A great believer in the power of apples, I try to add an apple a day to our diet. I came to this gradually, by learning which I liked and which I didn’t like, and which ones suited my style of cooking.
When I was a child apples were mostly available in the fall, along with my mother’s annual story. Once she and her sister sneaked onto a neighbor’s farm to pick small green apples from a tree. The farmer caught them so they stuck the apples down their overalls and made a run for it, the illicitly stored apples making their sprint miserable enough to vow never to steal again.
Red Delicious were the primary apple once gracing my table, then and now available in grocery stores year round, always enticing, sometimes crisp, but sometimes with mealy interiors under their beckoning lip-gloss-red skins.
My mother’s pies, a rare occasion, were soggy-bottomed with a gap under the crust and apples sinking below. She blamed the Red Delicious apples and scoured markets for tart green ones with mixed results. Then the Golden Delicious came to our grocery store, with its dull exterior and easy-cooking interior. In contrast to the Red Delicious that continued in our school lunch boxes for eating, the Golden Delicious was the perfect cooking apple. It didn’t shrink in the pie, keeping its shape, and it had a good sweet flavor. It excelled in applesauce, particularly if a bit of brandy or apple liquor was added.
When I moved to London to study, I met the Granny Smith, imported from Australia, which tested my loyalty to the Golden Delicious. I’ve never been the one to buy an apple for a particular purpose, so sometimes I combined the two, depending on what I had on the table. By then I had completely abandoned the Red Delicious and was relieved to have my opinion validated when Julia Child came out against it. Certainly the Red Delicious was the dominant apple sold in America and frequently it was still the only apple sold in many small grocery and convenience stores.
And then came the 21st century when we were flooded with new varieties, with ten of them being sold in the average grocery store today.
Going to the country in the fall, u-pick farms can yield a combination of varieties of apples, the names of which are easy to forget if they are not marked. The Red Delicious is still the dominant apple grown, accounting for 60 percent of apple production. The second is the Gala, and the third is the Golden Delicious.
My husband does the grocery shopping and tends to favor Gala apples, which suits both our purposes. He eats his with peanut butter, and I use them for cooking, salads, in vegetable dishes and for accompanying meats as well as desserts. For a bit more flavor in the end product combine Galas with Granny Smiths; for more sweetness combine with Golden Delicious. All of these recipes are made with Galas.
LuLen’s Grated Apple Pie
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
LuLen was a young woman who lived with me when her parents were transferred to Africa by the State Department. In a quest for a no-upper crust apple pie, we settled on this one with grated apples. The crust does not get soggy, and the apples retain their flavor. If all the pecans are used it will have a crunchy top texture with the pecans adding their flavor. Using fewer pecans yields more apple flavor.
Note: The food processor works very well to grate the apples, as does a mandolin. Slightly slower but as efficient is a box grater. Whatever the grater used, the holes should be sufficiently large that the apples emerge in grated strands as opposed to mush. I like to leave the skin on, but of course it can be removed. Approximately 2 pounds of apples will make a traditional apple pie or this pie
1 unbaked (9-inch) pie crust, homemade or store-bought
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, preferably soft-wheat
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
41/2 cups tart apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely grated
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans
Line a (9-inch) pie pan with the pie crust, decorate rim as desired, and chill. If using a tart pan with a removable bottom, surround the bottom of the pan with foil to prevent the filling from leaking out while baking.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and apples, then combine with the egg and butter.
Move the pie pan to a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the filling into the unbaked pie crust and sprinkle with pecans as desired. Place on the top or upper middle rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes; then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 to 50 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil if browning too quickly. Cool the pie in the pan on a wire rack.
Makes 2 cups batter, about 16 to 20 (6-inch) crepes
There are many ways to make crepes and many recipes. This is the recipe I used in my restaurant. More eggs may be added, other liquids can be used, and in fact, if the eggs are removed, a “crepe” will still emerge from the pan. Water makes a lighter crepe. Oil adds ease and butter improves flavor and color. Take care, however, that the butter doesn’t burn.
Using two or three nonstick pans will speed up the process, but this takes a little practice. Novices need to spend a little time practicing rather than assuming the first crepes will be perfect. Messed-up crepes can be discarded because they are inexpensive. The first crepe is always a test crepe.
The number of crepes depends on the thickness of the crepe. To wrap and hold chicken or something equally substantial, thicker crepes would be preferable. The gossamer lemon crepes in the variation below melt in the mouth. Crepes may be served hot or cold, depending on the filling and purpose.
