Archive for the ‘Apples and Cider’ Category

A Pressing Engagement

Monday, October 14th, 2013

applesontreeweb

Apples and cider seem to sum up autumn in New England. Bursting with color and flavor, they are doubly precious because they represent the end of the harvest. Winter is coming, and we all know it, but in the meantime we savor the season and its fruit as much as we can.

Last year an ill-time frost made apples scarce here in Massachusetts. This year nature is making up for last year’s dearth with more apples than I can remember seeing in any single fall. An odd tree in my front yard that has never before produced ANYTHING suddenly droops with yellow-pink orbs.

Knowing that I love to make applesauce from a variety of apples, several of my neighbors have invited me to gather fruit from their trees as well as my own. I know that one tree down the road has Gravensteins. Another offers an abundance of Golden Delicious apples. The other trees are mysteries to me. Their fruits vary in color from yellow to such a deep red that the flesh as well as the skin of the apple is imbued with pigment. I don’t care what they’re all called. I just know that I love them!

On Saturday, the actual Columbus Day, the Coopers over on Strawberry Hill here in Hawley hosted their annual cider party. Paul Cooper hauled out his antique cider press, we all brought apples and jugs, and everyone who wanted to went home with fresh-pressed cider. (We also had an opportunity to catch up with neighbors and eat delicious food, but the cider was the main event!)

It can take several people (including advisers!) to press cider. Our host Paul Cooper is in the front right.

It can take several people (including advisers!) to press cider. Our host Paul Cooper is on the right in front.

This cider is amazingly aromatic, with a deep, rich color that seems even darker than the pretty terrific cider I frequently purchase at local orchards. I am unable to tell you how my own jug of cider tastes; I popped it into the freezer in anticipation of a visit from my brother and his family next weekend. (I’m SUCH a good sister and aunt!)

dark sweet ciderweb

I can’t really give you a recipe for cider, which just involves pressing apples until they release their lovely juice. (The press looks like a medieval instrument of torture, but it works!) So I’m sharing the recipe for the cookies I brought to Leslie and Paul Cooper’s party, snickerdoodles. Their cinnamony goodness is an ideal accompaniment to fresh-pressed cider.

The recipe came originally from Maureen Schaden-Foster, whose family runs the End of the Commons General Store in Mesopotamia, Ohio. Amish families drive up to the store in buggies to buy nourishing basics, and the store also delivers to several hundred Amish families nearby.

It’s one of the very few cookie recipes I make that call for vegetable shortening instead of butter. You’re welcome to try making it with butter, but I have to warn you that only shortening gives you the dreamy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency a snickerdoodle should have.

Speaking of that consistency, please note that you should really eat these cookies within 24 hours. After that they get a little stale and lose some of their appeal.

So haul out the cider and invite friends over to enjoy this bittersweet season with you.

Snickerdoodlesweb

Amish Snickerdoodles

Ingredients:

2-3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening, softened
1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Instructions:

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Cream the shortening, and cream in the 1-1/2 cups sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the shortening mixture. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours. (It will have pastry-like consistency; pat it together a bit before chilling.)

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon in a small, shallow dish or bowl. Shape the dough into balls the size of walnuts, and roll each ball in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 8 to 10 minutes. The cookies should be lightly browned but still soft.

Yield: About 4 dozen snickerdoodles.

torturing applesweb

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

anniversarycupweb

Or rather to this blog. And to its faithful readers.

On September 3, 2008, In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens first appeared on the internet. I thought the blog might serve as my passport to fame.

It hasn’t quite done that …. yet. It has attracted a moderate following, however, and it has given me a forum in which to develop some of my favorite ideas and recipes.

My most popular posts have been the ones about TV and Film History (particularly anything to do with “I Love Lucy”!), followed by those that dwell on two of my favorite foods, rhubarb and asparagus.

A quickly rising post that will probably be number one soon is one I wrote shortly after starting the blog, about the poignant “September Song.” Sometime in the past few months someone inserted a link to this post into the Wikipedia entry for the song … and so people wander over every day to look at it. It doesn’t offer a recipe, but it does offer food for thought.

