September 24, 2013

Apples are vigorous, versatile treats


---- — Fresh apples are so delicious. 

Though apples taste good all year, they are especially crisp and flavorful right now. It is no surprise that the North Country is full of apple-related traditions, such as picking apples at the orchard, canning applesauce and enjoying apple pies. Not only are we lucky to have so many orchards nearby, but also to have such a huge variety of apples. Each orchard has its own unique offerings, from hard cider to petting zoos. 

My favorite quality of the apple is how low maintenance it is. It is the perfect grab-and-go food; no need for refrigeration or cutting and peeling, and it is resilient to a few bumps if it is rolling around the bottom of your bag. Apples are also very versatile and taste great raw or cooked and added to sweet and savory dishes. There is such variety in types of apples that everyone can find one to love, whether it is juicy, has a crispy texture, or has a sweet or tart flesh. 

If you are looking to do something with apples — besides enjoying them as is — this is a great time of year to experiment. If you buy a big bag at a local orchard or are lucky enough to have apples growing in your yard, there are so many ways to use them. Here are some ideas:

▶ Slice raw apples and pair with sharp cheese or peanut butter and yogurt as a dip. They can also be added to peanut-butter or ham sandwiches, or mixed into a green salad or coleslaw.

▶ Baked apples taste great when stuffed with oatmeal, cinnamon and a little maple syrup. They can also be filled with blue cheese and pine nuts. Top chicken or pork with apple slices before baking them for a sweet compliment to a main dish. Apples also taste great on top of white pizza with spinach and bacon.

▶ When cooking greens, such as kale, the sweetness of the apple is a nice compliment to the vegetable’s natural bitterness. Lightly sautéed apples make a great quesadilla filling with cheddar cheese.

▶ Try keeping the skins on when you make applesauce. The skin will not break down like the flesh, but a quick pulse in a food processor or blender will break it into small enough pieces that it won’t be noticeable. If you are peeling the apples, try using the Macintosh variety because they cook down very smoothly, with no need to mash or blend.

▶ If you have a food dehydrator, you can make crispy apple chips by dehydrating apple slices overnight, or until they are very dry and crispy. They should last a few months in your cupboard in a sealed container. They are such a great snack, though, that I would be surprised if they were still around after a week.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Though that may not be literally true, eating apples is definitely good for your health. Apples have been linked to a decreased risk for lung diseases, such as asthma and cancer, and are known — like many fruits and vegetables — to have a positive impact on heart health and diabetes. An average-sized apple has fewer than 100 calories and is a good source of fiber. Much of the nutrients from the apple are found in the skin so try to leave the skins on your apples even if a recipe calls for a peeled one.

Since apples are so delicious and so good for you, plan a few trips to the orchard this season. 

Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.