I am lucky to be surrounded, in my personal and professional life, by highly educated, specialized people- experts and technicians in their crafts or fields. These people are great, but in practical terms the number of things they do well tends to be limited. Compared with people one or two generations ago, we tend to leave woodworking to the carpenters and music to the musicians. We mainly entrust the art of vehicle repair and enhancement to the mechanics. We mercifully restrict the practice of medicine to the health care professionals.
For better or worse (better, I think), we live in a society of experts. But many also crave a secondary skill – something that falls between a hobby and a religion, something that they can share in an intimate way with their friends and family. Enter the “Foodie” movement. For many, an enhanced appreciation for the preparation and consumption of and drink provides that accent to professional and family life.
This “gourmandism” can take many forms: the pursuit of fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs – the craft of smoking or curing meat and fish – sundry manners of fermentation, cheese making, pickling and brewing – baking and all associated witchcraft – the grill, in all its glory. Regardless of their day job, when it comes to food everyone seems to have their “thing.” And when we all come together at the table, these cultivated food skills collaborate in a real and rewarding way.
Here at WarLock Manor, we dabble in a little of everything, but the main theme of our efforts – the center of our culinary orbit – is the apple.
“The apple” is, of course, not a single kind of fruit but an array of types each with its own qualities, attributes and abilities. You might even say that apple varieties comprise their own community of experts and specialists. Some cook smartly into sauce, some are best dried and preserved. A few select varieties have aroma and structure enough to hold up baked into pies and tarts, or provide a cooked accompaniment to pork, fowl, or fish. Vinous and crunchy American apples can be tossed into a salad, add crunch to a sandwich or hamburger, or be eaten straight from the tree. Sweet and tannic apples can be crushed and pressed into juice and drunk fresh, or forgotten for a few months to stiffen into cider. Carelessly or on purpose, a little air will turn cider into vinegar, which is a staple in our pantry.
Apples have provided several inspiring challenges for the foodies in us. Luckily we live in a place that can and does grow very good apples. It all starts with finding the right varieties at the right times and making the right decision about how to use them.
The first apple to ripen is usually the Transparent, a variety common to Western Washington and the American West (though famous worldwide). This pale, almost white-skinned apple will start to soften and drop from the trees in mid-August. You may have to pick two or three find a really ripe juicy one, but it’s worth the effort. Transparent is a “cooker,” meaning it is quite acidic and will break down to a froth when cooked. It’s great for apple sauces, and is sometimes used to put away an early batch of cider.
Another summer cooking apple is Red Astrachan (above left). Like Transparent, this variety hails from Russia, where they apparently like their apples very sour. Astrachan has a flavorful and deeply colored skin (which can sometimes stain the apple’s flesh red as well). Picked the third week of August, I have used this apple for cider and the results were promising.
Wealthy (above right) is an unusually hardy variety. Several hundred-year-old Wealthy trees still grow in Carkeek Park in Seattle, where they bear heavy crops every year. An “aromatic” apple ripening in early September, Wealthy tastes and smells strongly of strawberries and has a nice balance of sweet and tart. I have made some tasty baked Wealthy apples, and have also prepared them grilled and seasoned alongside pork chops. This variety is supposed to be a nondescript apple for cider, but I’ve used it due to its abundance and availability- results are pending.
Spartan (above middle) is a particularly attractive apple. It grows and crops well in our area, ripening in mid to late September. The flavor is similar to a Wealthy, but more heavily scented and sweeter. The crisp texture (akin to a Cameo) makes it a particularly pleasing dessert apple. Elizabeth loves this apple, and we have one planted in our yard for ornament and snacking.
Other apples ripening in the late Summer and early Fall are – Duchess of Oldenburg (above left, soft and juicy with hints of citrus and banana) and Akane (above, second to left, very crunchy with a distinctive pear flavor) are best eaten fresh. Dolgo (above right) is a small astringent crabapple used for jelly or added in fractions to juice and cider.
These (along with the iconic all-purpose Gravenstein) are the early apples we pick here at WarLock Manor. After a long Winter, Spring and Summer they are welcome indeed, and are used hastily and enthusiastically in any number of ways. Sometimes they fulfill their exact purpose. At other times, like that reliable friend arriving first to a dinner party, they are sometimes pressed into service for which they are not fit, or given undue attention by default of their superior punctuality.
But is this not the moment for apples and Foodies to shine? Let us be flexible in our talents and our tastes so that no apple, nor any moment at the kitchen table with friends, is wasted.