Napa Valley News

The ABCs of Apples

Harvest's bounty is ready for baking and eating and recipes

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

By L. PIERCE CARSON;    Register Staff Writer


  1. History

  2. Antique Varieties Grown

  3. Desserts

  4. Recipes

One of the first fruits to be cultivated, the apple is today the most important fruit not only in North America and Europe but in temperate climes in both northern and southern hemispheres.

The large, sweet apple we buy in grocery stores today is essentially a cultivated product, a lot different than the tiny sour fruits, such as the crabapple, which were its wild ancestors.

The first written mention of apples is in Homer's "Odyssey," and the Romans considered the apple a luxury fruit, better even than the fig. It's probable that two or three varieties known to them are still grown today.

Apples were grown and eaten regularly in 13th century England, and recipes exist for apple dishes in several books published in the 14th century.

Grafting became systematic by the 16th century and good new varieties of apples were developed in France.

Emigrants to America at first took apple pips rather than shoots cut for grafting, which would have died on the long voyages. This helped established apples in the New World, giving rise to new varieties, further diversified by interbreeding with native American crabapples.

American apples are a distinct group. Some have European characteristics, such as Boston Russet, a variety raised in the mid-17th century. Others bear no resemblance to their ancestors. For example, the famous Newton Pippin is quite different from any European Pippin.

As early as the mid-1600s, a clergyman named William Blaxton planted some of the first apple orchards in New England. The apple he raised was the sweet Rhode Island Greening -- the first apple recognized as strictly American.

The spread of apple cultivation in America was encouraged by a well known eccentric, Johnny Appleseed, born John Chapman in Massachusetts in 1775. He collected large amounts of apple seeds from cider mills and journeyed all over the country planting them wherever he went.

There are somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 named apple varieties. They range in color from lemony yellow to bright yellow-green to crimson red. Their textures range from tender to crisp, their flavors from sweet to decidedly tart.


Antique varieties grown

Today, a number of Northern California apple orchards are planted with a diverse variety of antique, or heirloom, varieties. And many of them are farmed organically.

One such farm is The Apple Farm in Philo, started by former Yountville residents Don and Sally Schmitt after they sold The French Laundry to Thomas Keller nearly decade ago.

A good friend and fellow chef and restaurateur, Bob Hurley buys a number of heirloom apples from the Schmitt's 16-acre Apple Farm for desserts and other dishes prepared at Hurley's Restaurant & Bar in Yountville.

Roberta Quick, produce buyer for St. Helena's Dean & Deluca, contends she stocks the largest selection of organic heirloom apples in the valley, harvested mainly from a Sebastopol orchard owned by David Hale.

One of the most popular varieties, Quick says, is the Golden Delicious, an American apple which first appeared as a chance seedling on a West Virginia farm shortly before 1900. It is one of the most widely grown apples in many countries. This apple is elongated, tapering to five points, pale green becoming yellow. The texture is light and crisp, and it is one of the sweetest tasting varieties. Because it retains its shape when cooked, it is a good choice for dishes containing sliced apples that are exposed to view.

Of Japanese origin, the Mutsu is a very late, long-keeping variety, developed from Golden Delicious, but generally larger. It is good for both eating and cooking.

Another popular variety is the Fuji, also developed as a cross of the Delicious apple. It is a rectangular, medium-sized apple with yellowish-green skin, flushed orange-red with darker stripes. Its flesh is white, firm and crunchy, with excellent fruity flavor.

Developed in New York prior to 1800, the Spitzenburg was President Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple. It has a tough skin with russet spots, and is red over yellow with inconspicuous stripes. The yellow-tinged flesh is relatively tart.

Another sweet-tasting apple is the Rome Beauty, medium to very large in size, handsomely striped to almost solid red. Its kissing cousin, Sleeping Beauty, is an even prettier red apple. Both are good for baking and drying.

With white flesh that resists browning, the Pink Lady comes from Western Australia. Very crisp, it has a distinct sweet/tart flavor.