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, optional
1 to 2 tablespoons oil or butter, cook’s preference, optional
Whisk together the milk, flour, egg, egg yolk, salt and sugar. Let sit 1 hour up to overnight in the refrigerator to rest the batter. Thin with additional milk or water as necessary to make the desired crepe.
Heat one or more small, nonstick skillets, or add a small amount of butter or oil to a seasoned nonstick pan. Add any residual oil or butter to the batter. Pour a small ladle-full of batter into the pan, swirling to cover the bottom of the pan, moving the pan as if rolling a marble around the inside rim. Don’t go back and fill in, as that will make the crepe thick. Pour off any excess batter.
When lightly brown, about 1 minute, turn over with a nonstick spatula or with fingers. Let it brown slightly, 30 to 45 seconds to prevent second side from being doughy. Turn out on a rack to cool. (The rack will help prevent the crepes from sticking together.) Repeat with remaining batter until it is gone. Try to turn out the crepes in the same order, first side cooked down, so that handling them later will be consistent.
May be refrigerated or frozen, separated parchment paper or plastic wrap and wrapped tightly. Defrost, serve at room temperature or reheat briefly in oven, filled or unfilled.
Note: Heat is a major determinant of the quality of the crepe. If the pan is too hot, the crepe may stick, become hard and crisp, or burn; if too low, the crepe batter will slide right back out or take too long to cook. The correct temperature “pushes” the crepe off the pan.
The use of nonstick pans has sped up the process of learning to make crepes, but the thinness of nonstick pans varies widely as does their weight, and they tend to make a too-crispy crepe. Ideally, a crepe pan is light enough to move easily without any strain, but is thick enough that the crepe does not crisp up rather than brown. The color brown is an individual preference. I know French chefs who insist that crepes, like omelets, should be without any tinge of brown, and I know those who insist that a near-mahogany color is the best. I prefer somewhere in between — a sprinkling of medium brown. I also know chefs who do not cook the second side, but a gummy crepe is just that, and who wants to eat it?
Crepes also are available for sale in most grocery stores. I prefer 6-inch rounds, but any size will do. If they are larger than you wish you may cut them into the size and even shape you wish.
Apple or Pear and Cream Crepes
If there are crepes in the freezer this becomes an amazingly quick and easy dessert. Any apple or pear can be used, but obviously cooking apples or pears are better than eating apples like Red Delicious. I use a counter-top oven when the number of crepes is small. I don’t peel the fruit, but of course that is fine.
4 crepes, preferably homemade
1 apple or pear
1/4 to 1/2 cup melted butter
Granulated sugar, optional
1/3 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Move two crepes to two individual serving-sized rimmed ovenproof serving dishes or pans, or to a rimmed ovenproof pan leaving an inch or two between the crepes. Brush with a little melted butter. Top each with a second crepe. Core the fruit and slice into thin wedges or rounds. (If they are too thick it will take too long to cook them and be more difficult to move them.) Cover each crepe stack with a layer of fruit. Brush the top of the apples with butter. Add sugar if the apples are tart. Pour the cream on each of the crepes, letting it spread to the edge of the crepe or a bit over. Move the pans to the hot oven and cook until the apples are soft and the cream is dappled lightly with brown. Serve in the individual ovenproof dishes or if necessary move the crepes to individual serving dishes. Serve immediately.
Sauted Grated Zucchini and Apple
Grated vegetables became fashionable in the 1980s. Until then, the idea of grating any vegetable except cabbage and potatoes was unknown. Interestingly, grating a vegetable changes both its texture and its flavor, a near-total personality transformation. I don’t peel my apples but this will work with peeled apples but may not be as pretty. And of course a red apple makes for a colorful dish.
1 to 2 medium zucchini, grated
1 tart apple, cored and grated
3-4 tablespoons oil or butter, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, oregano, mint or lemon balm, optional
Toss the grated zucchini and apples together. Meanwhile heat the oil or butter in a medium saute pan. Add the zucchini apple mixture and toss for 3 to 4 minutes over high heat until tender but crunchy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn into a hot dish, top with the optional herbs and serve immediately.
Note: There are many tools to use for grating vegetables and fruit. The grater holes should be large enough to allow the vegetable or fruit to remain in strands rather than mushy. A food processor or mandolin grater is easiest, but a hand grater goes quickly as well.
Variation: Saute 1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped or sliced shallots or onions before adding the zucchini.
Variation: Substitute sliced or grated Brussels sprouts for the zucchini. A pear that does not become mushy when grated is a good substitute for the apple.
Turn it into a salad! This combination is delicious uncooked with an oil and vinegar dressing, with dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit. Be sure to dress right away before the apples turn brown.
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 14 cookbooks, including the James Beard award-winning “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.