Whenever he who must be fed takes a trip to the Adelaide Hills to visit his mother, he comes back with a big bag of apples. He’s incapable of passing that cute little apple stall between Verdun and Oakbank without picking up a bag or two. Nothing wrong with that. We both love apples, especially at this time of year when many varieties are at their very best. Of course if I’ve happened to stock up on apples from (block your ears all you farmers market people) the supermarket that very week, we can end up with enough to feed a family of six or a paddock full of hungry horses. Last week I was faced with just such a challenge. Apple pie is always an option but hardly a healthy one, especially in face of the looming Easter fang-out on choccies and hot cross buns. Baked apples are good but I hate all that mucking around with the corer that inevitably results in blood and bandaids. So after a little think, I came up with my own version of baked apples, which with all due modesty I have to say was delicious. I never thought I’d be able to say this, having foresworn being a recipe site, but here we go … read on for the recipe.
HWMBF’s contribution to the larder was a bag of Pink Lady apples which I love for their gorgeous colour as much as their crisp sweetness. Their correct name is Cripps Pink (named after Cripps, their founder). They’re apparently Australia’s most popular variety and because of their high sugar content, ideal for desserts.
Here in South Australia we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to apples. Our apple growing tradition started in the Adelaide Hills in the 1860’s. We produce about 9% of Australia’s total apple crop, mostly Pink Ladies. There are around 1.5 million apple trees in the State, mostly grown on small family owned properties of less than 20 hectares. It’s fitting that we should patronise our Adelaide Hills apple growers as it’s the State’s most important apple growing region. You can find out more at Aussie Apples. And if you’re a fan of Pink Ladies the Apple and Pear Growers Association of SA is holding its 2014 Pick a Pink Lady Day on Sunday 4th May at two orchards in Lenswood, prime apple growing territory.
Apples go brilliantly with dried fruit, which any baked apple fan will tell you and as I also had an unopened bag of dried apricots, some dates and some mixed peel in the pantry, I decided a mix of these would be good. Dried fruits, like people, are always happier after a little drink and ideally I’d soak them for a while in a good slosh of brandy. A fossick around in the drinks cupboard revealed no brandy but lurking in the shadows a slightly dusty bottle of Island Sting! Mysterious both in provenance and how the hell it got into the drinks cupboard, its label revealed in smaller type that it was a honey liqueur.
Honey is of course healthy and you can never go wrong with a liqueur so it seemed just the thing. In the unlikely event that readers are intrigued enough to want to know more, Island Sting comes from Kangaroo Island and is produced from pure Ligurian bee honey. Now, reading about apples you’re probably not going to be interested in bees, but these are extraordinary bees. Claimed to be the world’s purest bees (in strain I presume not spirit), they’re renowned for the quality of their honey. The description of the liqueur on the Nick’s Wine Merchants website is a particularly good example of the best rhapsodic wine writing. Raisin toast, Christmas fruit mince pie, cinnamon and cloves all get a mention, everything indeed except honey.
Back to the kitchen. I sliced up the dried apricots and dates, mixed in the mixed peel, poured in a liberal amount of Island Sting and then set the rather tropical looking result aside to marinate for a couple of hours.
The sliced apples then went into a casserole dish, together with some brown sugar, butter and the dried fruit. At the last minute I had the brainwave of adding some blanched almonds. Because the fruit all ends up pretty much the same texture when cooked, the crunch of the almonds lends some welcome contrast. Besides I’d add nuts to anything given the chance.
The dish then went into the oven to bake for about an hour. An added bonus is that it fills the house with the delicious aroma of baking fruit while it’s cooking.
The end result was rather yummy. Given the addition of sugar, butter and liqueur possibly not any better for us health-wise than an apple pie would have been, but by that point I didn’t really care. The apples retained their shape and while soft weren’t at all mushy, while the brown sugar and butter gave it all a nicely caramelised appearance and taste. You can find the precise (and here I use the word loosely) recipe below. There was a reason I decided not to do a traditional food blog with recipes, which will be apparent to anyone who reads this post – my recipe writing, photography and food styling skills all leave a whole lot to be desired. But I’m working on them.
- 2kg apples (preferably Pink Lady)
- 250g dried apricots
- 250g dates
- 250g mixed peel
- Half cup of brandy, honey liqueur, or whatever alcohol takes your fancy
- 250g blanched almonds (chopped or whole depending on preference & teeth)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 500ml water
- Slice the dried apricots and dates
- Combine with the mixed peel
- Marinate in the brandy or liqueur for 2-3 hours
- Core apples and slice into fine slices (leave peel on)
- Layer the apples in a casserole dish and mix in the marinated dried fruit and almonds
- Add the brown sugar, butter and spices
- Pour over the water
- Cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven for approx. one hour, check occasionally in case you need to add more water
- Serve with cream or icecream (or both!)
by Anne Green