Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Baked Apples: Autumn in New England

Although I have lived for many years here and enjoy the South, I am, hopefully, still a person of the world. But I was, unavoidably, a child of New England, from a small, pretty old town in the Connecticut River Valley. And I was a child long enough ago to have grown up with the local produce of the season, as anytime vegetables and fruits from California, much less from Chile, were not there. Somehow we survived. Even thrived.

All through the Fall and Winter my mother baked apples. They were our breakfast fruit and our dessert. They came out cold from the refrigerator -- or icebox as she still called it, despite its electricity. We were in luck, almost always, when we got a shot of heavy cream on the apple. I learned to distinguish the various apples and their purposes. Firm, dry-fleshed apples were the best for baking, and for making pies. And my mother really did make the world's best apple pie.

Having visitors from Ohio, the land of Johnny Appleseed, coming over yesterday to eat, and also needing to make the dessert the day ahead, the October season easily led me back to my childhood. Of course, my baked apples are a little fancier than my mother's. And the ones yesterday were new-crop north Georgia apples, "Rome" (sometimes called "Rome Beauty"), a magnificent baker, gorgeous to the eye, cheaper by a third than the "eating apples", and amazingly dull until cooked. I also used Georgia pecans for a highlight. But otherwise the apples have the subtle spices, butter, and brown sugar I grew up with.

New England Baked Apples Tim

(serves 4-8)

Set oven to 375 degrees

4 medium-large unblemished baking apples, such as Rome, Granny, Stayman, or Gala
A little salt
8 tablespoons brown sugar (you can get away with less)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 teaspoons butter
6 teaspoons finely chopped pecans
Heavy cream (optional) for topping

Scrub the apples well (no soap!) and wipe dry. Cut them in half from stem to blossom end. With a small sharp knife cut out the the seed cavity, leaving both ends of the apples intact. Place the apple halves, cut side up, in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle the apples lightly with salt. Mix the brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Place 1 tablespoon of the mixture over each apple, pressing it lightly down into the apple cavities and spreading some over the apple cut surface out to near the skins. Gently press into each cavity 3/4 teaspoon of chopped pecans and a 3/4-teaspoon piece of butter.

Place 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the baking dish as a bath for the apples. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until tender (time varies with the type of apple), testing the flesh with a tooth pick. Some of the skins, inevitably, will split.

Cool, then cover the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate up to 4 days.

To serve, place an apple half in a shallow bowl or small plate and pour some heavy cream over it, if desired. Serve with a spoon plus a dessert fork.

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