My mom had a rigid snacking schedule for her children when we were small. The oldest four of us, collectively born between September 1966 and July 1970, scrambled onto the bench my dad built to fit the length of kitchen counter poking out under the cabinet into the dining room. The morning snack was salty and served at 10; the afternoon one, sweet and served at 2.

If your belly rumbled between meals outside of scheduled snack times, an apple, most often a Macintosh, was your only option.

I ate many apples growing up, but I did not spend much time discerning between varieties until I attended pomologist John Bunker’s tasting at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s  Common Ground Fair five years ago. In a frenzied 45 minutes, Bunker tells the stories of a dozen local apples that his team slices and passes to the crowd, which grows annually as more eaters tune into the biodiversity of the Maine heritage apple scene. Bunker encourages tasters to shout out adjectives to describe the Chestnut Crab, Egremont Russet and Cox’s Orange Pippin apples they sample. Sweet! Tart! Crisp!

Apple enthusiast Sean Turley and Anestes Fotiades, the creator of the online Portland Food Map, offer a more closely guided tour of New England apples as part of their Heirloom Apple Tasting held annually on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, formerly Columbus Day, in Portland. This year’s event sold out within hours of being announced on Instagram and featured 213 dessert (best eaten raw), cooking (best in pies) and cider (best in fermented beverages) apples.

Participants gawked at each apple, labeled and impressively laid out on a huge table in the middle of The Shop on Washington Avenue, but we sampled only about 25. We tasted them in an order established by Turley to progressively reveal characteristics of each that might make them fit for standalone eating.

The key areas to assess any apple, Turley said, are skin, flesh texture and flavor. Skin can be snappy, tough, smooth or rough and comes into play only if you’re eating the apples out of hand, as most cooked apples are relieved of their skins. Flesh textures vary from coarse (like the texture of rice) to smooth (more melt in your mouth) and crisp (which represents cellular strength) to mealy (meaning the apple is likely past its prime).

The flavor of any apple centers on its acidity. An apple that makes you pucker has straight acid. A sprightly apple is still sour but has a little sugar backing up. A sugary apple has just a touch of acid. And a pure sweet apple is flat without any acid in play. As Bunker and Turley have communicated the wonders of apple biodiversity to larger audiences, their descriptions of flavors have become more fanciful to include terms like floral notes, citrus tones, custardy textures, strawberry perfumes, burnt sugar aromas and levels of salinity.

Pushing the apple envelope further, Turley took pains to explain how those same attributes of individual apple could be blended into something baked, sauteed or pressed for your table – something as simple as the perfect roasted applesauce or something as complex as a very dry cider.

To prove his point, Turley invited three local chefs to create dishes with heirloom apples so attendees could taste three varieties of apples raw and then cooked. Josh Berry from Union built a canapé of Ashmead’s Kernel apple molasses brown bread, pork and apple rillette, apple cider vinegar gastric and a dried apple slice. Ilma Lopez from Piccolo and Chavel created Ribston Pippin pastry cream-filled profiteroles with salted caramel. And Krista Desjarlais of The Purple House made birch and coffee financiers and served them with roasted and smoked Northern Spy apples and local absinthe anglaise.

Some heirloom apples at Christine Burns Rudalevige’s house, clockwise from top center: Golden Russet, Sheep’s Nose, Frostbite and, on left side, Esopus Spitzenburg. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“In the end, you like what you like. But it’s good to have some common terms to help categorize your preferences and help you locate more varieties of apples that you like to eat,” Turley said.

If you want to hold an apple tasting event of your own, Turley pointed to four Maine orchards that are working to grow more varieties and make them available to the general public. They are McDougal Orchards in Springvale; The Apple Farm in Fairfield; Bailey’s Orchard in Whitefield; and Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards in Cumberland.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. Contact her at [email protected]

 

This homey Roasted Applesauce Charlotte with whipped cream was made with heirloom local apples. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Roasted Applesauce Charlottes

This recipe was adapted from Judy Rodgers’s “The Zuni Café Cookbook.” I bought a mix of heritage apples at Sweetser’s Apple Barrell and Orchard in Cumberland – sweet Golden Russets, red spotted, firm Esopus Spitzenburg and tart Frostbites.

Makes 6 charlottes plus 2 extra cups of applesauce 

FOR THE APPLESAUCE:

3 1/2 to 4 pounds apples, peeled and cored

Pinch of salt

Up to 2 teaspoons sugar, as needed

About 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced thinly

FOR THE CHARLOTTES:

6-8 pieces soft bread

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Whipped cream for serving

To make the applesauce, toss the apples with salt and, unless they are very sweet, a bit of sugar to taste. Spread in a shallow baking dish that crowds the apples in a single layer. Drape with slivers of the butter, cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil, and bake until the apples start to soften, 15 to 30 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to 500 degrees F, and return the pan to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and color slightly, about 10 minutes more. Cool apples slightly and mash with a fork.

To make the charlottes, trim crusts from bread. Cut 6 circles sized to fit the bottom of 6 ramekins. Then cut 6 long (or 12 shorter) rectangles to line the sides. The side pieces should be long enough to line inside of the ramekin and rise about 1/8 inch above the rims. (Save scraps and rejects for croutons or breadcrumbs.)

Melt the butter and place it in 1 bowl. Combine the sugar and cinnamon is a second bowl. Starting with 1 circle and 1 long rectangle (or 2 short ones) dip both sides of the bread in the butter. And dip 1 side in the cinnamon sugar. Place the round piece, sugared side down, in 1 ramekin. Place the rectangles(s), sugar side out, to line the sides of the ramekins. Repeat the process with remaining bread and ramekins.

Fill the center of each ramekin with applesauce. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet. The charlottes can be refrigerated until you are ready to bake them.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the charlottes until golden brown at their top edges, about 30 minutes. To serve, slide a knife around the edge of each charlotte, then turn out onto warm plates. If the bottom circles stick to the dish, retrieve them by sliding a salad fork under the edges. The charlottes should be golden brown all over, with tasty caramelized spots where the applesauce bled through the bread.

Serve warm, topped with whipped cream.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: