Articles in Fruit w/recipe

The atavistic impulse to make mince pies is strong in British homes. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

“Mince around the World” is probably one of the worst names ever for a cookbook, yet it was discussed in all seriousness by an editor of my acquaintance a few years ago. For non-British readers, let me explain: Mince is what you folks the other side of the pond call “ground.” Not that “Grind around the World” would be much better.

Christmas mince pies would, of course, would be a feature in such a volume, although the beef that was once an essential component of the pastry has long been jettisoned from the ingredients list. In Britain, “mince” means ground meat, and “mincemeat” refers to dried fruit, nuts, candied peel, sugar, spices, suet and brandy or rum, chopped into a mixture that is used as a filling for small, round covered pies.

The latter word did originally mean finely shredded beef — indeed they commonly “made mincemeat” of unlucky knaves back in the 17th century — and it was general practice from the Middle Ages onward to add spice and fruit to meat. In her brilliantly researched “Great British Bakes,” Mary-Anne Boermans notes that Esther Copley in 1838 included five different recipes for mincemeat in her cookbook, the main ingredients being beef, tripe, neat’s tongue, eggs and oranges.

The meat content gradually died out over the centuries, especially with the advent of refrigeration, which took away the need to preserve meat by other means. The tradition survived longest in the sheep-rearing districts of northern England, where lamb or mutton was preferred to beef. The last vestige is the use of beef suet, although today’s mincemeat is increasingly vegetarian-friendly. Not that this is entirely new either — Hannah Glasse (1747) gives a recipe for Lenten mincemeat that has neither sugar nor suet, although it does include hard-boiled eggs.

Christmas tradition of mince pies

The atavistic impulse to make mince pies is still strong in British homes from the first rendition of “White Christmas” until you break your January diet. In 1662, Samuel Pepys celebrated “Twelfth Night with a dish of 18 “mince pies” (aka “Christmas pies”).

It is still common practice to have a standby tin of pies ready to offer passing mailmen, window cleaners and garbage disposal executives. In Yorkshire, they used to say if you didn’t accept a mince pie when offered, you risked a run of bad luck. There was also an old country belief there that the original mincemeat consisted of 13 ingredients representing the 12 apostles and Christ himself. Another old Yorkshire tradition, quoted in “The Oxford Companion to Food,” was that it is incorrect to eat mince pies before Christmas, but to eat one in a different house if possible on each of the 12 days of the season of Christmas — in order to bring 12 happy months.

Alas, I have to break it to you that unless you have been frightfully well-organized and have remembered to make your mincemeat far enough in advance for the flavor to mature, it is now too late for homemade. Still, there are good ready-made brands in the shops — but hurry, because you won’t be the only one who has just thought about it. Likewise with the pastry. There are various schools of thought as to whether this should be shortcrust, puff or flaky. The choice is yours, as is the decision whether to make your own or use ready-rolled.

For many families, Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without a plate of mince pies on hand. Even if you hate them or no one ever eats them, you’ve simply got to have them. It’s the law. Santa says so.

mince7

mince7
Picture 1 of 5

Mincemeat refers to a mixture of dried fruit, nuts, candied peel, sugar, spices, suet and brandy or rum. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Classic Mince Pies

When using ready-made mincemeat, you can always perk it up with a splash of rum or brandy and/or some extra citrus zest. This recipe is based on one by Annie Bell in her triple-tested “Baking Bible.”

Prep time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Yield: About 24 servings

Ingredients

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced

1/2 cup lard, chilled and diced

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 egg yolk

A little milk

Superfine sugar, for dusting

About 2 cups mincemeat

Directions

1. Briefly process the flour, butter and lard so it becomes crumb-like.

2. Add the confectioners’ sugar and pulse again.

3. Add the egg yolk and enough milk to bring the dough together in a ball.

4. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.

5. Preheat the oven to about 375 F (190 C).

6. Grease two 12-hole shallow tart tins (or use nonstick).

7. Thinly roll out two-thirds of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Use a 3-inch fluted pastry cutter to cut circles. Place in the trays and fill with a generous spoonful of mincemeat.

8. Roll out the trimmings and remaining pastry and cut circles with a 2 ½-inch fluted cutter. Brush the rim of the pies lightly with milk, lay the lids on the tops and gently press the edges together.

9. Dust with the superfine sugar and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t go much beyond the pale gold stage or the rims will start to harden and burn.

Tip: They can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week. They can also be frozen.

Main photo: The atavistic impulse to make mince pies is strong in British homes. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Read More
Persimmon pudding cake. Credit: Elaine Corn

If you want a moist autumn cake, put a persimmon in it. Or, in the case of this recent obsession I call persimmon pudding cake, make that four to six persimmons, depending on size.

This cake has been a project.

