An Ode to the Apple

Autumn is tricky business. Lovely eye candy though it may be, with its splashes of crimson and gold, an awe-inspiring collage of color that inspires long drives and baking adventures, it's also a precursor to early sunsets and a reminder of the inevitable descent into the abyss that is winter.

Apples doing the still-life thing. (Kim O'Donnel)

I know, you'll argue that autumn is something of a culinary paradise, a smorgasbord of seasonal ingredients to play with and embrace. As much as I enjoy roasting pumpkin, braising sweet potatoes and exploring the nuances of parsnips, I am reminded of snow and ice and my annual countdown to spring. But as I mentioned, this autumn thing is a tricky tightrope, and the only thing that keeps me from tipping over is the apple.

Ah, the pomme. She is my diamond in the seasonal rough, my spark of light, a reminder of warmer, sun-filled days, the air filled with apple blossom perfume. She blushes, she bites back, she makes noise when you bite back, yet she protects and nurtures, providing the body with a slew of nutrients and disease-fighting compounds.

The pigments found in apple skin contain something called quercetin (how's that for a Scrabble word?), an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory as well as antihistamine properties, which means she's Nature's poster child for fighting asthma, colds and respiratory infections. Her flesh is loaded with soluble fiber in the form of pectin, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels and keep blood sugar levels in check. Plus, there's been talk in research circles about apple's super-power potential to protect brain cells from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

But most of all, I love the apple for the way she makes me feel.

From late September (when peaches have left the scene) until late February, I eat an apple just about every day. Sometimes two. It is my equivalent of a sun visor, a happy pill, a mood swinger-upper (who needs Zoloft when you got these?).

And with every autumn, it seems, my love for the fruit deepens and widens, as I discover more ways to play with her in the kitchen.

Some of my favorite cold-weather desserts are apple coffee cake and a flourless apple-almond cake. I am eternally enamored with her ability to soften and sweeten in an oven, transforming into melty bits that soothe and warm the belly. I am forever awestruck by her friendly nature, at ease with a variety of savory ingredients, including Brussels sprouts, onions, potatoes, pork, rosemary (do try this in your next apple pie), sage and every known root vegetable.

She doesn't mind being pureed and thrown into cake batter as a fat substitute, nor does she complain when we shred her into salads, with walnuts and blue cheese. We bake her, we crisp her, we dip her in caramel, we fritter her, and she keeps going, offering her best with grace and integrity.

As my friend Susan writes in a recent e-mail, "Apples do go on forever." And that, is precisely why I can get through the winter.

Share your love for the pomme in the comments area below.

Today is chat day; talk to me at noon ET for this week's What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 13, 2007; 9:46 AM ET Fall Produce
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You are "right On"! Apples are wonderful1 your blog brought a flood of memories; packing our stationwagen with children to go apple-picking which included a ferrey ride across the Ohio, Gramma and Grampa coming from PA with a bushell of Northern Spies on the back seat of their car. I could go on and on. Thank God for apples!

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2007 10:32 AM

Ooh, this reminds me of going to pick apples with my parents when I was still in Russia and we were on vacation and found an old house with an orchard. Fun times!

You know what else I love? Pomegranates! I wrote about them on my blog:

Posted by: Olga | November 13, 2007 11:59 AM

How long can apples be stored? I am willing to give over a fridge crisper drawer to them, or as much space as needed in the basement (think Wisconsin in winter... unfinished basement). The farmer's market closes this weekend, so if I can get some really tasty CRISP apples that will keep, I'd rather do that than buy them during the winter from the grocery store. Because I do LOVE a good crisp apple out of hand. Every day would be fine with me!


Posted by: Keepers | November 13, 2007 1:20 PM

Kim, You have advocated brining a turkey in several of your chat and blog posts. I am sure I am just missing it--did you post a "formula" for the brine itself? I know I need hot/boiling water to dissolve salt/sugar and I know I need some flavor parts, and I know I need cold, cold water for the rest...but in what proportions? How much of what stuff for how many gallons of brine? And how much brine do I need for a turkey? Or, are there sites you recommend for this type of advice? I have seen wildly disparate brining recommendations... so I am nervous about just grabbing a recipe and hoping for the best.

Thanks for any insights you can share!

Posted by: brining question | November 13, 2007 3:50 PM

Brining question:
The link below will take you to a video I did a few years back, with brine "formula" amounts. Have a looksee:

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 13, 2007 4:35 PM

Kim, if you haven't tried Honeycrisps (from the farmer's market, of course!), and you like slightly tart eating apples, you HAVE to try some. Just ran into them for the first time this year at the farmer's market and had a WOW moment. Super crisp, but not super sweet. Sort of like crossing a Pippin or Granny with a Fuji. Of the 2 varieties I found, I like the Michigan Honeycrisps better than the Arkansas variety, but both are really good. The guy I bought mine from said to put them in the fridge and they should be good for up to a month (as if they last that long - I know what you mean about eating 1-2 a day). Not sure how well they cook up because there is so much water in them (producing the crispness).

Posted by: Honeycrisps! | November 13, 2007 7:29 PM

Yes, apples are as comforting as a favorite quilt. And though they're "in season" in the fall, how great that we can readily enjoy them throughout the year! Seven years ago I decided that we would take my then two year old niece apple picking every fall. And we have without fail such that she anticipates the annual ritual as much as we do. Buying a bushel of apples has inspired me to of course make pies: tarte tatin, Dutch apple, etc. But my new favorite, which is perfect for cooler weather is oven roasted cauliflower with apple, onion, and dill. If I were hosting Thanksgiving this year, it WOULD be on my table!

Posted by: Sean | November 19, 2007 6:59 PM

I look forward to your weekly articles. They are like a read of poetry or a romance novel and always bring a smile to my face. You definitely enjoy what your're doing and have a flair for the written word. Aside from that your recipes are mouth watering. I like to use apples with onions baked with pork chops or with a roast in the slow cooker. Talk about mouth watering.

Posted by: Stephanie | November 29, 2007 11:08 AM

Kim, According to "Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce" apples are consistently one of the 12 most contaminated. They recommend buying only organic. Can you throw any light on this subject?

Posted by: Harold | November 29, 2007 12:09 PM

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