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The Farmer and the Foodie: It's crunch time

Sept./Oct. 2010 California Country magazine

Glen Ikeda, the farmer, and Gwen Schoen, the foodie, discuss apples.



There's a lot to love about the fall season. The weather cools down and trees begin to take on an array of new colors. Best of all, fruit bins are overflowing with beautiful, crisp apples.

Farmer: Up until six or seven years ago, the most popular apples were Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. Now, along with those, Gala, Fuji and Granny Smith make up the top five.

Overall there are about 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States. In California they are grown all over the state and do particularly well in colder regions and higher elevations. Most trees reach peak production when they are five to eight years old. Some farmers prune their trees so the fruit can be picked without climbing on ladders. Depending on how they are pruned, one tree can produce 400 to 1,000 pounds of fruit a year.

Foodie: What are some of the attributes of the top five varieties?

Farmer: Golden Delicious are thought of as all-purpose apples because they are sweet and good for both eating and cooking. Most people think of Red Delicious—bright red, heart-shaped apples—as the classic lunchbox staple. They are crunchy and mildly sweet. Fuji, my favorite, is a crisp, juicy apple with a sweet flavor and a reddish-pink color. Galas, which are a bright yellow-red, provide a mildly sweet crunch that's great for snacking and salads. Most bakers like Granny Smiths for pies because they stay nice and firm and turn slightly translucent after cooking.

Foodie: Apples have a lot going for them. They are beautiful, taste wonderful, keep for a couple of months in cold storage and are full of good nutrition. One apple, which is just 80 calories, contains 5 grams of fiber, a good dose of antioxidants and no fat. Personally, I like them all, but if I want to try something different, what would you recommend?

Farmer: If you like a hard, crisp apple, try an Arkansas Black, which is very dark red with a flavor similar to a Fuji. Pink Ladies are another one you might like if you prefer a sweet-tart flavor. They are yellow with a pink blush on the skin and very light-colored flesh. They generally come along a little later in the fall. The Braeburn has a sweet-tart taste and also is very crisp and juicy. The skin color is yellowish-green with some red and brown mixed in. It is slightly sweeter than a Pink Lady, but is still crisp. Also try an Empire, which tastes like a cross between a Red Delicious and a McIntosh, but it's redder and firmer than a McIntosh.

Foodie: Everyone knows apples make great pies, but one of my favorite ways to enjoy them is in spinach salad. Just toss baby spinach leaves with chopped apples, walnuts, diced red onions and poppy seed dressing.

Peel the perfect pie

Whoever coined the phrase "easy as pie" never baked one. Pies, especially filled pies such as apple or pumpkin, are a delicate balancing act between a crust that's flaky and cooked on the bottom and a filling that's firm enough to slice, but not overcooked and dry. Here are a few tips for the perfect pie:

  • Avoid overmixing the dough. Flaky crust is created when little pieces of fat in the dough melt as the pie bakes, leaving tiny air pockets.
  • Use cold water and shortening when making the pastry.
  • Cut the shortening into the dry ingredients using forks or a pastry cutter until the dough resembles coarse crumbs the size of small peas.
  • Use as little flour as possible when rolling the dough.
  • When fitting the pastry into the pan try not to stretch it, which can cause it to tear and shrink as it bakes.
  • If your pie has a juicy filling, such as apple, brush the bottom and sides of the unbaked pie shell with a lightly beaten egg white and allow it to dry about 20 minutes before adding the filling. This will seal the crust and keep the bottom from becoming soggy.
  • Cover the edges of the crust with thin pieces of foil for at least part of the baking time to prevent overbrowning.
  • Use pans made of heatproof glass or dark metal. Dark, dull pans absorb the heat and help the bottom crust to cook evenly.
  • It takes six medium apples (2 1/4 pounds) to make a 9-inch pie.
  • An apple pie is not done baking unless the filling is bubbling through the slits in the top crust.

Recipe


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