Many years ago while I was having dinner with friends, a dessert came to the table. It was humbly wrapped in the tin foil used by the woman who made it before she gave it to my host. He unfolded the protective flaps of crinkly tin foil away from treasure inside. It was a square the size of an uncut pan of brownies. Instead of the matte look of chocolate, this cake was dark as mahogany and glistened as if it had been dipped in honey.

Before me was persimmon cake. Of course I’d experienced persimmon fudge, persimmon pie and persimmon bread. But I was not to forget the taste reminiscent of gingerbread and a rich consistency firm enough to chew but soft and lush, like cheesecake meets mousse.

By persimmon season the next autumn, I tried to replicate the cake. The recipe was gone with the passing of the woman who had baked it. I hunted persimmon trees in my neighborhood that yielded the proper fruit, the Hachiya persimmon. This is different than the small persimmon eaten like an apple, which is the Fuyu. The Hachiya is big and heart-shaped and needs to be so fully ripe that to the touch it feels like there’s a loose gland under its thin skin.

When the fruit is ready, astringency should have yielded to sweetness. At this point, the Hachiya pulp can easily be scooped out of the skin, and the somewhat slimy neon-orange pulp can be puréed in a food processor.

I tried using the pulp in applesauce cake, but it was too runny. Then cider cake, which was too juicy. I tweaked gingerbreads. I made steamed persimmon pudding in an old pudding mold that I lowered into simmering water. With each effort, when I inverted the pan onto a serving platter, the dish drooled juices or fell apart. I added flour, cut back on liquid, increased leavening. Still, it was not right.

It wasn’t quite “CSI: Persimmon” at my house, but close. I knew that the woman who first made the cake I loved had come to California from West Virginia. Considering her age and regional traditions, I had a hunch. I went to an old “Joy of Cooking” and found the recipe for persimmon pudding that wasn’t steamed at all, but baked.

Again, results were too runny. I cut back on cream and some of the sugar. The trick was to change “Joy’s” one-bowl dump method to a technique typical of more structured cakes. For this, the butter and sugar were beaten first.

On my last try, I also had in the house a huge bag of home-dried pluots from my brother-in-law’s tree. He had dried them without citric acid, so they were dark and ugly. On impulse, he’d dusted his entire haul with chile powder. They were spicy!

I cut the pluots into small dice and added them to the persimmon batter, then baked it much longer than the “Joy” recipe and started it a higher temperature, hoping it would cook through while staying moist without being soupy.

Success is the recipe below. If you don’t have ugly dark home-dried pluots, which I’m sure you do not, use raisins, apricots, dates or dried plums (not prunes).

Persimmon Pudding Cake

Prep time: 45 minutes

Baking time: 1 hour, 15 minutes to 1 hour, 50 minutes

Ingredients

1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder (such as New Mexico or ancho chile powder)

1 cup diced dried raisins, pluots, dates, apricots or plums ½ cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 stick butter, soft

3 eggs

2 cups puréed persimmon pulp (from 4 to 6 very ripe Hachiya persimmons)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons powdered ginger

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cups cream

Directions

1. Butter a deep 9-inch square pan. To catch drips, prepare to set baking dish on a baking sheet or a large sheet of foil. Heat oven to 400 F.

2. In a bowl, toss the chopped dried fruit with chile powder; set aside.

3. Cream sugars and butter very well. Add eggs one at a time, beating only until each is absorbed. Stir in persimmon pulp.

4. In another bowl, sift baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

5. With mixer on low speed, add flour and cream alternately to the persimmon batter in three helpings, ending with flour. Stir in chile-dried fruit.

6. Scrape batter into the buttered baking dish. To catch drips, set on a rimmed baking sheet or a sheet of foil.

7. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake 60 to 70 minutes more. Insert a toothpick near the center. If batter sticks to the toothpick, bake 10 to 15 minutes more. Center will just barely jiggle.

8. Cool in pan on a cooling rack no longer than an hour. Set a timer! Loosen by running a knife around the edges. Flip cake onto a serving platter. A bit of juice may pool around the cake.

9. Let stand until the cake cools completely. Serve with dollops of whipped cream on each piece.

Main photo: Persimmon Pudding Cake. Credit: Elaine Corn

Read More
Blueberry ketchup. Credit: Charles Perry

There used to be lots of ketchups, but now we have only one, the omnipresent tomato. In the 19th century, though, ketchup was often made from — bet you didn’t know this! — berries: gooseberries, say, or currants (the real ones, not the little seedless raisins) or grapes (which are technically berries, from the botanical point of view).

My favorite version is blueberry ketchup, not only because it’s made from good old blueberries but because it’s so startlingly purple-blue. I wouldn’t put it on a burger, but it’s quite delicious and would make a special Christmas present.

You can find recipes for it on the Internet, but most aim to mimic tomato ketchup. The 19th-century recipes were quite different. They had more in common with apple butter than any ketchup we’re familiar with. (You could think of them as berry butters.)

