Winter is coming, as you know if you look at a calendar or have seen any episode of “Game of Thrones.”
To make up for all the cold, the sleet, the shoveling and the misery, Nature gives us a little gift. Every fall we are blessed with apples. And here in the Carolinas, we get our gift a little early. Our apples come into season in early September. If you wait until October, you’ve missed it.
For apple lovers, this is the best time of the year. The markets are full of what seems to be an unending variety of apples, from Pink Lady to Braeburn, from Idared to Empire, from Ginger Gold to Mutsu.
You can just bite into them if you want. But apples are too good to be solely eaten out of hand. They should be cooked, too, or at least used uncooked as part of a treat that is even better than plain apples.
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I am speaking here about caramel apples, one of the most glorious delights of the season.
You can make caramel apples by taking those cellophane-wrapped caramels, melting them and dunking apples into them, but that’s not really satisfying – and it’s not nearly as good as making caramel yourself. It’s not hard, but you need an accurate candy thermometer. A few degrees off and you get caramel that either slides off the apple or a crispy – not chewy – caramelized shell.
The secret is to calibrate your candy thermometer. Just boil water and see what it registers on your thermometer. If it reads 212 degrees, you’re fine. If it reads 206 degrees, add 6 degrees from every temperature it says.
For an apple-related entree, I make one of my favorite recipes. It combines chicken, apples, onions and Dijon mustard, and I agree with you: It sounds awful. It sounded awful to me 25 years ago when I first discovered it in a Glamour magazine cookbook, and it has sounded awful every time I have made it since then, and there have been many. I have no idea why the ingredients blend with such harmony, but they do.
Apple butter is one of those pleasures I came to appreciate only as an adult. When I was a child, I didn’t understand why anyone would bother with apple butter when they could have jam. But with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes apple butter.
When winter is really here, you’ll be glad you have it.
Ready to pick apples?
Find information on picking apples in our pick-your-own farms list: www.charlotteobserver.com/food-drink.
Adapted from a recipe by Wayne Harley Brachman, via Food Network.
8 apples, preferably Granny Smith
8 craft sticks or chopsticks
1 cup chopped pecans, peanuts or nuts of your choice
1 cup heavy cream, divided
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To check your candy thermometer for accuracy, boil a small pot of water and use your candy thermometer to find its temperature. If it reads above or below 212 degrees, adjust accordingly. For instance, if your thermometer reads the temperature of boiling water as 217 degrees, remember that your thermometer reads 5 degrees higher than the actual temperature.
Line a baking sheet with nonstick foil or waxed paper and set aside.
Wash and completely dry the apples. Insert a stick into the stem end of each. Pour nuts into a bowl and set aside.
Fit a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a candy thermometer. Over high heat, cook 3/4 cup cream, corn syrup, butter and sugar to 246 degrees (firm ball stage). At this point, the syrup will be golden. Remove from the heat and carefully swirl in the remaining 1/4 cup cream and the vanilla. Use caution; this is very hot and it may splatter.
After the bubbles have subsided but the caramel is still hot, dip the apples in the caramel, turning to coat, and let the excess drip off. Dip the bottoms into the chopped nuts. Arrange the apples on the lined baking sheet and cool. (If the caramel becomes too thick to dip the apples, reheat it over low heat, stirring, until it can again be poured.)
Per serving: 621 calories; 32 g fat; 15 g saturated fat; 72 mg cholesterol; 3 g protein; 87 g carbohydrate; 77 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 34 mg sodium; 57 mg calcium.
Yield: 8 servings
Chicken In Apple-Mustard Sauce
From “Glamour’s Gourmet on the Run,” by Jane Kirby (Villard, 1987).
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup apple juice
1 medium onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 apple, cored and sliced
Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of waxed paper. With flat side of a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy skillet, pound chicken breasts to flatten to about 1/2-inch thick.
Over medium-high heat, heat butter in a large skillet. Saute chicken about 3 minutes on each side until golden. Add apple juice, onion, garlic and thyme. Cover and cook 10 to 12 minutes or until chicken is tender.
Remove chicken; keep warm. Heat liquid to boiling. Add mustard to skillet. Stir until well blended. Add apple slices and stir to coat with the sauce. Pour over chicken.
Per serving: 261 calories; 9 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 88 mg cholesterol; 27 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 12 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 191 mg sodium; 27 mg calcium.
Yield: 4 servings
Adapted from Washington State Apple Commission.
4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 cup water
1 cup apple cider
Brown sugar as needed, around 2 1/2 cups
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
Cook the apples in the water and cider over medium-high heat until soft. Pass through a food mill or force through a sieve. Measure the puree and add 1/2 cup brown sugar for each cup of puree. Add the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, rind and lemon juice and cook over very low heat until thick and dark brown, stirring occasionally. To test if it is thick enough, put some in a mound on a spoon and move the spoon away from the heat. If it is still in a mound after 2 minutes, the apple butter is done. This may take 3 to 4 hours or more.
If apple butter is not to be used within 1 week or so, boil canning jars with 2-part lids, completely covered with water, for at least 5 minutes. Remove from the water without touching them on the rims or inside, and allow to dry. Fill jars up to 1/4 inch below the top and seal with the two-part lids. Return jars to boiling water that covers them by at least 1 inch, and boil for 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. If the lid is not sucked down a bit by a vacuum, refrigerate and use within a week or so.
Per (1 tablespoon) serving: 33 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 9 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; no fiber; 2 mg sodium; 7 mg calcium.
Yield: About 5 1/2 cups.