Forsythia and daffodils are blooming in my yard, bluebirds are checking out the nest boxes, and phoebes are building a nest on the old wooden oxbow above my garage door. I’m thrilled to see and hear the many signs of spring.
And, I’m grateful that I can still enjoy the flavors of apples picked last fall and skillfully stored since then by local apple growers. Last weekend, I stopped by Apex Orchards in Shelburne to pick up a big bag of apples. Some I’ll eat as is, some will get chopped up into my morning oatmeal, and a bunch will get made into applesauce.
Recently, I saw my friend Marie Summerwood at a workshop that included a potluck lunch. Summerwood brought some of her homemade applesauce. As we enjoyed her applesauce, we talked about our preferred methods for making applesauce, whether or not we added flavor “enhancements” to it such as local fresh ginger I’d frozen last fall.
Summerwood had a lot of great comments about making applesauce.
“There are three ways to cook applesauce. One is the slow, chunky method. Peel the apples and cut into small chunks. Place in a pot with a small amount of water, cover and simmer until everything is completely cooked.
Two is the easy, fast method. Cut whole apples into chunks, place in a pot with a small amount of water, cover and simmer until everything is soft. Run it through your food mill. Discard seeds and skins.
Three is the easier, faster method. Cut whole apples in medium chunks, keeping the core/seeds aside (feed cores to squirrels and birds). Place in a pot with a small amount of water, cover and simmer until everything is soft. Run it through your food mill which goes more quickly without the seeds,” Summerwood said.
Summerwood continued, “Now for the flavoring: If you use several different kinds of apples, your applesauce will probably be very sweet. You can serve as is, hot or cold. If it’s not sweet enough, you can add some sweetener of your choice, preferably maple syrup, to keep it local.
Cinnamon is an option. Vanilla is often welcome. Just a bit of grated fresh ginger root added after cooking will give a gingery-lemon taste. If you add the ginger while cooking, the lemony quality will fade but the ginger will have a deeper taste. Other suggestions: Freeze some almond paste and grate it on hot applesauce. Pour hot applesauce over plain yogurt.”
I’d never imagined adding some of these flavors to applesauce and now I’m experimenting with my bag of Apex apples. I think Pine Hill Orchards’ market in Colrain still has their apples for sale, too.
I’m looking forward to using my apples to experiment with Lee Whitcomb’s apple rhubarb crisp recipe. I was excited to see this contribution by Whitcomb to Conway’s new cookbook because it feels like the perfect recipe for this season that bridges between the end-of-the-season flavors of late apples with the beginning of the new growth season of rhubarb.
What local flavors are you combining as the year spirals back around to spring? I’d love to share your recipes! This week we’re eating...
Apple Rhubarb Crisp: By Lee Whitcomb, Conway (from “Conway’s Open: Savory Eats and Conway Treats”)
2 C. finely chopped apple
2 C. finely chopped rhubarb
2 T. flour
1 egg, beaten
¾ C. sugar
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
Mix all ingredients and pour into buttered baking dish. Prepare topping by combining a half C. softened butter, 1 C. flour, 1 C. brown sugar, mixed into crumbly consistency. Pack it over the fruit mixture and bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.
Lee’s note in the cookbook: From about 1940 to 1965, my grandfather and dad raised 125 acres of rhubarb every year for Table Talk pies, so we had lots of rhubarb recipes in the early summer!
Local food advocate and community organizer Mary McClintock lives in Conway and works as a freelance writer, editor, and book indexer. Send column suggestions and recipes to: email@example.com.