A Dollop of History

Sweet ketchup was the result of a long development, beginning in the late 17th century. That was when English cooks started making “ketchups” in what seems, in retrospect, a rather feeble attempt to imitate soy sauce using English ingredients. Their faux-ketchups were based on anchovies, mushrooms, pickled walnuts and such things they had been using to flavor sauces. These liquids were basically a convenient way to vary gravy, which they put on meat, or melted butter, their universal sauce for fish or vegetables.

In the beginning, they were typically extracted with vinegar, so the first tomato ketchups, made around the beginning of the 19th century, were quite sour. If you added them to butter or gravy, they made a sort of instant tomato sauce. Kind of a weird one, we would now think, after more than a century of experience with marinara.

As the century wore on, sugar became cheaper, and some homemakers took advantage of this, making sweet tomato ketchup as a way of preserving some of the summer’s crop. It was a short step from there to the berry versions.

Pork chops with blueberry ketchup. Credit: Charles Perry

Pork chops with blueberry ketchup. Credit: Charles Perry

The Versatility of Berry Ketchup

How do you use blueberry ketchup? It’s actually sweet enough to go on pancakes, but its natural partner is pork. Forty years ago, food writer Richard Olney noted that there’s “something flat and sinister” about pork that cries out for fruit flavors, hence the traditional applesauce with pork chops and the pineapple that often pairs with ham.

You might also preserve the 18th-century tradition and use blueberry ketchup to doctor other sauces. Mix it with steak sauce (the cheapest supermarket brand you can find would be fine) to make a unique blueberry barbecue sauce. Try it ­– it’s remarkably good.

You can vary the spices, using nutmeg or allspice, say. The combination of cloves and mace was very popular in the 19th century and actually survives in many a modern tomato ketchup. You can also replace some of the white sugar with brown sugar or honey if you like.

As for grape ketchup, the traditional grapes are American varieties such as Concord, which gives as vivid a purple color as blueberries, but you can use any type you like. (Note that the familiar green Thompson Seedless grapes are relatively flavorless.) European wine or table grapes such as Flame Tokay have more sugar than native grapes, so reduce the quantity of sugar accordingly.

Blueberry Ketchup

Prep time: 8 minutes

Cooking time: 45 to 50 minutes

Total time: 53 to 58 minutes

Yield: 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups

Ingredients

2 pounds blueberries

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup vinegar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Salt

Directions

1. Wash the blueberries and pick them over to remove stems and any spoiled or unripe berries. Drain and transfer to a 3-quart saucepan. Add the sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook until the berries are softened and have given up their color, 5 minutes or so.

2. Drain the berries in a colander and reserve the juice in a mixing bowl. Process the solids in a food processor 20 to 30 seconds and drain through a sieve placed over the bowl, using a spoon to press out as much of the juice as possible. Discard the solids.

3. Transfer all the liquid from the bowl back to the saucepan. Add the cinnamon, clove, pepper and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium high and cook at a rolling boil until thick, 45 to 50 minutes, frequently scraping the sides down with a spatula and stirring to prevent sticking. To determine doneness, stir the contents of the pan around and remove the spoon; when they immediately stop moving, the ketchup is ready. At that point, a spoonful dripped onto a plate should stand up at least 1/16 inch.

Tightly covered, the ketchup will keep at room temperature at least two weeks, two months in the refrigerator.

Main photo: Put away the tomato ketchup — try blueberry instead. Credit: Charles Perry

Read More
Cranberry sauce. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

As you’re simmering your cranberries with sweetness this holiday season, you can thank Mother Nature for their astringent qualities.

The compounds that produce the cranberry’s bite — their proanthocyanins (PACs) — not only ward off enemies such as small animals and insects but provide possible health benefits for us human predators.

PACs in cranberries have extremely strong chemical bonds, says Amy Howell, Ph.D., a research scientist at Rutgers University. Instead of being broken down and absorbed into the blood, they appear to travel intact and take their benefits with them, to various parts of your body.

While cranberry juice’s ability to efficiently fight infections has been called into question, Jeffrey Blumberg has done research to identify why there may be conflicting results, and Howell is among those who suggest potential health benefits in areas such as these:

  • Stomach and bladder: You may already be familiar with how cranberries are reported to benefit these organs. PACs bind to harmful bacteria that cause ulcers and urinary tract infections and thus keep those bugs from adhering to the stomach lining and bladder walls. If the bacteria can’t stick, then they can’t multiply and cause damage, Howell says. “Thus, they harmlessly leave the body.”
  • Mouth: The same action happens here. PACs can help bind bacteria that contribute to decay and gum disease.
  • Intestines: But it’s new research on how cranberry’s PACs behave in the gut of model animals that’s getting berry scientists  excited. PACs can improve the bacteria in the colon,  Howell says, and compounds produced by those bacteria have far-reaching effects on your health.