In the coming year, I hope to use some of my blog posts in my next book. And I hope my audience will continue to grow. Please let me know what you like about the blog, what you don’t like, and what you’d like to see me do!

In case you haven’t been following me from the start, I’m reprinting my very first post here. I hope to make the tasty scones again today—and to contemplate the universe, something we all need to do from time to time.

As I contemplate, I’ll enjoy this (almost) autumnal anniversary. It’s fitting that the Jewish New Year falls in September, a month in which it seems natural to look both backward and forward. Thank you all for reading….

Posted on 3 September 2008:

Apples and the Universe

Photo Courtesy of Susan Hagen

Photo Courtesy of Susan Hagen

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

So said the late astronomer Carl Sagan on the PBS television series Cosmos.

Sagan was one of the great writers of popular science for a reason. He knew how to phrase complicated truths about human existence in down-to-earth ways.

To him, of course, the important noun in his sentence was the universe. To me (because I’m an ordinary person and a cook), it’s the apple pie.

I love to cook—but I can’t imagine how anyone ever invented our most basic recipes: a simple cake, a loaf of bread, a scrambled egg, a pie.

To my mind those breakthroughs are as mystifying as thinking up relativity or quantum theory. I’m glad I don’t have to come up with them myself. I’m content with tweaking traditional folk recipes and asking my neighbors to share the formulas for their own culinary triumphs.

Nevertheless, I do know that very time we cook or bake we’re using science and recreating the universe in numerous ways. Even though I managed to avoid taking chemistry in high school and college, I use its magical processes every day to create meals for family and friends.

When I follow a recipe or consider a specific food, the neurons (or whatever the heck does the work) in my brain conjure up the person who first introduced me to that flavor. And of course when cooking I create something new out of unrelated matter—my own personal big bang.

(I’ve had a few little bangs in the kitchen as well, but that’s another topic.)

Apples are all around us at this time of year, embodying the coming autumn with that season’s key characteristics. They are cool. They are colorful. They are crisp.

Looking down at us from trees or up at us from a basket, they evoke wonder and laughter, just like the universe. They are comforting, nutritious, and versatile—capable of waxing sweet or sour (again like the universe), depending on their use.

My dog finds them on the road and uses them as balls, illustrating gravity (wouldn’t that old apple lover Isaac Newton be proud?) by propelling them down the street and running to retrieve them.

I’ll be posting some apple recipes here as time goes by. Luckily, none of them actually takes 13 billion years to make—unless you, like Sagan, like to consider the very, very big picture.

pensive web

My Apple Scones

This simple recipe never fails to please. I made it almost weekly when I worked as the demo cook at Bloomingdale’s in Tysons Corner, Virginia. It’s also delightful with dried cranberries instead of the apple.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup sugar plus a bit more as needed for sprinkling
2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
2/3 cup cut-up apple (about 1 medium apple—use a bit more if you like)
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 baking sheets. Combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter, but be careful not to overmix. Stir the apple pieces into this mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the apple mixture and blend briefly. Drop the batter in clumps onto the baking sheets. You may either make large scones (you’ll end up with 6 to 8 of them) or smallish ones (12 to 16).

Sprinkle additional sugar on top for added flavor and crunch. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes. Makes 6 to 16 scones, depending on size.

Vintage-Anniversary-Card

Friday Nights at Elmer’s

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Elmer’s Store on Main Street in Ashfield, Massachusetts, is a bright, friendly place. Owner Nan Parati and her staff smile as they sell food and gifts. The walls are painted vibrant colors mixed by Nan herself; she is an artist and set designer as well as a storekeeper. And on Friday afternoons and evenings irresistible smells emanate from the small, well lit kitchen.

On a recent Friday afternoon when I stopped in, kitchen manager Jane Goodale, assistant chef Michael Hulbert, and chef Son Tremé were chopping, washing, and peeling local vegetables and meat for Elmer’s weekly Friday dinner. They joked and chatted as they worked, clearly at ease in the kitchen and with each other.

