Last year my brother bought me a great book called “An Apple Harvest: Recipes and Orchard Lore” by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva. It’s a fantastic book full of rich lore, fun facts, useful information, and of course, recipes. It’s been migrating around the house for the last couple of weeks as I browse through it trying to decide which delicious recipe to try, or simply for evening reading.
One point that the book makes very clear is that all apples aren’t created equal. There are cooking apples, eating apples, juicing apples, cider apples; and then even within those ‘categories’ there are variances. Do you like your eating apples sweet or tart? Soft or crisp? Are you cooking a sweet pie or a savoury sauce?
In Quebec, the most common cooking varieties are Vista Bella, Cortland, Empire, Lobo, McIntosh, Honeycrisp, and Paula Red. These are primarily the big commercial varieties that grow well in this climate, with McIntosh being the quintessential apple of the region. At farmer’s markets, family farms, and U-Pick farms across the province you will find a much wider selection of apple types. (Stay tuned for another post on that later this week.)
Empire (a varient of the McIntosh) and Paula Red apples are good all-purpose cooking apples: They hold their shape moderately well and are a nice balance of sweet and tart. (They’re also good ‘eaters.’ ) McIntosh, Lobo (another descendant of the McIntosh), and Cortlands are best for applesauce or recipes where you want the apple to break down during cooking. If you’re looking for something in-between a baking and a sauce apple, Cortlands will retain their shape better than McIntosh or Lobo. Honeycrisp keep well and are excellent for frying, roasting and baking.They’re a recent, patented apple though, if that makes a difference to you.
Deciding whether to leave the peel on during cooking is a matter of preference. If the apples are organic or low-spray I generally don’t peel them. Otherwise, I usually do peel them since most modern orchards use a lot of pesticides and fungicides. (Modern apple growing is one of the most chemically-heavy forms of agriculture.) I certainly would only use organic apples for making apple jellies. There are quite a few organic orchards around Montreal, and in other parts of the country, and you should be able to buy organic or low-spray apples at local farmer’s markets.
Here is a great baked apple recipe from An Apple Harvest. The original calls for Rome Beauty or Stayman Winesap apples, but Cortland work well. If you’re buying apples from a farm or market, ask for a quick-baking variety that will will hold its shape. Quebec has some fabulous goat cheese producers. If you can, go local! If you’re not a pistachio fan (I’m not), use almonds.
Apples Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Crystallized Ginger
6 quick-baking apples
300 g fresh goat cheese, room temperature
5 Tbs golden brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
2 Tbs roasted pistachios (or almonds), roasted
Preheat the oven to 375F and choose a baking dish that will help support the apples standing upright. Cut or scoop out the core from the apples from the top, taking care not to pierce the bottom (blossom end). You will need a hollow of about 3 to 4 cm depending on the size of your apple. If you want, you can reserve the pulp for another use. Place the apples in the baking dish.
In a bowl, combine the goat cheese and brown sugar. Use more or less sugar according to your own tastes. Stir-in the crystallized ginger then spoon the mixture into the apples in the baking dish. Sprinkle the pistachios (or almonds) over top.
Add water to the baking dish to a depth of about 1 cm. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the apples are tender when pieced with a fork. Serve hot.Photo credit: Lena Povrzenic