Last week, I overheard my daughters discussing which food phase of the year they prefer. They often tease me for honing in on a single ingredient and building all our meals around one ingredient. Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage or apples?
For this season, the favourite is undeniably apples. We’re lucky to have apple trees near where we live that offer the crispest, freshest apples. Many of our meals have therefore been based around the favoured apple.
I was a child of the 1960s in rural Ireland and it was normal (due to lack of choice) to eat with the seasons. When it was cabbage season we had it with every meal and as winter drew in it was the trusted root vegetables. Apples, however, were always a special treat and they came at the time of year that the days held a festive promise. For me, apples became synonymous with warm evenings by the fire after cold crisp days out.
Apples always held a cheeky joy in my family. While most were legitimately bought, some were snuck out of the orchard inside bulky jumpers and trouser pockets bursting as we ducked through the bars of the gate.
Every year I get to return to my childhood love of apples and this year was no different. Last week I cooked apples (unpeeled, as the skin carries good bacteria) with lemon verbena, and served them as a puree with meringues, cream, chocolate and blackberries. But the place of apples are not just limited to dessert – we have them with granola for breakfast, with pork or raw and thinly sliced in a salad with walnuts.
POTATO AND APPLE BRAISE
I use red-skinned crisp apples for this dish and waxy potatoes as I have had many disasters with cooking apples and floury potatoes. I often add bacon, ham or chorizo when I have some that needs to be used. Also cubes of cheddar cheese added last minute makes it an ideal comfort meal in a bowl.
100ml olive oil
3 large sprigs of thyme
2 sage leaves
1 onion, chopped fine
2 leeks, sliced
Salt and pepper
1kg waxy potatoes, cut into cubes
500g firm, crisp eating apples, cored and sliced (not peeled)
Heat a heavy-based casserole pot and add in the olive oil followed by the thyme and sage and allow to simmer on a very low heat for a few minutes or until you start to smell the herbs in the air.
Add the onion and leeks along with a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes without a lid, then cover and give it another 15 minutes.
Add the potatoes, mixing them in well and adding a little more seasoning. Replace the lid and cook on a very low heat for 10 minutes, then add the apples and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. During the cooking process, try not to lift the lid except to check once or twice. If the pot is dry, add a drop of water.
Serve with sausages, pork or simply with fried or poached eggs.
PORK WITH APPLES AND CREAM
This dish needs to be judged for its taste rather than its looks! To cut the richness of the cream, I like to serve an apple and raisin salad with a maple and cider vinegar dressing. Serve with noodles, rice or potatoes.
750g pork shoulder, cubed
Salt and pepper
2 onions, chopped
500ml dry cider
250ml chicken stock
4 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
200ml creme fraiche
Heat a frying pan and add the butter. When it starts to foam, add the meat in two to three batches and brown on all sides and season well with salt and pepper as you go.
Transfer the pork to a casserole pot and add the onions to the frying pan adding a little more butter if needed. Cook until soft and add to the pork.
Next add the cider to the frying pan and return to the heat. Allow to boil for a couple of minutes before adding to the meat.
Pour the stock and the prepared apples into the casserole, and bring slowly to a simmer and cook for an hour or until the meat is nice and tender.
Add the cream, slowly bring back to the boil and allow to simmer for a few minutes while mixing well. Serve.
TOFFEE APPLE AND BRANDY TRIFLE
I made this trifle for the west Cork history festival dinner this year. The apples were just about ready for picking and I had a bottle of Longueville apple brandy at hand. Making your own sponge makes a big difference as the shop-bought ones contain far too much sugar. Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe; divide it into three stages and plan ahead. When a trifle is given time to stand the flavours develop and mingle, making it difficult to resist any leftovers.
Serves six to eight
For the sponge
8 medium eggs
250g plain flour
For the apples
750g eating apples, cored and sliced
100g dark brown sugar
For the custard
300ml full cream milk
4 large egg yolks
1 level dessertspoon cornflour
150ml of Longueville apple brandy
250ml cream, lightly whipped
Two days before you need the trifle, make the sponge. Heat the oven to 180oC and line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar with the eggs until it’s at least doubled in size and is thick, pale and firm. This can take up to 15 minutes depending on your mixer. Sieve the flour into a bowl and fold the egg mixture in gently, taking care not to lose the lightness of the mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and firm. Remove to a wire rack and let it sit overnight to firm and become slightly stale.
The next day, make the toffee apples. Melt the butter in a pan and add the prepared apples and cook until they are starting to soften. Add the sugar and continue to cook on a low heat until the mixture starts to caramelise and the air smells of toffee. Allow to cool.
Make the custard by bringing the cream and milk to the boil. In the meantime, in a bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale. Now pour the boiling milk into the bowl, and mix well. Pour back into the saucepan and return to a medium heat. Continue to whisk until it comes up to a slow simmer and its thick and smooth. Remove from the heat to cool.
Finally assemble the trifle by lining the bottom of a large glass bowl with the sponge and sprinkle with half the brandy. Next add half of the apples followed by another layer of sponge and sprinkle with the rest of the brandy. Now add the rest of the apples and pour over the custard. Allow to stand for at least two hours or over night if possible.
Spoon the whipped cream on top just before serving.