Apples — they are the snack-a-day that keeps the doctor away. Though they are probably blameless, apples also often play the role of Eve’s Forbidden Fruit.
With a little bit of added yeast and love, the sprightly little fruit transforms into a truly intoxicating hard cider — an elixir, it is said, that was the real inspiration for Johnny Appleseed’s industrious tree-planting project.
Perhaps first and foremost, the fruit’s starring role is as the main ingredient in that ultimate symbol of virtue and patriotism — Mom’s Apple Pie.
But the apple is far more than mere snack or dessert, said Madge Baird, a Clinton-based cookbook author and editor, and produce farmer. Baird has authored her third cookbook, this one in celebration of the humble, homey fruit — “101 Things to Do With Apples” (Gibbs Smith, 2012).
“I really wanted to include a variety of recipes, because apples are not just for dessert,” said Baird. “In many ways they become neutral in a dish, kind of like a potato. They absorb other flavors and blend very well with them. But they also add just a touch of sweetness and tartness.”
Baird is both farmer and cook, at heart and in fact.
With her homegrown veggies and fruits — a mix that includes tomatoes, strawberries, green beans and tree fruit, including two kinds of apples — Baird debuted as a produce producer about five years ago, when Clinton set up a small farmers market and needed growers to participate.
Last year, Baird took the step of selling her crops at a stand in front of her home.
Baird has also worked for Layton’s Gibbs Smith publishing company for 38 years.
“I’m exposed to cooking styles and food combinations from a variety of regions of the country, and I gain enthusiasm for good food as a side benefit to being an editor,” Baird said.
Start with dessert
Baird admits that she started with desserts when she began her “101 Things” apple journey — the customary pies, crisps and fritters. One of her favorite desserts that made the book is her Rustic Apple Tart, which she likes not just for its succulent properties, but also for its pretty presentation.
Baird dug deep into family and friends’ recipes, as well as those from her own cooking past, including an OJ Fruit Salad she learned years ago in a Weber State nutrition class. Baird also began experimenting, dreaming up her own versions of established recipes and creating originals.
“Anytime I thought of something, I just cooked it and shared it with the neighbors,” she said. “Eventually, though, you run out of ideas, or you get something you’ve heard of, but don’t know how to make. Then you can look on the Internet for ideas.”
Baird doesn’t take any recipes verbatim from the Internet. Instead, she browses a variety of recipes for a particular dish and from there draws inspiration as to the ingredients and seasonings. Thus armed, Baird goes to her kitchen and develops her own method and recipe.
“What a cook brings to the table is his or her style. Whether she likes to peel the apples or leave the skins on, whether she goes heavy on the cinnamon or leaves it out altogether in favor of a light dash of some other spice, her selection of other ingredients that go into the dish — (it) will make a dish her own.”
Salads, savories ...
Baird has also gathered and created apple recipes for meats and poultry, soups and stews, main and side dishes, breads and condiments, and suitable for all seasons.
One side she particularly enjoys in wintertime uses apples with root veggies — Parmesan Roasted Apple-Vegetable Medley.
“You can combine them with just about any root vegetable. I really like (them) with Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes. I like them mixed with a little balsamic vinegar, maybe a little honey. It is a great side dish, because it is delicious, and it is no bother. You put it in the oven, and then turn the vegetables once, halfway through. You don’t have to watch over it.”
As for whether you should use apples sans skin or intact, it is mostly is a matter of taste. Baird likes to leave the peel on when possible — for nutrition, taste, texture and ease.
She laughed. “I, personally, do not love standing at the sink and peeling. No, I enjoy a more rustic approach.
“Besides, sometimes, in a hot, savory dish, an apple without the skin might dissolve, and you won’t even know it is in there. The skin helps hold it together in this nice little bite of sweetness. I like that taste surprise.”
From “101 Things to Do With Apples” by Madge Baird (Gibbs Smith, 2012):
Rustic Apple Tart
9-inch unbaked pie crust
4 tart red apples
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out pie crust to a 10-inch round. Let rest one minute, then transfer to a baking sheet or pizza pan.
Core and thinly slice apples into a medium bowl, leaving the skin on. Toss with lemon juice. Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl, and sprinkle over apples. Toss and let sit 5 to 10 minutes while the juices start to come out of the apples.
Transfer apples with juices to the middle of the pie dough, being careful not to let the juice run off the edges. Working around the outside edges, carefully fold the dough up and over the apples, overlapping with each fold, being careful not to tear the dough, leaving the center of the tart open.
Bake on the middle rack of oven about 40 minutes, until apples are tender. Makes 6 servings.
Parmesan Roasted Apple-Vegetable Medley
2 large, firm apples, cored and thickly sliced
1 medium onion, cut into eight wedges, layers separated
6 carrots, peeled, halved vertically, and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced and separated
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Spray a large baking sheet with oil. Place apples and vegetables in a large mixing bowl and toss with olive oil and cheese. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and bake uncovered for about 35 to 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes or so. Remove from the oven when done to your liking. Makes 8 servings.
Sausage and Apple Pasta
3/4 pound link breakfast sausage
1 leek, white and tender green parts, chopped
4 Golden Delicious apples, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 teaspoon bacon fat
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 package (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente and drained
In a deep frying pan or large sauce pan, brown sausage on all sides and cook through; drain grease. Let cool a bit, then cut each link into four pieces.
In the same pan, saute leek and apple together in oil, butter and bacon fat until apples begin to soften. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Return sausage to the pan, then add the vinegar and water. Add spinach, sprinkle with about one teaspoons salt, cover pan with lid, and cook on medium heat about 5 minutes, tossing a couple of times, until spinach wilts. Add cream and Parmesan and toss. Add cooked pasta, tossing to coat. Cover and reheat. Makes 8 servings.