“A top story on cranberry right now, just published in a very prestigious journal [Gut], is beautiful evidence for how compounds in cranberries — PACs in particular — act in the gut,” says Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University.

Fermentable fiber and your health

When it comes to fiber, “fermentable” is the latest buzzword. Once foods have been digested in the small intestine, the parts that aren’t digestible — their fiber — then travel to the large intestine. There, healthy bacteria feed on certain plant fibers and ferment them into important fatty acids. In turn, those fatty acids get absorbed into the blood and help control blood sugar, appetite and inflammation. They also help enrich your gut lining, which acts as a barrier to keep harmful particles from leaking out or in.

Some plants provide the raw materials for producing those good bacteria. They’re called “prebiotic” because they are prequels to healthy probiotic bugs.

Amy Howell at cranberry harvest. Credit: Emily Bittenbender.

Amy Howell at cranberry harvest. Credit: Emily Bittenbender

And that’s where cranberries come in. “The fiber in cranberry skins serves as a prebiotic to help establish colonies of probiotic bacteria,”  Howell says. In addition, she is researching the possibility that cranberry’s PACs may help keep harmful bacteria such as E coli from invading the gut.

“This is very, very, very exciting stuff,” Lila says. “The cranberry PACs were able to create a healthy population of gut bacteria in those animals and protect against obesity, insulin resistance and inflammation caused by a poor diet,” she says.

In addition to PACs, cranberries have about 150 healthy compounds, as identified in research led by Jonathan Bock and Howell on esophageal and pharyngeal cancer — vitamins C and E; anthocyanins, which act as antioxidants and give them their vivid color; quercetin and myricetin, which bind minerals (iron and copper) that promote oxidation. Howell suggests that many of the compounds in cranberries may protect DNA from damage caused by oxidation and help guard against inflammation in body tissues beyond the colon.

  • Cardiovascular system: Research suggests that regularly consuming cranberry products “can reduce key risk factors for heart disease,” says Howell, by reducing inflammation and oxidation of harmful LDL cholesterol and by increasing good HDL cholesterol and the flexibility of arteries.
  • Brain: Scientists think that some of these anti-inflammatory compounds may also protect the brain against damage caused by stroke or aging, Howell says.
  • Cancer: Preliminary studies, all done in lab animals and cell cultures, suggest that cranberry’s compounds have the potential to inhibit tumor growth of some types of cancer, but much research remains to be done, suggests Howell.

If you’re still stirring those cranberries, you may be wondering whether all that cooking will destroy their healthy benefits. Howell suggests that “cranberry PACs are not seriously damaged by cooking or processing.” But other health-promoting compounds may be damaged by heat, and the effects of cooking on foods “is an area that needs considerably more research,” says Ron Prior, a research chemist at the University of Arkansas. In general, harsh cooking methods will result in degradation.

Cranberries in bowls. Credit: Holly Botner / Jittery Cook

Cranberries in bowls. Credit: Holly Botner / Jittery Cook

With all the scientists out there investigating berries, the dream is that there will be a verdict on cranberries by next season’s holidays. For this year, however, we’re sticking to a quick cooking method — in hopes of pleasing some hungry guts. Should we tell them about the microbes?

Quick Cranberry Sauce, with healthy bugs

Courtesy of Reveena Rothman-Rudnicki/ Raveena’s Kitchen

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 8 servings, 1/2 cup each

Ingredients

4 cups fresh cranberries

1 cup water

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 oranges, juice and zest

1 teaspoon grated ginger

4 to 6 tablespoons maple syrup

Handful pecans

Directions

1. Put cranberries and water in a medium saucepan, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Take off heat. Add cinnamon, orange juice and zest, ginger and maple syrup. Sprinkle pecans on top.

3. Cranberries have no sugar, so you do have to sweeten them. Start with 4 tablespoons, let the dish sit for a while, then decide whether you want more.

Main photo: Cranberry sauce. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

Read More
Quinces on a tree. Credit: iStock

Now is the season of quinces: Fruit that is delicious in both sweet and savory dishes, is easily preserved, and one that enhances a room with an unmistakable yet delicate fragrance. Just two years ago, quinces seemed to be the forgotten fruit: They were difficult to buy, considered hard to cook, and few people grew the trees. Happily, at least in Britain, this seems to be changing.

Although still not common, quinces are now reasonably easy to buy in season and nurseries are seeing increased interest in the trees. For many hundreds of years in Britain, quinces were more popular than apples because cooked fruit, in general, was regarded as safer to eat. This was because the glut at harvest time led people to overindulge and become ill.