The Gang at Elmer’s, from left to right: Michael, Nan, Son, and Jane

Son Tremé is an assured 28 year old with a warm smile. Nan Parati told me that she has known him since he was six. “I met him when I lived in New Orleans, in the Tremé section of the city,” she explained. “He and his little brother came over and just kind of wouldn’t go away.”

I asked Nan about Son’s name. “’Son’ was his nickname growing up,” she informed me, “but he made it his legal name.” He apparently added “Tremé” to his legal name as well. Who am I to cavil at a name? I assure you that “Tinky” doesn’t appear on my birth certificate. Son’s name suits him.

Nan added that she became a godmother of sorts to Tremé, so much so that when her own mother died recently “the grandchildren decided that Son should represent them at the service.”

Son began working in the restaurant business in New Orleans, he said, although he didn’t plan at first to cook as a career. He enjoyed the rich food of his native city, but it wasn’t until he moved north and started cooking more healthily that he knew for sure he was going to be a chef.

He worked at a number of restaurants in Massachusetts, ending up as a breakfast chef at Elmer’s before taking time off to work on a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University. He has finished his coursework and is scheduled to graduate in 2013. “As you can imagine, I am extremely proud of him!” beamed Nan Parati.

Son Tremé explained that he combines all of his food background in his work at Elmer’s. “My home training is all pot stuff. I do it the way I want to,” he said. He added that his schooling taught him to be more precise in his cooking. His practical experience has made him even more responsible.

“In school you have five people on one soup,” he said. “In the industry it’s YOUR soup. And it’s your butt if it’s good or bad.”

Son does his best to respond to the desires and needs of his patrons and to the agricultural abundance in our area. He sees the relationship among farmers, restaurateurs, diners, and home cooks as a “circle of support.”

His home circle is also important to him. He is planning to create special food soon for the little baby girl to whom his partner gave birth in early October. “She’s my inspiration these days,” he said of little Belle-Soleil Tremé.

Nan and Son hope to expand the culinary offerings at Elmer’s, which currently serves breakfast and lunch every day (with special brunches on the weekend) and dinner on Friday evenings only. Soon another Louisiana chef, Charles Neville, will cook on the first Saturday evening of each month.

Meanwhile, Son Tremé plans future menus and enjoys the spirit in the kitchen. “My style is basically international fusion, which is Creole, my native culture,” he said. “All those indigenous cultures merged together in New Orleans. It says a lot about me. We cook. We sit down and eat—and we talk.”

I’d cook, talk, and eat with Son any day of the week. (He is the only chef who has ever kissed my hand at the end of an interview.) I was particularly taken with the seasonal, slightly sweet pork dish he served that evening at Elmer’s.

Son served his pork with potatoes au gratin, fresh broccoli, and sautéed apple slices.

Son Tremé’s Apple-Cider Braised Pork Roast

When I made this for my family, I cut the recipe for the marinade in half and used 2 pounds of pork tenderloin. We had enough for eight people. Obviously, Son is a generous chef! (I didn’t have to cook the smaller amount of meat quite so long.)

Ingredients:

1/2 pound shallots (about 3 to 4 shallots, plus a few more if you love shallots), peeled and chopped
1/2 cup minced garlic
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 bunch fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 quart apple cider
5 pounds picnic pork shoulder
1/4 cup canola oil

Instructions:

Gather all your ingredients and equipment.

In a blender mix the shallots, garlic, vinegar, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add the cider to this combination. Place the pork in a pan, and marinate it in the liquids (refrigerated) for 24 hours.

The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Remove the pork from the marinade, saving the marinade.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven, and sear the pork to brown it.

In a saucepan bring the marinade to a boil. Pour it over the pork, cover the Dutch oven, and place it in the oven. Bake the pork until it is fork tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Transfer the pork, moistened with a little of the liquid and tightly covered, to a cooler oven (250 degrees) or to the oven you have just been using turned off. Strain the cooking liquid. Discard the solids that come out in the straining (the garlic, etc.).

