Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stewed Apples and Apple Hill

Every fall, it is my tradition to drive about an hour east of Sacramento to a community collectively known as Apple Hill - a series of family-run orchards, farms, shops, bakeries, and craft fairs around the city of Camino, California. When I was young, I would make this trek with my family and we would visit the same farms every year, sticking mostly to the biggest and most well-known locations, such as High Hill.

However, this fall, my husband and I went with few other friends and we explored new farms. At Denver Dan’s, we picked our own apples from the orchard and paid by the bucket. On one hand, it was more labor-intensive and expensive to buy my apples this way versus the more convenient method of buying them from the bins or by the box at one of the shops.

On the other hand, the apples were undoubtedly fresher than the boxed ones (who knows how long they had been sitting there?) and I felt a sense of accomplishment and personal connection to the literal fruits of our labor. I had the power to personally select the finest specimens on the trees. Furthermore, what could be more satisfying than to hunt for and gather my own food, then later prepare and consume it? It was rewarding to be involved in the whole process of consumption on this occasion. Plus, we discovered new varieties of lesser-known apples as we explored the rows of apple trees, each row boasting a different kind of apple. Winter Banana apple, anyone?

As we stopped and visited the various farms, we sampled freshly fried apple cider doughnuts, apple dumplings, homemade fruit curds and jams, and freshly pressed organic olive oils. I bought a frozen Dutch apple pie and a gallon of good fresh cider to take home. Later, at home, I also make several batches of stewed, one of the true joys of fall. I like to use fresh Apple Hill Cider to amplify the flavor of the apples, but if you don’t have access to it, substitute water. Here is my method of preparation:

Stacy’s Stewed Apples

Start with sliced and peeled apples (preferably a mixture of several kinds of apples, both sweet and tart). Place them in a study saucepan or stockpot, depending on how many apples you have and how much you intend to make. Pour in some cider and sprinkle generously with cinnamon and just a bit of nutmeg - not too much, as nutmeg can overpower other spices. Add sugar or brown sugar as desired, depending on the desired level of sweetness.

Cook over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the apples start to become soft. You can use the spoon to cut and mash the apples, a lot or a little, depending on how chunky you like it. Add more cider/water if the mixture starts to look dry.

When the apples have reached your desired consistency, you may serve them either warm or cool. They will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. To store for longer, either freeze it in batches or can it for enjoyment all through the year. To can, ladle hot apples into sterilized cans and process for 20 minutes.

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