In the past week, I traveled to upstate New York, western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, all to promote this book, which officially launches today!
What a thrill it is to spend so much time talking to people about apples, signing books, demonstrating recipes. For the past 5 years, I have been a apple nerd in private, working alone in my kitchen. Now I’m finding a whole community of like-minded people. Initially, the thought of getting out there to promote this book felt completely terrifying. What if nobody likes it? What if I screw up? But the trepidation is giving way to real happiness.
Yesterday was a particular thrill, as I was invited to do a demonstration at the Common Ground Fair in Unity.
The Common Ground Country Fair is a celebration of rural life in Maine and if you have any hippy or transcendentalist or DIY or crafty or foodie inclinations, you have a place here. Out of a field in Unity Maine springs a peaceable tent city, an annual meeting of like-minded folk who eat organic food and raise happy animals and have a thing or two to teach you about making jam or herding sheep or spinning wool. I LOVED it, and just wished we had come for the whole weekend instead of just a day.
I demonstrated 4 recipes: Autumn “Coleslaw” with Dates, Apples, and Pecans, Simple Apple Nut Cake, Quick Bread-and-Butter Apple Pickles, and pie crust. Overall, I’d say things went swimmingly. But I did make one tactical error: I forgot that many people in the audience would be devoted locavores. Some eat only what they themselves grow. Which means that the dates in the coleslaw aren’t in their pantries, nor the pecans. And the cilantro season in Maine is long gone before the apples are ripe. What I had was a recipe for Californians. No one complained, but their polite questions about possible substitutions did not go unnoticed. Next year, I’ll bring strictly local recipes.
One thing I am learning for certain: Apples make people happy. Johnny Appleseed knew this. I’m learning it. It’s a delight to be an apple ambassador.
Here’s the recipe for the apple pickle, which always seem to surprise and please people in equal measure.
Quick Bread-and-Butter Apple Pickles
Okay, this relish is actually a bit different from the bread-and-butter pickles you may know from childhood. It’s also much simpler. It does have a similar flavor profile, though: sweet and bright, with warm spices.
It’s a quick pickle in every sense—just a thirty-minute bath in the vinegar before it’s ready to serve, and I simply keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, rather than canning it. It never lasts long enough to put up, anyway. Serve as a side salad, or on sandwiches and burgers, or chop up and mix into potato salad.
Apple Notes: Red-skinned apples look prettiest here, so consult the apple portraits on pages 31–60 of the book to find some red firm-sweet apple varieties. I often use Jazz, Baldwin, and Melrose here.
Note: To make this pickle truly pretty (and easy), the mandoline and biscuit cutter are essential. The mandoline because you want paper-thin slices, and the biscuit cutter so you can create apple slices that are the same size as the cukes. You don’t need anything fancy, though.
Equipment: Mandoline; 1½-inch biscuit cutter (see Note)
Makes: About 4 cups • Active time: 25 minutes • Total time: 60 minutes
1 large seedless (English) cucumber (about 14 ounces or 400 g), unpeeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 large firm-sweet apples (about 1 pound total), unpeeled and halved lengthwise
2 medium shallots
1 cup (240 ml) rice vinegar
½ cup (120 ml) water
½ cup (120 ml) honey
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig fresh tarragon, cut into 4 pieces
1• First, prep your cucumbers: Cut off the ends and discard, then slice on a mandoline. Put in a colander and toss with the salt. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.
2• Meanwhile, prep the apples: Trim the seeds and core from each apple half, then set, cut-side down, on a cutting board. Use a biscuit cutter to push down into the flesh, extracting two little cylinders from each apple half. Because the apples are round, the cylinders won’t be perfectly level. That’s fine. Thinly slice each cylinder on the mandoline (again, don’t worry if some slices are not perfect circles). Slice the shallots on the mandoline as well, then put in a medium bowl with the apples.
3• In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, water, honey, and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the cinnamon stick and tarragon, and pour the mixture over the apples and shallots.
4• Rinse the cucumbers well and lightly blot dry (still in the colander) with paper towels. Add the cucumber slices to the bowl with the apples and stir well. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.