A late season apple of quite high quality, the Braeburn came here from New Zealand in the early '50s. It is medium to large in size, is quite tart and firm and is good for eating as well as ideal for making fabulous pies.

A medium-sized apple with very crisp flesh, the Arkansas Black is unique in that it has red over yellow skin, deepening to purplish-red or almost black. It has greenish white flesh, and a distinct sharp flavor.

An antique variety that came here from Australia about 1850, the Granny Smith is popular because it keeps well. It is unique in that it is almost emerald green when fully ripe. The texture is crisp and juicy, the flavor distinctive, with a hint of almond.

One of the best eating, dessert and pie apples is the Jonathan, a red striped medium-sized apple that has juicy, fine, sweet flesh.

Great for both cider and pies, the Baldwin was first planted in Massachusetts in the late 1700s. This apple grows often to quite large size and its has a yellow skin flushed orange and striped red. Its flavor is sweet and crisp.

Local grocers have a number of varieties on special this week, ranging from 39 to 99 cents a pound. Quick says the organic heirlooms she stocks at Dean & Deluca retail for $2.95 to $3.95 per pound.


Glorious apple desserts

Deborah Yee-Henen, pastry chef at Hurley's Restaurant & Bar, agreed to share three recipes for yummy apple desserts -- each prepared in a different cooking mode. The individual tarte Tatins are braised, the apple fritters fried and the apple walnut cake baked.

The tarte Tatin is a famous French upside-down apple tart made by covering the bottom of a shallow baking dish with butter and sugar, then apples and finally a pastry crust. Yee-Henen does hers a little differently so that each is an individual dessert.

This tart was created by two French sisters who lived in the Loire Valley and earned their living making it. The French call this dessert "tarte des demoiselles Tatin, the tart of two unmarried women named Tatin."

This is a second career for San Francisco native Yee-Henen. She trained in the UCLA culinary arts program but mainly learned her craft in demanding restaurant kitchens, In Southern California, she worked at such famous eateries as Patina and Campanile. Returning to the Bay Area, she worked at the French Laundry and Bouchon before joining the culinary team at Hurley's.


Apple Walnut Cake with Maple Butter Glaze

In a large bowl, beat together oil, maple syrup, sugars and vanilla until thick and opaque. Add eggs, one at a time until well mixed.

Sift together all dry ingredients and stir into liquid mixture until well blended.

Add in apples, walnuts, and raisins and stir just until all incorporated.

Pour batter into a greased 10-inch round or square pan. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven about one hour or until a skewer inserted into center of the cake comes out clean.

Unmold onto platter when cake is cool to the touch and glaze.

Deborah Yee-Henen, pastry chef

Hurley's Restaurant & Bar



Maple Butter Glaze

In a saucepan, bring butter and maple syrup to a boil. Off heat, whisk in powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and heavy cream. Drizzle over top of warm apple-walnut cake. _____


Individual Tarte Tatin

12 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, sliced vertically into eighths, cored 8 cups granulated sugar 2 cups water 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened 1 large sheet of prepared puff pastry 1 egg 1 Tbsp. water 1 Tbsp. cream or milk

Cut puff pastry into one dozen 5-inch rounds and prick with a fork. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, water and cream/milk. Lightly brush egg wash over surface of each pastry round. Refrigerate.

In a large pot, stir together sugar and water. Bring to a boil; continue boiling until mixture is a dark amber color. Reduce heat to medium and immediately stir in butter (be careful of splattering). Add all prepared apples and continue cooking and stirring apples until they are cooked through and soft. With a slotted spoon, carefully remove apples onto a pan and allow to cool.

When apple slices are cool, arrange them vertically in one dozen 4-ounce aluminum molds, lightly packing apples so there is no space remaining in molds. Lightly press a round of prepared puff pastry (egg washed side up) on top of apples. Place on a baking sheet and bake in preheated 400 degree oven until pastry is golden brown.

Invert each tatin onto serving plate while still warm and spoon some of the reserved apple poaching liquid onto the tatin and plate. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Deborah Yee-Henen, pastry chef

Hurley's Restaurant & Bar

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