By now most food aficionados have heard of heirloom tomatoes, terroir, native food traditions, Domain Protected Origins and on and on in the search for traditional foods that should be prioritized and protected against the onslaught of chain restaurants and high fructose corn syrup. And I agree with all of those protections except that it can lead to a holier than thou sense of eating—my hot chocolate is more traditionally Aztecan than yours. What sometimes gets lost is the pure wow, fun of exploring these non-homogenized foods. Remember your smile the first time you saw a Green Zebra tomato?
At John and Phyllis Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove Antique Apple Orchard in Northport, that wonder fills the tables and it never gets old. Some are huge, like the Wolf Rivers. Some are tiny, like the Lady Apples. Some taste of pure apple, like the Mcoun. And some taste of strawberries or bananas. Green skin, red flesh, hollow seeds, shiny and russetted.
I’ve lived in Northport for 6 growing seasons and every fall I go over to Kilcherman’s and think I’m only going to buy two boxes of apples. And every year, I can’t contain myself and leave with six or seven. They’re just so cool!
The Kilcherman’s, a fourth generation family farm, grows 240 varieties of apples. Each apple is presented with a little history and info typed up on the table in front of the quart boxes. Open from mid-September until the middle of November the selection changes based on what’s ripe. Which is good news for those of us who live close by because you can go three or four times a season to discover something new.
For the final Farm Dinner of the season, the dessert is an apple tasting of Christmas Cove Apples. We choose five varieties and lay them out on a plate with some sweets to be eaten on the side.
Side by side tastings are incredibly important for me. I learned the technique at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. It is hard to compare the nuances of similar foods with a large time gap between eating sessions. Tasting side by side makes it easier to identify the differences between foods. In this case, an apple is an apple is an apple except that none of these apples taste the same.
Knowing how your food tastes is integral to being a strong cook. How do you know how much sugar to add to your applesauce unless you taste the raw apple and decide how sweet it is? If it is very sweet add less sugar or vice versa. Tasting along the way will not only heighten your appreciation of the myriad of flavors within a single food category. It will also instruct you on how to make the final product taste the way you want it to. And it will teach you what sort of flavors you like; you’ll learn that you prefer a tart apple so the next time you can narrow your search by seeking out that flavor.
And while the apples at Christmas Cove Orchard make my heart race, I still like to end the meal with some sugar. The recipes below are good apple accompaniments.
I first made a version of dulce de leche in the fourth grade when my parents enrolled me in an afterschool Spanish class. Coincidentally this class and recipe came about when I was also going through a magic trick phase, leading to maybe the most boring magic trick of all time. “Watch me remove the label from this jar of sweetened condensed milk. I will now place it in my pot of magic water and turn on the mysterious flame.” Three hours later, “POOF! I open the jar and it’s caramel.” And that’s really all there is too it. Boil a can of sweetened condensed for three hours and then open it.
That said there is better flavor out there and it does not take much more work than the previous recipe. This recipe is made often at Vie Restaurant in Chicago where it is used for everything from vinaigrettes, glazes and cocktails.
And if all of this is just “too much” find Idyll Farm at the Traverse City market and buy some of their goat’s milk caramel.
2 C whole milk
1 C sugar
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
Optional Flavors: vanilla, cinnamon, earl grey tea, bourbon
- Combine everything into a large, heavy-bottomed pan. The more surface area of the pan, the faster it will cook down
- Bring to a boil and reduce to barely a simmer, whisking occasionally
- Cook until reduced by half, dark and thick in color and texture, usually a few hours. You can stop at any point—a paler, thinner version will taste sweeter and more of milk. Just depends on how you’re using it.
- Add the flavoring and let steep for 30 min. Strain into a clean jar. It will store in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks.
This recipe is modified from one that I received at my cooking school, Ballymaloe in Ireland. There biscuits are cookies and these are one of their perennial favorites. I’ve added some extra salt and toss it with the oats instead of melting with the sugar. This keeps the grains of salt whole so that during eating you get a hit of salt against the sweet. When it is melted in with the sugar it lifts the flavor of the whole batch but doesn’t taste as interesting to me.
Be sure not to use the quick cooking rolled oats or they will break down and be a bit of a mushy mess when baking.
12oz butter, unsalted
1 T honey or maple syrup
1 lb old fashioned rolled oats
big pinch of salt
- Heat oven to 350F
- Line a sheet tray with parchment
- Heat the butter, sugar and honey until completely melted.
- Toss with the oats and salt to coat entirely
- Press into the cookie sheet into an even layer
- Bake for 25 minutes
- Rotate and then bake until dark and caramelly in color
- Allow to cool and then invert over a cutting board to remove from the tray
- Cut or break into piece