If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that fall is my favorite time of year, and October my very favorite month. Nothing beats the splendor of autumn leaves against a not-just-blue-but-BLUE October sky. The air is crisp enough for a sweater and maybe a scarf, but the bone chill is weeks away. End-of-harvest vegetables make the best soup of the year. And just for good measure, as the month draws to a close, we get to see those “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night,” per the ancient Celtic prayer.
As if that embarrassment of riches were not enough, there is the glorious gift of apple season. In fact, I had a giant Honey Crisp for lunch, from a good supply of South Central Pennsylvania apples, courtesy of our dear friends. They’re quite good, but as you know, dear readers, I am fairly obsessed, and my apple compass, like my heart of hearts, points north.
Ergo, when I learned of a new edition of Amy Traverso’s The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, I knew I had to have it. Amy Traverso is senior food editor for Yankee Magazine; perhaps you’ve seen her on Weekends with Yankee (both of which are also obsessions of this extreme brand loyalist, per my previous post). You can read Amy’s Yankee article about the cookbook here, on the magazine site.
What I really love about Amy Traverso’s articles and her features on the TV series, which she co-hosts, is her reverence for the foods that New England produces, whether from the sea, the orchards, the vast acres of wild blueberries, or farms large and small. Once you’re north of Boston, New England is sparsely populated; you won’t find a frenzied city in Vermont, Maine, or New Hampshire. The family farm or orchard is the norm there. Although “eating local” and “farm to table” have been favorite catch phrases in the last five to ten years, much of the New England food supply has always been local, from lobsters to root vegetables to cheese. And apples, of course, since so many apple varieties thrive in a colder climate.
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook isn’t just a cookbook—it’s an homage. Amy loves the heirloom varieties that abound in New England orchards, many of which have been in the same families for more than a century. And guess what—the Northern Spy is her favorite pie apple, too! Several years ago, we picked Northern Spys at Cayford Orchards in Skowhegan, ME, and were also able to sample an apple that the present owner’s family had grown on the same soil some 150 years before. You can read about our apple-picking adventure here. One thing is certain—the apples will be wonderful at almost any New England orchard you visit.
Of course, the book isn’t just about apples that grow in New England; apples grow happily in most of the United States*. The Pacific Northwest is famously known as apple-growing territory. Years ago, when I told a new friend about how I’d come to love Northern Spys from the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania, she told me that they were the pie apple of choice in her native Minnesota. But apples in New Mexico? You betcha!
The book offers an “in depth” look at 70 apple varieties, each with information about its origin, availability, attributes, and use. There’s a quick reference guide, too, for when you’re not quite sure of whether an apple is better suited for eating, baking, roasting, or tossing in a salad. The recipes are interesting—often a new twist on something very traditional—yet not overly complicated despite their sophistication.
Right now, I have about eight recipes from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook bookmarked to try, savory as well as sweet. I’ll start simply, with Amy’s grandmother’s crisp, and work up to that pork pie that looks so incredibly different and inviting. As I try each one, I’ll update you. Meanwhile, stay well, calm, and hopeful as you enjoy “October’s bright blue weather”.**
* Northern Orchard, in New York’s Champlain Valley is not technically New England, but it’s just across the lake from Vermont. Although I’m fond of claiming that the farther north you go, the better the apples are, New York State apples, to be fair, are fabulous. Cindi and the other wonderful folks at Northern Orchard deserve a plug because last year, when our annual fall trip north was too early for Spys, I did some online research and found that this orchard would ship. I pursued and received the most beautiful Northern Spys not long afterward, allowing our Thanksgiving tradition of “Spys for Pies” to continue without interruption. This year, we’d planned to visit in person, but we all know why that’s not happening. We’re hopeful that we can patronize Northern Orchard again, assuming that they have a sufficient Spy harvest, and hopefully try for a visit again next year. It’s more important than ever to support our small businesses, particularly those that put foot on our tables.
**If you don’t know this lovely poem by Helen Hunt Jackson, a grade-school favorite of mine, read it here.