Quinces may never recover their place at the top of the table, but they do deserve to be more widely used. (This piece’s co-author, Jane McMorland Hunter, co-wrote “Quinces, Growing and Cooking,”  just published by Prospect Books.)

The best way to ensure a supply of quinces is to grow your own. The trees are attractive, with beautiful blossoms in spring, and compact enough to fit in most gardens. Failing that, the fruit can be bought from greengrocers, farmers’ markets and even the better supermarkets. Quinces’ appearance can vary wildly, from huge immaculate fruits from the Middle East to small, misshapen and blemished specimens. The latter may not look so appealing, but they will probably have come from a local grower and the flavor could be even better. You should avoid fruit that is obviously bruised, but a few blemishes on the skin rarely matter.

A secret weapon for stewed meats

Quinces usually need to be cooked before they are eaten. The raw fruits tend to be rock solid and sharp tasting, but cooking softens the flesh and gives it a pinkish hue. The natural acidity is easily tempered and is actually an advantage in many dishes.

Quinces and a bottle of homemade ratafia.  Credit: Jane McMorland Hunter

Quinces and a bottle of homemade ratafia. Credit: Jane McMorland Hunter

It counteracts the greasiness found in fatty meats, game in particular; quinces can be served in slices with the meat or as an accompanying sauce. In Britain, quinces were traditionally served with partridge, and in Germany and South Africa, quince sauce is served with pork and mutton instead of apple or mint. The fruit complements Middle Eastern tagines and stews and also goes well with cheese — not just as the well-known combination with Manchego, but blue cheeses and the sharper goat’s cheeses too. Membrillo, or quince paste, is the most widespread preserve, but quince jam, jelly and even curd is delicious.

In puddings or cakes, they can be used to replace or supplement apples or pears in almost any recipe, bringing a deliciously different taste. Equally, if you don’t have enough quinces for a recipe you can always make up the difference with apples. The quince’s sharpness means you can make wonderfully rich desserts with no danger of the sweetness becoming cloying.

There is a surprising amount of juice in the fruits, and drinks made from quinces range from delicious cordials to potent liqueurs and even wine. You can round off any meal with quince confections. They can be made into delicate, subtle chocolates or rich, gooey sweets.

Finally, a word of warning before you start cooking. Quince seeds, like apple seeds, are poisonous, containing tiny amounts of cyanide. You would need to eat an awful lot to actually do yourself any harm, but you should remove them at some stage in cooking.

Ratafia

Look in almost any reference book and you will find a different definition of ratafia: a spirit infused with almonds or fruit used to toast a deal or bargain, a 19th century English biscuit or a French aperitif made from grape juice and brandy. It frequently appears in Georgette Heyer’s original Regency romance novels, where it is a drink enjoyed by the ladies, but scorned by the gentlemen of the time.

Even the origins of the word are obscure, attributed variously to French Creole or Latin. The definition we like best is that it was the liqueur drunk at the ceremonies ratifying European treaties from the 15th century onward. The name could come from the Latin rata fiat (let the deal be settled). The liqueur usually consisted of fruit juices, kernels or nuts soaked in a sweetened brandy base, with almond flavoring being particularly popular. The recipe below is based on one in “The Modern Cook,” written by Vincent la Chapelle in 1733.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes, plus cooling and steeping time

Yield: 750 milliliters

Ingredients

2 large, ripe quinces (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup caster sugar

Pinch of cinnamon

1 whole clove

1 whole white or black peppercorn

1 1/2 cups brandy

1/2 cup almonds, blanched for 2 minutes and skinned

Directions

1. Cut the quinces into quarters or eighths lengthwise, depending on their size, and put through a juicer. The original recipe suggests that you grate the fruit, put it in a cloth and “squeese it with all your Might,” but this is extremely hard work. If you end up with much less, or much more, than 1 1/2 cups of juice, simply adjust the other ingredients in proportion.

2. Put the juice in a pan, bring to the boil and then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

3. Put the sugar, cinnamon, clove and peppercorn into a pan with ¼ cup water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

4. Pour the juice, brandy and sugar solution into a bowl and stir so that the three combine. Add the almonds, if using. Pour into a jar, seal and leave in a cool, dark place for two to three months.

5. Strain the liquid through a muslin cloth. Do not squeeze the cloth, as you want the liqueur to be as clear as possible. Finally, decant into a bottle and seal; as Vincent la Chapelle puts it, “bottles stopped very close” will keep almost indefinitely.

Main photo: Quinces on a tree. Credit: iStock

Read More
Baked apples with amaretti filling. Credit: © Nathan Hoyt

Despite the myths that get bandied around about what was served at the first Thanksgiving, the only report we have, from Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow, says simply that the Wampanoag contributed five deer. The claim that there was turkey on that day is pure speculation. As for dessert, we might speculate on that, too. We can guess from the letters of settlers such as William Horton that they found ways to work with the “great store of fruits” they discovered (“Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers,” Alexander Young). Since the British have long had a love affair with the apple, they no doubt made use of the many species that grew wild here.

