Conventional wisdom says that with the passing of the Labor Day holiday, Michiganders declare and end of the summer season and immediately set their sites on the long winter ahead. Sure, it may be time to put away the white Bermuda shorts and boat shoes for the season, but nobody is telling you to hibernate. It’s the start of apple season and time to get into the bountiful local orchards to find out for yourself what was so tempting to Adam and Eve.
In the heart of the season, Michigan orchards churn out over 23 million bushels of apples. With that much inventory it’s no wonder that cooks from all over our amazing state have learned to turn this elegant fruit into a myraid of dishes. For the average home cook the familiar stand-bys of pies, cakes and crisps are often churned out at a predictable pace. There are some paths less traveled by that you may wish to explore though.
Sautéed apples are a familiar standard from cookbooks dating back to the days of horse drawn carriages and iceboxes. But adding some less common ingredients to your pan along with your favorite variety of sliced apples can be just the spark needed to ignite your imagination. Try sautéing your apples with toasted peanut oil for a flavor profile reminiscent of peanut butter and jelly. Having a dried spice mixture handy to dust into the pan along with rich butter can make for complex flavors that are perfect for a stand alone side dish. Chinese Five Spice powder and Garam Masala have similar ingredients to apple pie spice, but offer a hint of complexity that will leave your dinner guests guessing what your secret is.
Hard cider, one of Michigan's up and coming jems, is probably the most underutilized ingredient in the home kitchen. The amazing play of sweet and acidic flavors are perfect for long slow braises. You can find a varying set of flavor profiles in local offerings. Most are on the sweet side but if you can find a single variety cider, such as Granny Smith, the tartness makes for a great addition to richer meats like pork shoulder.
Apple sauce is always a favorite amongst the toddler set. If it’s been awhile since you have tasted a hand crafted apple sauce, one that’s been carefully tended to by a loving cook, you’ve been missing out on a genuine taste of Fall. Let’s forget for a moment the flaccid, meek applesauce hiding beneath a thin veil of foil in your local supermarket. Think more along the lines of a hearty puree of bold and chunky apples. Complex flavors and hints of tannin that echo a fine wine can often be found in a proper, homemade apple sauce. So why not treat it with the respect it deserves?
Adding freshly toasted and ground spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and even ancho chilies can turn an ordinary applesauce into a true accompaniment to fire grilled meats. Adding in hints of other fruits, like a swirl of raspberry puree or finely chopped dried cherries makes for an applesauce that will partner well a cheese plate.
Anyway you slice it (forgive the pun) apples are the true champions of the fall season in Michigan. Heading out to a local orchard for a family adventure in “pick-your-own” is a right of passage not to be missed out on. What you do with your harvest once you get it home is up to your imagination. Don’t let conventional wisdom hold you back.