own; I based it on my Grandmother's blueberry muffin recipe and took it from there.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flower (because, um, it's healthier than white and a small amount usually doesn't effect the texture too much. You can replace it with 100% white, or use cornflour or whatever)
3/4 cup sugar (I got creative and used a bit of brown and white...honey would also be good)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups peeled, cored and diced apples (2 giant ones, or 3 or 4 smaller apples)

Crumble topping:
1/4 c oatmeal
1/4 c cold butter
1/4 c flour
1/4 c brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line 12 large muffin cups with paper liners and spray the top part of the pan lightly with vegetable oil spray. (I had a bit more batter and made a little apple cake as well.)

Combine or sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk together the melted butter, eggs, milk, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a separate bowl until well combined.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until the dry ingredients are moist and blended. Do not over mix. Fold in the diced apple.

Make the crumble: Cut the butter into chunks and crumble with the oats, flour, and brown sugar until crumbs form.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan with a large ice cream scoop (1/3-cup scoop). The batter will come to the top of the paper liner or pan. Top with a bit of the crumble.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Turn the muffins out of the pan and serve immediately.

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