LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 21. Follow us all summer long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce
by JAY PIERCE
On the morning of April 24 of this year, as we were readying for a trip to dig ramps at Foggy Ridge Cider in Dugspur, VA, the temperature in much of the apple-growing part of North Carolina dropped low enough to freeze the nascent apple blooms that were early, as a result of the preceding mild winter.
These irreparably damaged blooms never turned into apples. Because cold air is heavier than warm air, the chill settled in valleys and actually spared orchards at higher elevations. As a result, some in the industry estimate that as much as 80% of the apple harvest in North Carolina was lost that day.
Now that apple harvesting season is upon us, we are feeling the effects of that disastrous day. Each of the varieties that we’ve come to expect at the farmer’s market are present, but in tremendously small quantities. Honeycrisps and Empires seem to be already done, Buckinghams and Galas are going fast.
Because our menu is literally created by local foods and what’s in season, our late summer menu is a little different this year. This menu usually has the apple turnover and bourbon-smothered apples on grilled porkchops. Not this year.
So what did we do instead? More importantly, what do you do instead?
Hold your locavore ground
Mother Nature teaches us moderation. Sometimes we splurge because our tomato bushes were overly prolific, and sometimes we moderate because of a heat wave or a freeze. In boom times, we preserve. In lean times we manage. It’s all part of the challenge of shopping in Mother Nature’s stores. Being a locavore, to me, means celebrating what’s in season. When strawberries are in: celebrate. When apples are in: celebrate.
If you have a bumper crop–like this summer’s tomatoes and squash–pay attention to it. Ask farmers about the season’s boom or bust and make a creative plan of action.
Right now, we’re serving Applesauce, and Apple Cake served with slice pears, because Apple Cake uses fewer apples and we had a good pear crop.
A word about apples
All apples are divided into 2 categories: eating and cooking.
Apples for eating out of your hand
Favorite eating apple: Honeycrisp
- no aftertaste
- Honeycrisp, Gala, York, Fuji, Pink Lady
Favorite cooking apple: Arkansas black. Its lower moisture content means it doesn’t make great applesauce, but it makes wonderful apple pies and dumplings. This apple is also featured on the side of the Farm to Fork London Taxicab you see me driving around town.
- firmer, holds its shape in the oven
- Fugee, Heirloom. Buckingham, Newton Pippin, Rusty Coat, Limbertwig, Arkansas Black
At the farmer’s market
- The best way to tell the difference between a cooking apple and an eating apple is to ask your vendor or farmer. Courtlands, Jonathans, and Buckinghams are all in the market right now. You’re much better off talking to someone who is buying or selling or growing NC apples. When you buy things in season from local growers you get occasional brilliance.
- Get the farmer’s side of the story. Ask him or her about this this year’s apple harvest. If they’re not aware of a cold snap or an apple shortage, you might not be talking with someone who is as passionate as you are about your apples. Keep in mind, that farmers higher in the mountain regions didn’t lose much this year.
- Ask the farmer’s where the apples came from. We’ll be crossing North Carolina state lines into Virginia to make up for the apple loss. But the closer the apple is to the home and the tree it came from, the better.
At the grocery store
- Check the label. If you go to the grocery store, the apple will have a sticker on it indicating its country of origin. It’s not uncommon for people to make a mistake: to accidentally fill the bin with the wrong apple because of a short supply. Double check: if it says, “locally grown,” check the apple’s sticker.
- Find out how far it has travelled to get to you. If an apple is picked in, say, New Zealand, it’s picked underripe and treated with a gaseous compound (1-MCP) so it can be shipped halfway around the world and arrive ready for stores. The apple never gets an opportunity to develop all those nutrients on the tree. It’s literally in suspended animation.
- Apples reach their peak of maturity when you store them at room temperature.
- If you go to a Pick Your Own orchard and bring home several apples to store, refrigerate them.
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen Apple Sauce
5 pounds apples
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple cider
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Wash and core apples, then slice into wedges leaving skin on. Preheat skillet and add apples, sugar and ½ cup apple cider. Cook on low while cover until apples are tender. Remove from heat and process in food processor. Stir in remaining apple cider and nutmeg.
Makes – 6 cups
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s Apple Filling
2 1/2 pound apples – peeled, cored and sliced
¼ cup apple cider
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
½ stick butter (1/8 pound)
¼ cup light brown sugar
⅛ cup granulated sugar
1 pinch ground cinnamon
Peel, core and slice apples. Dissolve cornstarch in apple cider. Melt butter in skillet. Add apples and sauté until coated in butter. Add sugars and cinnamon and cook until syrup is thick.
Add cornstarch-cider mixture and simmer for 5 minutes.
Makes – 5 cups