BY KURT MICHAEL FRIESE
2006 was a great year for apples in Iowa. After 2005’s devastating late spring freeze, which knocked out blossoms on apple trees statewide, it was a rejuvenating sight to see the “limb-buster” of a crop that rolled in from Iowa’s many orchards.
One of the most delightful things about apples is that there is such a variety of them available right here at home. There is one to suit any taste and any purpose, from sweet or tart eating apples to baking apples to cider (including the hard stuff).
An interesting side note: Remember that story we were all told about Johnny Appleseed back in grade school? Well, they left out a couple parts. We were shown the drawings of a simple country boy merrily scattering seeds as he wandered the back roads of our young nation. What they didn’t tell you was that John Chapman was a real estate speculator taking advantage of the law at the time that allowed him to lay claim to land where he had planted a crop. In addition, most of the resulting harvest, as with all apples at the time, was used to make hard cider—the preferred beverage of the time. Guess they don’t want little kids to know about that stuff.
Because apples keep so well, they are a great treat to share at the holidays. Joyce Wilson of Wilson’s Orchard, just north of Iowa City, told me to store your fresh-picked apples, place them in a plastic bag with a dripping wet cloth or paper towel. Refrigerate them as soon as possible (ideally at 35 degrees and near 100 percent humidity) apart from other fruits and vegetables. Apples like Gala, Honeycrisp, and Blushing Golden will last for three to six months.
So hopefully you bought (or grew!) a large supply of these treasures and are ready to serve them on your holiday table. Naturally, an apple pie is the first thing everyone thinks of, and of course that is one delicious option. But why not branch out a little? Does an apple dish have to be a dessert? Does it have to be sweet? No and no.
Consider making a chutney, or a classic Mulligatawny soup. Sauté sliced Granny Smiths with onion, garlic, and a quick white wine deglaze to serve over a roast pork. Roll slices of them into a leg of lamb.
Dessert recipes are everywhere this time of year, so I’ll share with you a stuffing I make every holiday season that’s loaded with apples and not even a tiny bit sweet. Here’s hoping you enjoy it, and that your holidays find you surrounded with family and friends.
2 cups Granny Smith Apples, diced
3/4 cup pecans, dry roasted
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 loaf French bread, diced
2 Tbsp. sage
1 Tbsp. salt
1-1/4 Tbsp. cracked black pepper
1/4 cup butter
1 quart chicken stock, more or less
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat (do not brown). Sauté the apples, pecans, onions, and celery until just tender. Add the sage, salt, and pepper. Add the bread and mix thoroughly. Add the stock, a little at a time, until it is absorbed and the stuffing reaches the desired consistency (all a matter of taste, really; you may need more or less stock).
Cool to use as an actual stuffing, or put in a shallow casserole and bake about 1/2 hour at 350 degrees until crisp and crusty on top to serve as a side dish.
Kurt Michael Friese is co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He lives with his wife Kim in rural Johnson County. Comments may be directed to Kurt@EdibleIowaRiverValley.com.