This was the year I stopped waiting for the apples on my apple tree to turn red. After 20-odd years of dumping squirrel-nibbled greenish apples in the trash, I finally realized that my tree was a Golden Delicious apple tree. Not a good, old New England bright-red McIntosh (or, even better, a crisp tangy Baldwin). But still edible and natural, and you can’t get more locally sourced than my own backyard. The apples I’d been letting the animals eat for years, waiting patiently through September, then October, keeping hope alive until mid-November for a hint of a blush, turned out to be perfectly adequate yellow apples.
Abundance of apples
Clearly, I have no green thumb. Even still it is a little hard to admit to my willful avoidance of the facts. Until this summer. Our gentle 2012 winter and hot summer advanced the New England harvest so that apple-picking season is upon us, weeks ahead of schedule. My husband handed me the basket. I had a choice: Either I picked up the considerable mound of apples under the tree, or let the grass guy mow them into smithereens. I trudged out to the yard, cute little basket over my arm, sick of hearing about the guy and his mower and what a mess it would make. In minutes the basket was full, even after chucking the apples with teeth marks and brown spots. Some were kind of small, sad and knobby-looking. But many were big and round as a prizefighter’s fist.
The apples were ripe and ready. When I bit into one, it tasted sweet. Not tart and refreshing like a Mac or a Cortland. But hey, these are mine and I love all my children. In 10 minutes I had three bushels (or more or less because I truly don’t know exactly what a bushel is). I started to think about what to do with my homegrown bounty. I’ve always been a red apple kind of cook and felt struck dumb by the idea of cooking with gold. I called my friend Linda whom I always call to resolve any personal crisis, especially if it involves production-scale cooking. She wasn’t home. I left a message of desperation on her voice mail. “What do I do with three bushels of yellow apples?” Her voice mail called mine while I was in the shower. “Applesauce, apple butter and apple chutney. And Julia’s recipe for tarte tatin.”
I began to work through my stack of cookbooks. Julia, of course. But also Amy Traverso’s “Apple Lover’s Cookbook,” where I found a great apple crumble recipe (her Italian grandmother’s); an old “Joy of Cooking” with several recipes for apple butter; and an online recipe from Ina Garten recipe for apple chutney. My friend Bonnie Shershow, a professional jam maker and founder of Bonnie’s Jam’s, counseled me against the apple butter. “Too fussy. Too much constant stirring and puréeing. You’ll hate the whole process.” I crossed the apple butter off my list and set aside my rubber-banded copy of “Joy of Cooking.”
Preparing apple dishes
I made apple fritter and pork loin with mustard and apples, put apple in a coleslaw that I was taking to my mother’s, experimented with a gluten-free recipe for apple crisp (not all that bad). But I fell in love with the idea of apple chutney. Suddenly, I could see rows of shiny Mason jars with ribbons and a cute label: Apple Chutney, Grown and Bottled in Cambridge, MA. Hostess gifts and Christmas presents solved for the next six months.
The chutney was a great success: Easy to make — and filling the house with a tangy, home-harvest mustard perfume. Sweet and hot, sticky and silky at the same time. Great with the roast chicken I tucked in the oven and easily a proud effort that I will be bearing with great pride, a shiny jar with a cute, kitschy label and an apple green ribbon whenever we are invited to sup with friends and family, from now until the jars run out. But oops, they may not run out so fast. I forgot. The tree is still full of apples. My apple-picking days are not yet numbered. Time to pick the apples.
With a nod to Ina Garten’s recipe for Granny Smith apple chutney, I took a few liberties, making it spicier and more tangy to correct for sweeter golden apples.
12 Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled and half-inch diced
2 cups chopped onions
4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 cups fresh orange juice
1½ cups cider vinegar
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon whole dried mustard seed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 red bird’s eye chilies, seeded and chopped (optional)
2 cups raisins (golden or dark)
For the chutney:
1. Combine the apples, onion, ginger, orange juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seed, red pepper flakes, salt and chopped chilies in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour or less until most of the liquid has evaporated. (Do not overcook. Mind that the apples keep their shape).
3. Remove pot from heat and stir in the raisins.
Covered and cooled, the chutney will last in the refrigerator for two weeks, more or less.
For the canning:
I do the canning the simple way: Cool the chutney, spoon it into Mason jars with new lids and place the jars in a pot of water that comes halfway up the jars. Boil for 15-20 minutes and remove jars with tongs or jar-lifters.
Top photo: Just-picked apples on a bench. Credit: Louisa Kasdon