Fall brings all kinds of changes. Some I love, and some I hate. I hate Daylight Losings Time. I hate the free-floating melancholy I feel. I hate putting my swimsuit away for the year. But there’s much more to love than hate about autumn: the changing light, the smell of woodsmoke and the apples finally ripening on our tree. When we bought our little farmhouse in Tomales 20 years ago, we inherited a rear dirt lot with a four-foot stick struggling to survive and become an apple tree. That little fighter gained confidence every year and now produces the most sublime, sweet and crunchy apples I could ever want. There are enough apples to cook through every recipe in James Rich’s lovely new cookbook, Apple: Recipes from the Orchard.
Rich hails from Somerset, England, where his family owns an apple orchard and cider business. Somerset is in the southwest and is known pretty much for three things: Cheddar cheese, the Glastonbury Festival and apples. While apples originated in Kazakhstan (not Eden, people), Somerset’s terroir is the perfect place for apples to thrive: sunny and warm in summer, cool and damp in winter. It’s the ideal locale to make use of the four different categories of apples, which are organized based on their tannin levels:
Sweet or Dessert Apples: High sugar content, low acid and tannins compared to other apple categories. Perfect for eating raw or using in pies or cakes with less sugar added. These are the most commonly found apples in stores.
Sharp Apples: Low in tannin and sugar, and higher in acid count than sweet apples. These require cooking to be edible; they are most commonly used to make apple juice.
Bittersweet Apples: Low in sugar and acidity, but high in tannin.
Bittersharp Apples: Low in sugar, high in acidity and tannin. These are, according to Rich, “the heroes of cider.” Many hard cider-makers use a blend of all four categories; these provide the perfect basis for making hard cider.
Apple is full of recipes for using mainly sweet and sharp apples, though there are several recipes for making or using cider. The book is a delight and easily reaches my threshold of “recipes I want to make when flipping through a cookbook.”
The first recipe we made was pork loin with mustard and apples, a sublime, velvety, soul-warming, Dutch-oven-delivering meal. One could stir in some spinach or kale for greenery if they felt guilty, but the sweet, tart and spicy blend of flavors is highly satisfying on its own.
Next, I made a slaw of apples and red cabbage, which Rich suggests as a perfect side to his “sweet and sticky ribs.” Bitingly refreshing and acidic from the apple cider vinegar, I added fried tofu to make this a main course.
I’ve been trying to cut down on carbs of late, but I don’t know how long I can resist the chicken, cider and cheddar crumble. Oh, MAN, what a brilliant idea. A savory crumble served in a large ramekin! The filling is like that of a pot pie: chicken thighs, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, oregano, sharp apples, mustard, cider and crème fraîche. As if that weren’t mouthwatering enough, it gets topped with a crumble of Cheddar, mustard powder, black pepper, and hazelnuts. I’m already mourning how quickly I will devour this.
About half the cookbook is desserts, breads and breakfast pastries, and there are plenty of recipes for jams, jellies, marmalade, chutneys, apple cider vinegar and, of course, apple cider, both hard and sweet. A chapter on drinks includes winter cider, Pimm’s, an apple blossom infusion and a cider slushie, as well as a cider and thyme cocktail. The desserts on my “to do” list include: apple, honey and lavender cake, rose de pommes tart, apple flapjacks and homemade toffee apples.
In short, I will find uses for all the apples on my tree this year, which makes fall worth loving.