A few weeks ago, I did a demo/signing at Stir, Barbara Lynch’s demonstration kitchen/cookbook store in the South End. It was a terrific time. Everyone was really enthusiastic about apples, and I enjoyed making the quick bread-and-butter apple pickles and demonstrating how to make a great pie crust.
One of the attendees, a gastronomy student named Erin McLaughlin, just shared this photo of the Wrapples she made from the book. Don’t they look amazing?
I only watched my appearance on The Martha Stewart Show once, on the day it aired. It was such a peak experience to be in that studio cooking with Martha! Stewart! that I’d rather hold tight to my memory of it rather than have it all filtered through the view from the outside.
However, if you didn’t see the show and would like to see the clips, here you go:
In two weeks, one of my favorite New England festivals is taking place in Western Massachusetts. Cider Days is a celebration of all things apple, with orchard tours, apple tastings, cidermaking, a grand “cider salon” with samples from around the world (that’s hard cider, not juice), workshops, kids’ activities, and more. Events take place all over Franklin County. This is such a wonderful recognition of the important place apples and cider have in our culinary history, and it’s just a very tasty and beautiful way to spend a day.
I’ll be doing a “Cooking with Cider” demonstration on Saturday, the 5th, at 11 a.m. at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts. I plan to do one savory dish (maybe the cider-braised beef brisket) and one sweet one (apple dumplings cider-rum sauce). There will be samples, so be sure to come!
Meanwhile, in honor of the great hard cider producers in our region, here’s a recipe for cheddar-cider fondue that I came up with last week, and which I have now added to my “I wish I’d put this inthe book file. It’s a reinterpretation of the classic fondue recipe found in The Joy of Cooking, only made with cheddar, hard cider, and apple brandy instead of the traditional French Gruyère, white wine, and kirsch. Sadly, I failed take a photo, but I can assure you it looks like just about every other cheese fondue you’ve seen. Enjoy!
New England Cheddar-Cider Fondue
Total time: 20 minutes; hands-on time: 20 minutes
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
1 1/4 cups medium-dry hard cider, (I recommend local ciders from Farnum Hill in NH, West Country Winery in NH or Furnace Brook Winery in MA
1 pound Cheddar cheese, grated (you can also use Gruyère or Gouda)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons apple brandy or applejack
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Assorted accompaniments, such as crusty French bread; boiled fingerling potatoes; apple or pear slices; steamed cauliflower, broccoli, or green beans; roasted Brussels sprouts; or sausage slices
Rub the inside of a 3- to 4-quart pot with the garlic clove, then discard. Add the cider and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cheese and nutmeg and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese is melted. Don’t worry if it doesn’t blend with the cider…that will happen later.
In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch with the brandy. Add to the cheese mixture and stir until smooth, about 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with accompaniments of your choice. Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Exciting times this week! I was in New York yesterday making apple dumplings and apple butter with none other than Martha Stewart for her Martha Show. The episodes will air this Thursday, October 20, at 10 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel.
Anyone who has paid attention to food or home design or crafts or magazines or television can imagine how exciting this was. I’ll never forget the first time I leafed through my mother’s copy of Martha’s first book, Entertaining, in 1982. Pouring over those pages like an 11-year-old Talmudic scholar, I absorbed that impossibly perfect vision of domestic life as a roadmap for what I wanted my grown-up life to look like. Of course, my grown-up home doesn’t come close to looking like Martha’s. I could never match her precision or drive, let alone her resources. But her products still inspire me. Her team boasts some of the most talented designers, cooks, crafters, producers, and stylists in the field today, so heading to the studios was like being called to the Mother Ship of creativity. And I’m grateful for her message that the domestic sphere can be important and beautiful. Apparently, she also believes that the professional sphere should be beautiful, too, because her studios are stunning. The first view, after snaking our way through several hallways, was of a very swanky dressing room.
The dressing room, with signature Martha colors and MSL-branded furniture, naturally.
Across the hall was the Green Room, with its display of Emmys. Martha’s office was just around the corner, but the frosted glass gave me only brief glimpses of her perfectly layered blonde tresses.
