About 8 or 10 years ago my brother presented me with one of the best books to ever grace my existence, The Food Lover's Companion, 3rd edition. As a child who may or may not have read the dictionary for fun, combined with my intense love of food, it was essentially the holy grail of Christmas presents. Since then I have read the entire book, from cover to cover, more times than I can count. Even with the advent of the internet (and how commonplace it has become as a research tool in everyone's lives), I still use this book regularly.
It is this book that has inspired me to create a new series of posts, Ingredient Spotlights.
After spending the last several weeks traveling I have come home to once again move my entire house (though hopefully for the last time - yay home ownership!), which will severely limit my time and tools for cooking and posting. Furthermore, even as much as I know about food and seasonality and styles of recipes, I frequently find myself cresting into another season with no inspiration on how to recognize it with the appropriate foods.
At least once per week or so I'll pick an ingredient that is in someway relevant to the time of year, discuss its history and uses, and provide several recipes (both my own and of other's) to help you explore the various applications each ingredient can have.
And that brings us to the inaugural post...
History Apples (Malus domestica) are considered a "pome," which is a type of fruit produced by a flowering plant in the rose family. Apples have been cultivated for at least 3,000 years and there are now at least 7,500 different types of apples. They are originally from Kazakhstan in Western Asia (regardless of their popular all-American status) and weren't brought to North America until the 17th Century by the colonists. The first recorded apple orchard in the United States was planted in Boston by William Blaxton in 1625. The United States now ranks 2nd, behind China, in apple production with more than 4 million tons grown annually.
Health Benefits "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," a 19th century Welsh proverb is thought to have referred to the apple's antioxidant properties. Although relatively low in vitamins, the high levels of antioxidant compounds help prevent cell and tissue damage, which have been linked to cancer and other maladies. Fiber in apples, present almost solely in the peel, helps prevent the absorption of cholesterol, can help promote weight loss by offering a feeling of fullness, and may also help with heart disease.
How to Select and Store Apples should be firm and brightly-colored with a fresh (never musty) fragrance. They should be free of bruises, gouges, and soft spots. Scalds, rough tan or brown areas on the skin of the apple, do not affect the flavor or quality of the apple. Apples should be stored in a cool dark place; wrapped loosely in a plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator is fine.
Types Apples should be selected according to whether or not they will be eaten raw or cooked. Many apples are suitable for either purpose with only a few exceptions. Red Delicious apples are sweet, but their monotone flavor and often mealy texture makes them unsuitable for cooking. For whole, baked apples Rome Beauty, Gala, Braeburn, and Gravenstein are ideal. Nearly all other popular apple varieties are good either raw or cooked.