Skim the sauce, and bring it to a simmer. Let it simmer and reduce until it is slightly thickened and glossy. (Start checking for this after about 15 minutes.)

Slice the pork, and serve it with some of the sauce and thinly sliced, sautéed apples.

Serves 10.

Nan and Son

Cranberry-Apple Crisp

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Some days it’s hard for a chanteuse not to quote  musical comedies. I was reminded recently of a line from The Sound of Music to the effect that when God closes a door he opens a window.

Here’s what happened: I became annoyed with myself a couple of weeks ago. I had been eyeing my neighbor Dennis’s patch of rhubarb with an eye to making rhubarb-apple crisp. (Dennis is always very nice about my incursions into his rhubarb.)

Unfortunately, I waited a little too long to harvest the rhubarb. When I lifted up the rhubarb leaves, I found that the stalks had finally given up the ghost and become soggy. The rhubarb door was closed for this year.

And then … I went to the grocery store and saw my window: the first cranberries of the season! So I decided to pair them with the apples instead of rhubarb. Personally, I think this is an even better combination than the rhubarb-apple one. The color is deep and appealing, thanks to the cranberries. And the apples tone down the cranberries ever so slightly; the crisp is tart but not too tart. The cranberries still dominate since three cups of them are denser than three cups of apples.

Of course, I imagine God has better things to do than entertain me with fruit. But I’m thanking him/her/it anyway, just in case. Come to think of it, this would make a lovely dessert for Thanksgiving Day……

Ruby had never encountered cranberries before.

The Crisp

Ingredients:

3 cups (12 ounces) cranberries
3 cups sliced apples (core but don’t bother to peel unless you’re fussy—use a fairly sturdy apple; I used Baldwins)
3/4 cup white sugar plus 1/2 cup later
2 pinches salt
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup oats (regular, not steel cut or quick)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl toss together the cranberries, the apples, 3/4 cup sugar, the first pinch of salt, and the lemon juice. Spread them in the bottom of a 1-1/2- or 2-quart baking dish.

In a small bowl combine the flour, the remaining white sugar, the brown sugar, the oats, the cinnamon, and the second pinch of salt. Cut or rub in the butter until you have coarse crumbs. My preference is rubbing it in since I’m a tactile cook. Gently spread this combination over the fruit mixture. (It will be a little messy!)

Bake the crisp until it is brown and bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with the topping of your choice—cream, whipped cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt. Serves 6.

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Tinky’s Tangy Maple Coleslaw

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I’m continuing with my Maple Month theme by popping some syrup into a basic coleslaw. It only gives a TINY hint of sweet, I promise. In fact, when I served this as part of my (almost) all-maple meal, my guests pronounced it  their favorite part of the meal.

And OF COURSE it’s green (pale green, but green is green begorra!) for Saint Patrick’s Day.

If you’re looking for something else for Saint Patrick’s Day, I heartily recommend my Irish beef stew, Irish cheese fondue, or Irish soda bread. Don’t forget to wear green while you cook.

And please visit my new blog What’s a Girl to Do? to read a brief essay that talks about the name of THIS blog! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all……

Truffle may not cook, but she DOES wear green at this time of year.

The Slaw

Ingredients:

1 medium head cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
1 cup mayonnaise
3 to 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
kosher salt to taste (I used about 3/4 teaspoon)
lots of freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Instructions:

If your cabbage and carrots are a little elderly (as cabbages and carrots tend to be at this time of year), soak them in cold water for an hour. Drain the vegetables thoroughly before you continue with the recipe. The syrup makes this slaw a little wet to start with so you don’t want to compound the wetness!

In a bowl combine the mayonnaise, vinegar, syrup, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Taste this dressing to see whether you need more salt, vinegar, mayo, or syrup. (It may need adjusting depending on the strength of your vinegar and maple syrup.)

Pour the dressing over the drained cabbage, and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Stir and taste before serving, adjusting the flavors if necessary.

Serves 6 to 8.