American history meets Italian tradition

The proverbial turkey feast with all the trimmings persists, even in households like the one I grew up in, where Italian cooking prevailed every other day of the year. The immigrants weren’t newcomers to thanksgivings. To all peoples with peasant traditions, the autumn feast is a familiar ritual. You could call ours a fusion Thanksgiving. The bird was dressed with bread-and-pork sausage stuffing; the pureed sweet potatoes were baked under a buttery, sweet walnut crust; and fennel bubbled in a béchamel-and-parmigiano gratin. No Thanksgiving ever began without garlicky stuffed mushrooms and the perfunctory antipasto platter, and there was always pumpkin pie for dessert — made from fresh zucca, of course.

I added my own rituals when I began cooking for myself. In the spirit of the harvest the early settlers enjoyed, apples are always on the table in one form or other. This year, they will be stuffed with amaretti, the delicious almond cookies of Lombardy. The dish hearkens back to my life in Italy, where I learned to stuff peaches with crushed amaretti for baking — a summer recipe of the Piedmont. In the autumn, I must substitute apples, with no regrets.

Choosing the right apples

Apples have as much a practical as a symbolic meaning for me. It seems a pity not to include them when they are so fresh and juicy in their season, especially now that there are such magnificent apples in the farmers markets. Besides, what fruit is associated as much as the apple with fertility, the underlying invocation behind all harvest celebrations?

Step1

Step1
Picture 1 of 7

How to core an apple. Step 1: Trim the hairy blossom end. Credit, all photos: © Nathan Hoyt

These baked apples offer an alternative for guests who don’t like pumpkin pie (there have been more than a few of them at my Thanksgiving table over the years). Topped with good vanilla ice cream or thick cream in the English fashion, they are unbeatable comfort food on Thanksgiving or at any other time of the apple season to follow roast turkey, ham or game of any kind.

Granted, they are best made with the proper variety for the purpose — and disappointing with those that are unsuitable. Proper baking apples will keep their shape and juiciness during cooking. Apples that are richly flavored and perfectly wonderful for eating may disintegrate in the oven and burst into a froth; some turn mealy and tasteless or just don’t soften during baking. I have experimented with numerous varieties and found the most success with Fujis, Romes, Braeburns, Macouns and Northern Spies that are neither too large nor too small. As for the amaretti, no purchased cookies beat Lazzaroni Amaretti di Saronno for flavor. You can buy them at any food specialty store nowadays. Alternatively, use another good-quality almond cookie or substitute dry almond biscotti.

One of the best things about these baked apples is that they taste better made a day or two ahead, so that the flesh of the fruit has time to absorb the flavors of the filling. Just reheat at 400 F for 10 to 12 minutes before serving.

Experimenting with different varieties of baking apples: here, Macoun, Braeburn and Rome. Credit: @Nathan Hoyt

Experimenting with different varieties of baking apples: here, Macoun, Braeburn and Rome. Credit: @Nathan Hoyt

Baked Apples With Amaretti Filling

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes

Total time: 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours

Yield: 6 individual portions

Ingredients

6 tablespoons white sugar, divided

6 ounces amaretti, crushed into coarse crumbs

1 tablespoon chopped candied orange peel, or substitute the zest of 1 orange

6 medium (8 to 9 ounces each) Fuji, Rome, Braeburn, Macoun or Northern Spies apples

Juice of half a lemon

4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Vanilla ice cream or Devon cream for serving

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Select a shallow, flame-proof baking pan on which the apples will fit without crowding. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar across the bottom of the pan.

2. In a small bowl, combine the amaretti crumbs and candied orange rind or orange zest; set aside.

3. Prepare the apples (see step-by-step photos below). With a paring knife, trim off the hairy blossom end at the bottom of each apple. Preferably using a melon baller, core the apples, working from the stem down to carve out an ample stuffing cavity without puncturing the bottom. Brush the flesh inside and out with lemon juice as you work to prevent it from turning brown. With a paring knife, peel the skin off halfway down, leaving the skin on the bottom halves intact. Enlarge the opening at the top to show more stuffing, if you like. When all the apples are prepared, brush each with some of the melted butter and immediately roll the top of each apple in some of the remaining sugar to coat.

4. Transfer the apples to the baking pan. Spoon the filling into each cavity and scatter some on top. Sprinkle any remaining sugar over all, and dribble the remining butter on top of the filling.

5. Place the apples on the center rack of the oven. Bake until they are soft but not collapsed and the juices bubbly, 45 minutes to 1 hour (cooking time varies depending on the apple size and variety).

6. Remove the pan from the oven and turn on the broiler. Slide the apples about 2 inches under the broiler flame until the tops caramelize nicely, 1 to 2 minutes, watching them carefully to prevent burning.

7. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or heavy cream.

Main photo: Baked apples with amaretti filling. Credit: © Nathan Hoyt

Read More
Upside-Down Pear Cornmeal Cake. Credit: Brooke Jackson

The first pears have arrived in markets and, when perfectly ripe, they are delicious when eaten out-of-hand. And yet, as the weeks go by, you may long for even more from this fall favorite.

A fertile pear tree keeps my supply of this heavenly fruit overflowing for months. One unusual and-little known fact about pears is that they don’t ripen on the tree; they only do so after they are picked. The ones I’m intimately familiar with are about 1 to 2 pounds each and very hard. They are Bartletts, and they grow it abundance each year. Once picked, the pears go into paper bags in the garage until they start to ripen.

Other varieties readily found at most groceries and farmers markets are Anjou, which come in both green and red; the crisp Bosc; the buttery Comice; the voluptuous Starkrimson; and, in some places, the crunchy Concorde.

Often my pears all ripen at the same moment. When this happens, I experiment with ways to get more pears into meals, which has helped me discover how amazingly versatile they are. Here are some ideas on ways to cook and serve them.

Appetizers

Pear and Brie bruschetta: Spread several crostini or a large piece of toasted levain with a thin coat of soft, runny Brie. Lay a very thin slice of prosciutto over the Brie and top with arugula leaves. Cover with thin slices of pear (no need to peel), drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on coarse sea salt.

Pear and blue nirvana: Pear halves with blue cheese and candied pecans. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Pear and blue nirvana: Pear halves with blue cheese and candied pecans. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Pear and blue nirvana: Halve and core 2 pears and put each half onto a small plate. Place a generous wedge of blue cheese into the core cavity and sprinkle candied pecans over the pear.

Salads

Toss thinly sliced pears with hearty greens, such as torn kale, baby spinach and arugula. Mix in fresh raspberries and toasted hazelnuts. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.

Mix arugula with quartered fresh figs, thinly sliced firm pears and toasted pumpkin seeds. Toss with a light dressing made with lemon juice, olive oil and honey.

Main dishes

Make a sauce for roasted pork or poultry. Start by peeling, coring and quartering 3 pounds of pears and putting them into a saucepan with ¼ cup St. George Spiced Pear liqueur or pear brandy, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a pinch each of ground cloves and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the pears are soft. Mash with a potato masher to a chunky consistency. This sauce is also good with gingerbread.

Grill firm quarters of pears and serve with teriyaki chicken, barbecued pork, spicy sausages or grilled duck breast. The grilled pears are also good on a day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich with roast turkey and cranberry sauce.

Desserts

Poach pears by peeling them and submerging, either whole or cored and quartered, in wine or sugar syrup flavored with cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, whole cloves or citrus peel. Cover the pan and cook until the pears are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve as is with some of the syrup, over ice cream, alongside a wedge of pound cake or with biscotti.

Make a crisp with peeled, cored and diced pears tossed with dried cherries and a squeeze of lemon juice. Top with your favorite crisp mixture and bake until tender.

Quarter and core pears and toss with melted butter and maple syrup, just enough to coat the fruit. Roast in a 400F oven until tender, about 20-25 minutes depending on pear variety and ripeness. Serve with crème fraiche, as part of a cheese course or with butter cookies or ice cream.

Find further inspiration in the recipes below.

Creamy Lamb Korma With Pears. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Creamy Lamb Korma With Pears. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Creamy Lamb Korma With Pears

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Total time: 1½ hours

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

8 cloves garlic, peeled

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 ounces slivered almonds

⅓ cup water

3 tablespoons ghee or olive oil

1½ pounds lamb stew meat, seasoned well with salt and pepper

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons Indian curry paste

One 14-ounce can reduced fat coconut milk

3 medium pears (Bartlett or Anjou), peeled, cored and diced

½ cup frozen peas

Fresh grapes or raisins for garnish

Toasted, slivered almonds for garnish

Basmati rice for serving

Directions

1. Put garlic, ginger, almonds and water into a blender, and puree to make a paste. Set aside.

2. Heat ghee or olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over high until shimmering. Add lamb, in batches if necessary, and brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl.

3. Turn heat to medium and add onions; sauté until tender and golden.

4. Add curry paste and stir until aromatic.

5. Mix in meat, incorporating all ingredients until well combined.

6. Add coconut milk, bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. Put lid on and cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour until lamb is fork tender.

7. Fold in the pears and peas and cook for 10 more minutes to incorporate the flavors.

8. Serve over basmati rice, sprinkling the top of the curry with halved grapes or raisins and roasted almonds.

Upside-Down Pear Cornmeal Cake

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup brown sugar

1 large Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup cornmeal

1½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, softened

¾ of a cup of sugar

2 eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup of buttermilk, shaken

Whipped cream for serving

Directions

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F.

