Ingredient of the Week, September 29: Apples
The Pilgrims discovered crabapples had preceded them to America, but the fruit was not very edible. The Massachusetts Bay Colony requested seeds and cuttings from England, which were brought over on later voyages of the Mayflower. Other Europeans brought apple stock to Virginia and the Southwest, and a Massachusetts man, John Chapman, became famous for planting trees throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois (his name became "Johnny Appleseed"). Seeds from an apple given to a London sea Capitan in 1820 are sometimes said to be the origin of the State of Washington apple crop (now the largest in the U.S.).
As the country was settled, nearly every farm grew some apples. Although some were very good, most of the early varieties would be considered poor today. Of nearly 8000 varieties known around the world, about 100 are grown in commercial quantity in the U.S., with the top 10 comprising over 90% of the crop.
Apples can be eaten plain, made into sauce or jelly, or they can be included in a variety of salads, meat dishes, pies, and other desserts. As a dried fruit, apples can be added to a variety of baked goods or in a fresh form, they can be used to produce juice, vinegar, cider, and alcoholic beverages, such as hard cider and apple brandy.
At Their Best:
Some types of apples are available year round and some are only available at specific times of the year. The peak season for apples will vary with different varieties and locations where they are harvested. The best types of apples are those that are picked fresh from the tree. Fresh picked apples will have the best flavor and an extra crisp texture. For fresh picked apples, visit local apple farms and farmers' markets during the harvest season in your location.
How to Buy:
Buy apples that are brightly colored, firm, and free of bruises or damaged skin. If the flesh gives under pressure, the apple will be soft. The skin on the apple should be taut and show no signs of shriveling. Select individual apples over pre-bagged apples so that you can see what you are selecting and have an opportunity to smell the apples to make sure they have a fresh smell and are not musty. The different types of apples are graded according to their size and quality. The higher the grade, the more expensive the apple. The end use of the apple will determine the variety of apple you should buy.
For best results, place apples in a perforated plastic bag, sprinkle with water and store in the coldest area of the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks. Apples give off a gas called ethylene that speeds up ripening, so they should be kept away from other fruits and vegetables to prevent them from ripening prematurely. Apples can be stored at room temperature for a short period of time but should be checked regularly because they will ripen more rapidly than if stored in the refrigerator.
Unpeeled apples provide their most plentiful nutrients just under the skin. Apples are a good source of potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C.
A medium apple, approximately 5 ounces, has only 81 calories and a whopping 3.7 grams of fiber from pectin, a soluble fiber. A medium apple supplies 159 mg of potassium, 3.9 mcg of folic acid, 7.9 mg of vitamin C, and 9.6 mg of calcium.
Additionally, there are trace amounts of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and zinc
It's best to peel, core, and slice the apples first. Then prepare a bowl with 1 quart (1 liter) of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Drop the apples into the prepared water for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse them off and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Cool under running water, drain, and dry the apples on paper towels.
Arrange apple slices in a single layer on trays and put them into the freezer until thoroughly frozen. Remove and store them in heavy-duty plastic freezer bags. With this method you can avoid clumps of frozen fruit sticking together and can easily remove the quantity desired at any time.
Do you like raw apples or cooked? What are your favorites?