I was then called into the kitchen, to go over the dishes we were to prepare that day: apple dumplings with cider-rum sauce and overnight apple butter. The kitchen team, like everyone else, was incredibly gracious and welcoming, eager to make sure that what went on set was true to my vision for the recipes. I rehearsed my segment with producer Greta Anthony, had the makeup and hair treatment (including false eyelashes and a wing-y head of curls that were designed to give my flat hair some pizzazz and keep it out of my face), and after some torturous hurry-up-and-waiting and deep breathing, it was showtime. Walking toward set, I felt like a tiny thing, a mouse headed into the lion’s ring. But within seconds, all fear dissipated. Martha was warm and gracious and TALL. A head and a long model’s neck above me even if she hadn’t been wearing stilettos, which she was.
I heard the staff and audience cheering me on and got swept up in the good feeling.
Discussing the dough. Martha can roll out pastry like a master.
My husband, Scott, was in the Green Room and he took these shots off the monitor.
We got through the dumplings, paused for a break, and then it was time for the apple butter.
“Martha, I just love my slow cooker!”
The final segment was shorter. I did make the mistake of calling the apple butter a “dump and go recipe,” to which she shot back, “I don’t like the word ‘dump.'”
But where some might have read “scolding” I read, “sassy,” so I came back with “Ok, it’s an ‘artfully arrange and go recipe*,” and she smiled. I think she has a better sense of humor than some people might assume.
In fact, as I left the set, the producers said, “Wow, you could tell that Martha really liked you!” I think that’s a good thing.
Leaving the set with Kyle, the stage manager who keeps everyone calm and happy backstage
My one regret: Because Martha Stewart Omnimedia has its own magazine, they were reluctant to mention my Yankee title in my intro, so my real employer went unmentioned. It would’ve been nice to give a shout-out to my New England family.
*All quotes paraphrased until I can watch the actual tape on Thursday.
I want to take you to a very special orchard in Bolton, Massachusetts. It’s one of a growing number of American orchards specializing in antique or “heirloom” apples.
This is Nashoba Valley Winery, where apples, grapes, peaches, and other fruits are grown and then turned into wines, spirits, and multi-course meals at the on-site restaurant, J’s. It’s a remarkably beautiful setting of rolling hills and ponds and trees and vines heavy with ripe fruit. And my favorite corner, naturally, is the special antique apple orchard in the back of the property. You have to make an appointment to pick here—there are about 90 varieties of antiques, but only a few trees for each, so they have to keep track—but anyone can come.
The exuberant tree I photographed above is a winter banana that looks like something out of Dr. Seuss. These are some of the prettiest apples you’ll ever see, though the flavor won’t knock your socks off. It’s pleasantly sweet, just not really vibrant. It’s a good keeper, though, and after a few months in storage can, indeed, develop banana flavors.
Two of my favorite antique apples are the Ashmead’s Kernel and the Calville Blanc d’Hiver.
Ashmead’s dates back to the turn of the 18th century in England and has an incredibly rich flavor that reminds me of honeyed Champagne. Calville is a French variety from the late 1600s and is the traditional apple used in the wonderful caramel apple tart called tarte tatin. It is firm and very tart when first picked, but it grows sweeter in storage.
Now a note on “antique” or “heirloom” apples. In the apple world, these interchangeable terms describe traditional apple varieties that have been reproduced for some number of decades or centuries via grafting. In common parlance, heirlooms are defined by what they are not: that is, newly bred, mass-produced commodity fruit. That’s not a terribly scientific definition, but it functions well. The Granny Smith you buy at Shaw’s? Not an heirloom. The Seek-No-Further you picked up at the local farmers’ market? An heirloom.
With other plants, such as berries and tomatoes, heirlooms are defined more rigorously,
describing varieties grown from seed and pollinated by natural means, such as insects or wind (this is in contrast with hybrid plants, in which one plant is deliberately hand-pollinated with the pollen from another plant). But since apples don’t reproduce true from seed and must be cloned via grafting, that definition doesn’t apply. Still, calling an apple an antique or heirloom connects us to the long history of this fruit and hopefully gives us a sense of wonder that we can still eat the same fruits that our ancestors did.