2. In a 10-inch ovenproof, nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast iron skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the brown sugar and stir into the butter.

3. Cook for a few minutes until sugar starts to melt. Arrange pears in a pinwheel design in the brown sugar, remove from heat and set aside.

4. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt on a piece of waxed paper.

5. Cream butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

6. Pour into the prepared skillet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Main photo: Upside-Down Pear Cornmeal Cake. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Read More
Ground cherry crumble. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Although serious, tromp-through-the-woods foragers may scoff at my claim, I’ve begun to think of the past few months as my season of foraged foods. With camera, notebook and canvas tote in hand, I’ve been heading off to southeastern Pennsylvania every other weekend to see old friends and collect uncultivated fruit on their 30-acre farm.

There, on the edge of a dense thicket, we’ve plucked black raspberries, wineberries and blackberries from jagged vines and snapped mulberries, elderberries and sprays of delicate elderflowers from their leafy branches.

Thanks to these excursions and my friends’ vast knowledge of wild plants, I’ve learned to differentiate between the edible and poisonous, and the ripe and unripe; often there is a direct correlation between ripeness and edibility. I’ve also developed an even greater appreciation for local, seasonal and oft-forgotten foods.

Ground cherries known by many names

Topping my list of wild, wondrous and overlooked fruits is the dainty ground cherry. Found dangling from low, bushy plants in early fall, a ground cherry resembles a tiny Chinese lantern or pint-sized tomatillo. Similar to tomatillos and tomatoes, it is a member of the nightshade family. Occasionally, it goes by the names husk tomato, strawberry tomato, cape gooseberry and its scientific genus, physalis.

When ripe, the ground cherry drops off the plant and onto the ground. If you pick up the fruit and peel back its straw-colored, tissue-like husk, you uncover a waxy amber berry that looks a bit like a cranberry or small cherry. Bite into the ripe berry’s thin skin and you will taste a pleasing combination of pineapple, strawberry and apricot. Sweet but not cloying, juicy but not sticky, this is an extraordinary little fruit.

What amazes me most about the ground cherry is that until a few weeks ago I had never eaten or even seen one. Considering that ground cherries are indigenous to the Americas, can be found in every state except Alaska and are commonly grows in the East and Midwest, I am stunned by my ignorance.

And yet, I’m not. In spite of the plant’s ability to thrive in poor soils, survive neglect and produce baskets of beautiful berries, the ground cherry has never caught on in the United States. Only Native Americans have been known to consume copious quantities of this vitamin C-rich fruit.

Outside the U.S., people feel more passionately about ground cherries. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the south of France and other temperate regions of Europe cultivate these plants commercially.

In Europe and elsewhere, cooks put ground cherries in pies, compotes, jams and sauces. Some dry the sweet berries and use them as flavorful substitutes for raisins in breads, scones, cookies and sweet rolls. Others pull back but leave on the fruits’ calyx, using the husks as handles to dip the raw berries into melted chocolate or caramel.

A ground cherry. Credit: Kathy Hunt

A ground cherry. Credit: Kathy Hunt

In England ground cherries appear in home decor as well as in desserts. Left in their paper shells, the long-lasting fruit brightens floral decorations during the winter months.

Although I may have lucked out and found a private source, you don’t have to drive hours or befriend farm owners to get ground cherries. Imported from New Zealand, they are available in springtime at well-stocked grocery stores. You can also find them in the fall at farm stands and farmers markets.

If you can’t track them down, you can always attempt to grow your own. Flourishing in a variety of soils and in garden pots, ground cherries require little else besides a sunny spot. The plants reach about 3 feet in height and possess green, somewhat velvety, heart-shaped leaves.

Whether you’re collecting them from the ground or a local market, look for fruit that’s plump and golden to orange-yellow in color. Green ground cherries are unripe and may prove poisonous for some consumers.

Choose berries that are still encased in their parchment covers. To prevent spoilage, leave them in their husks until you’re ready to consume them.

Placed in a paper bag and refrigerated, ground cherries will keep for several months. Before using them, pull off the husk and wash off the fruit. Ripe ground cherries can be eaten raw or cooked.

Ground Cherry Crumble

Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 35 to 40 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

3¼ cups ground cherries

1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar

¾ cup rolled oats

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Pinch ground ginger

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease a deep 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

2. Toss together the ground cherries, apple, lemon juice and granulated sugar. Spoon the mixture into the greased baking dish.

3. In a separate bowl, stir together the brown sugar, rolled oats, flour and ginger. Using your fingers or a fork, incorporate the chunks of butter until you have a well-formed, crumbly topping.

4. Spread the topping evenly over the ground cherries. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Serve warm.

Main photo: Ground cherry crumble. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Read More