The afternoon sky is pale and my mind is foggy. An eerie sense of stillness permeates the air around me. I look out the window and see changes in the landscape that have taken place without me. Just yesterday at the same time it was wonderfully bright and blazing hot, the kind of heat that makes you scream secretly inside. Or stare at the naked blue sky until your eyeballs dance. And then today, someone puts a glass jar over everything, and things slow down to a halt. Tomorrow - who knows?
We are transitioning. Or rather, the seasons are. Autumn is like the net that catches the odds and ends that are slipping between the cracks, things that are not ready to let go of the time that was. No wonder it's also called Fall. I've learned to consider the year in terms of seasons, and I can't help but think we have about three months to prepare for the dark age of Winter.
On the bright side, apple season is upon us, and brings with it a welcome sight of abundance and hope against a graying backdrop. Coming from a place where apples are only available at the stores, I never thought of them in a philosophical way until the moment I reached up an apple tree and plucked an apple I'd instinctively chosen out of a dozen on a branch. It's quite impossible after that to stop at one or two... or three dozens.
We visited two orchards in Watsonville, California and filled our bags with a variety - Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Mutsu, Cameo, Newtown Pippin, Honeycrisp - and had an apple tasting party at home. We tagged them, baked them whole, and took down tasting notes. We've become apple nerds. I started a Pinterest board for apple recipes I'd like to try and titled the board "Apples!" with a capital A and an exclamation mark. I'll be putting one or two of them to the test for my Recipe Confidence challenge, something I started to help me learn to identify and have trust in good recipes.
With all those apples we've collected, I've taken on some apple baking projects I'm excited to share soon. For something simple and quick, I started by baking whole apples, stuffed with ingredients that welcome the aromas and flavors of Autumn into the house.
Cardamom Baked Stuffed Apples
Some apples are more suited for this way of cooking than others, particularly those that retain their shape and "appley" flavor, such as the ever popular Honeycrisp. The bright floral flavor of Mutsu is highly appreciable while Newtown Pippin and Cameo offer a pleasant balance of sweet and tart if you're after that tangy element. For that classic apple taste and quality, the widely available Golden Delicious does a fine job.
5 to 6 large cooking apples
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 cup cranberries, cut into halves
4 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons liquid sweetener such as honey/ maple syrup/ agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup walnut pieces
Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut 1/2 inch off the top of each apple and set the tops aside. With a corer, carefully spoon out the flesh of the bottom part of each apple, leaving about 1/2 inch of the base and wall. Chop the apple flesh that’s been spooned out into small pieces and set aside.
Heat coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped apple pieces, cranberries, dates, liquid sweetener, cardamom cinnamon, orange juice and zest. Cook until the apples and cranberries are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in walnuts.
Spoon mixture into each apple bottom and cover with the top. Arrange the apples in a baking dish filled with 1/4 inch water. Cover with foil and bake until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, depending on the apples. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before serving.