Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Winesap Apples

A couple of friends from Denver came to dinner recently, and brought with them a sack of fresh-picked winesap apples (from another friend's tree).  I had never tried these little beauties, but they proved to have all the quintessential attributes one might expect from an apple--deep red color, firm, crisp texture and full-flavored juiciness, neither too tart nor too sweet. They also had that unmistakeable right-off-the-tree rustic feel to them. Just perfect, really.

Of course I had to read up on them. Apparently the winesap is an American heirloom cultivar, originally grown in Virginia, dating back to some (unknown) time in the 18th century. As good as it is to bite into and eat, it was considered a "culinary apple," used in cooking, and for cider. Some winesaps have a yellow-greenish base under the red color; some are dark red all over. Because of their classic apple-red color and small size, they've been widely used in wreaths and other decorations (kind of a waste, if you ask me).

A couple of nights ago, I had my mother over for a dinner party to celebrate her 87th birthday. I made her a flourless chocolate cake, which I served accompanied by tiny baked apples. Winesaps are perfect for this--at least the ones I had--because of their size, ranging from about 1 3/4" to 2 1/2" in diameter (4.5 to 6.5 cm).  The prep is very quick and easy:

Wash and core the apples. Combine some coarsely chopped walnuts, currants, coconut oil, palm sugar, ground cinnamon, allspice and cardamom, kneading to blend well. Jam the mixture into the apples' cavities, building up a small mound on top. Place the apples in baking dish. Pour a couple tablespoons each of water and dark rum in the bottom of the dish, cover, and place in a moderate (350F / 177C) oven. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until tender. Their skins will shrivel just a bit, which is normal, but don't overdo it, or they will dry out and taste mealy. That's it. The combined aroma of apples baking and the spices (not to mention the rum) will fill the house, evoking some sort of pagan autumnal feast.

Last night, I noticed the remaining apples were beginning their decline, so I gathered them up and made an apple chutney. I've become a "food as medicine" enthusiast in the last several years, and even more so since my wife successfully survived breast cancer earlier this year, which would help explain why so many of my dishes tend to include anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric, ginger, chili, cinnamon, and garlic, to name a few. There are many foods that support the immune system, such as fresh greens, berries, mushrooms, fermented beans and vegetables, and seaweeds. And they all feel great going down, but few pack the punch that I get from garlic, ginger and chili. Anyway, back to the apple chutney...

I began by heating a spoonful of coconut oil with cumin and brown mustard seeds, swishing the saucepan around, encouraging the aromatics to spread. As soon as the seeds began to darken slightly, I added a red onion, diced coarsely, and stirred to coat with the oil. Then I added minced ginger and garlic, and stirred until everything began to soften. After a bit, the mixture began to dry out, so I added a little water, followed by ground turmeric, red chili, coriander, garam masala, and salt. Once the vegetables were tender, I added the apples, coarsely diced, some currants, a couple of bay leaves, a little tamarind paste, and palm sugar. Then I covered the pan, turned the heat down to the lowest setting, and let it bubble away until the apples were soft and the moisture had been reabsorbed. After that, it was only a matter of letting the chutney cool to room temperature.

I had pushed the envelope a little on the chili; it turned out pretty hot, which is just fine with me, but I think it might be over-the-top for most people. I hope my wife will be able to enjoy it--she's trying to eat spicier foods, now that we've acquired the information that chilies are the most anti-inflammatory foods you can eat, but everyone has their limits!

When I went to take the picture, I was concerned that it might come off a bit on the monochromatic side, so I microplaned some lime zest over the top. Lemon would have been more in keeping with the chutney's flavors, but 1) I didn't have any lemons, and 2) the whole point was to create a little color contrast. So there you have it.


  1. Great post. Any chance of a recipe for the flourless chocolate cake? Most recipes for flourless cakes have eggs in them.

  2. You caught me. I made a traditional one for my mother (she's not vegan). I'm practicing compassion for all beings, especially my family of omnivores. I WILL find a way to make a clean version of the flourless chocolate cake, though, and when I do, I'll post it. It's on my to-do list...

  3. I look forward to seeing that.