Apples are as autumnal as raking leaves and dragging sweaters out of storage.
By ANNE BROCKHOFF
So it came as a bit of a shock last week to realize on a day when the temperature was pushing 100 degrees that the local season was already well underway.
Kansas and Missouri growers have been picking Gala, Honey Crisp and other early apples for weeks and many have already moved on to Jonathans, Jonagolds and the like. At least, that’s what we found at Vertacnik Orchard near Lawrence.
Owner David Vertacnik began by giving my pint-sized crew a lesson on how to pick:
• No climbing or swinging from the trees.
• Twist or gently swivel the fruit to release it.
• If you shake the limb and apples fall, put them in your bucket.
Those type of things. Then we headed into the orchard, where they picked 25 pounds of apples in about 15 minutes.
Back home, the kids have been eating apples fresh almost non-stop and gobbling muffins almost as quickly as I can bake them. This weekend’s project: making applesauce.
It’s certainly easy enough. Martha Stewart’s recipe is a classic, or simply free-form your own to taste.
Just peel, core or chop a pound or two of apples, and then add them to a saucepan with a sprinkle of sugar and enough water to keep them from sticking.
Cook over low heat until the apples soften, and then pass them through a food mill — for smooth applesauce — or work them over with a fork or potato masher — for chunkier sauce.
The variations are endless, as anyone who’s ever Googled “applesauce recipes” knows. You can add lemon juice, or spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or swap white sugar for brown sugar, honey or even maple syrup. If you’re using a food mill, you can even leave the skins to make a lovely princess-y pink applesauce.
Apples were once a major crop throughout the region. A Kansas display of 96 varieties won acclaim at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, but few productive home orchards remained by 1940, according to a Kansas State College of Agriculture bulletin published in that year.
Missouri was one of the country’s biggest apple producing states in the early 20th century, with 15,000 growers producing a crop worth more than $500 million in today’s dollars, according to the University of Missouri.
While local apple orchards might not be as common as they were a century ago, they still exist and are worth seeking out. To find one near you, check online directories maintained by the Kansas Fruit Growers Association, Growing Lawrence, Kansas City Food Circle, Pick Your Own and the University of Missouri.
Be sure to call the orchard for picking hours before going. Many also offer ready-picked fruit. Farmers’ markets and some Kansas City supermarkets also sell local apples.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out!
Gluten-Free Apple Muffins
This gluten-free and vegan recipe from She Let Them Eat Cake was originally for apple bread, but I prefer maple syrup’s warm sweetness to sugar and bake them as easy-to-freeze mini-muffins.
Makes about 2 dozen mini-muffins
2-1/2 tablespoons ground flax
3 tablespoons warm water
1-1/2 half cups gluten-free flour blend (see the recipe below or use your favorite blend)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1 cup shredded apple (I like leaving the skins on)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a non-stick mini-muffin pan. Combine ground flax and water in a small bowl and leave to soften. In a separate large bowl, combine the gluten-free flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt and mix well. Add maple syrup, coconut oil and shredded apple to the flax mixture; stir to combine. Add wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Use a small cookie scoop to fill the mini-muffin pan. Bake for 14 minutes; use a toothpick to test for doneness. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove and place on a cookie rack to finish cooling.
Gluten-free Flour Blend
When blending gluten-free flours, I prefer to weigh ingredients for accuracy.
Makes 1-1/2 cups
90 grams (about 1/4 cup) brown rice flour
40 grams (about 1/4 cup) teff flour
60 grams (about 1/2 cup) tapioca or arrowroot flour, or a blend of both
Combine flours and mix thoroughly.
Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com .