Apple picking is a favorite activity for many Chicago families at this time of year. Old-fashioned family fun, apple picking connects kids to our agrarian past when children helped in the fields and apples were not found year-round in the grocery store, but harvested when ready and saved in cold storage until the next fall.
Snap a few photos of the kids amidst the foliage, indulge in the traditional post-apple picking snack of doughnuts and cider and congratulate yourself on good memories made.
If your kids are anything like mine, they do not want to stop picking apples after the first half-bushel. Between the required sibling competition to pick the most apples and the desire to find that elusive perfect specimen, we inevitably come home from the orchard with at least 20 pounds of apples.
That’s a lot even for a home food preservation junkie like me. Fortunately, apples are very sturdy and will last for months in the refrigerator. But those apples may be taking up valuable refrigerator real estate.
So what can you do with your bumper crop of apples? Here are some ideas.
There are, of course, all the traditional apple desserts like quick breads, cakes, pies and crisps. But do not forget that apples can be used in savory dishes as well. Sauté apples with onions and serve alongside pork. Chicken a la Normande is a traditional French dish of chicken topped with apples and onion cooked in a cream sauce. You can try adding diced apples to squash soup or sweeten your favorite salads with fresh apple slices. Spritz cut apples with lemon juice to prevent browning.
If you really have an overabundance of apples, apple sauce and apple butter are your best friends. Both recipes start with a large quantity of apples and cook down until all you are left with are a few jars.
Apple sauce and butter can both be safely canned to be shelf-stable using a boiling water bath. But if that is too intimidating, both will last for months in the refrigerator to grace your Thanksgiving table or to give as holiday gifts.
Emily Paster writes about fitting ambitious food into family life on her blog West of the Loop. Currently at work on her first cookbook, she is also the founder of the Chicago Food Swap.
Slow Cooker Apple Butter
Apple butter does not contain any actual butter, but rather is a fruit spread with a creamy, butter-like texture that comes from condensing the fruit’s natural sugars.
While you can make apple butter on the stove, a slow cooker is the easiest way to do it. I like to prop open the lid of my slow cooker with a plastic chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon to aid evaporation and thicken the apple butter.
- 6 pounds of apples (about 12 large), peeled, cored and diced
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. each ground cloves and ginger
- Pinch of salt
Combine all the ingredients in a seven-quart slow cooker.
Set slow cooker to low, with the lid slightly ajar, and cook for 10 hours until the apple butter is thick and dark. Puree the apple butter with an immersion blender—or carefully transfer to a food processor in batches—to eliminate any remaining chunks of fruit.
Serve with cheese, spooned into yogurt or as a spread on toast.
Easy Apple Turnovers
Scared of pie crust? Cheat and make apple turnovers using frozen puff pastry. I guarantee that no one will complain. I recommend an all-butter puff pastry, such as DuFour, for best results. It is more expensive than puff pastry containing shortening, but well worth the price tag. Around the holidays, Trader Joe’s also sells a reasonably priced all-butter puff pastry.
Makes two large turnovers
- 3 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- One sheet all-butter puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
- 1 egg, beaten with a teaspoon of water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the apple slices and lemon juice and toss to coat with the butter.
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt and cinnamon and add the mixture to the pan with the apples. Stir to combine.
Sauté over medium heat until the apples are soft and the liquid syrupy, about five minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Carefully unroll the puff pastry onto a well-floured board. Gently roll out the pastry with a well-floured rolling pin until thin and square-shaped.
Cut the puff pastry into four equal pieces and transfer two to the lined baking sheet.
Divide the sautéed apples in half and place each half in the middle of one of the pieces of puff pastry on the baking sheet.
Carefully top the apples with the remaining pieces of puff pastry and firmly crimp the edges together to seal.
Brush the tops of each turnover with the beaten egg and cut three slashes in the top to vent.
Bake for 22-25 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack before serving.