Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Baked Apples

Baked Apple on a Plate
Baked Apple

Recipe from The Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer

Inspired by our 11 lb. U-Pick and my recent apple pancake recipe, I turned to Fannie Farmer’s classic Boston Cooking School Cookbook for a baked apple recipe. Originally written in 1896, this was the first cookbook to use standardized measurements such as tablespoons and cups. This became the most popular cookbook of its time in the US. The 1945 edition, which my mom loaned me a few days before she died, contains meal-planning and nutritional tips from the era too. 

Although recipes might not seem so healthy these days, we must remember that during that time people were more physically active and needed more calories, and ate few if any processed foods. There are plenty of instructions for canning and preserving fruits and veggies for winter. Seasonal eating was a way of life back then, because out-of-season produce was simply not available.

Raw Unpeeled Apples in Baking Dish
Measuring Pan to Bake Apples
Fannie Farmer was a rather remarkable person. Her parents expected her to go to college, but she suffered a disabling stroke at age 16. Unable to walk or live independently, she began cooking as a young adult, eventually turning her parents’ home into a boarding house well known for its delicious meals. At age 30 after learning to walk reasonably well, Fannie enrolled in the Boston School of Cooking, where she studied the science of cooking and became interested in nutrition. Throughout her life she was an advocate of serving appealing and nutritious meals for good health. She was particularly interested in food preparation to heal the infirm, and wrote the book Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent. She was invited to lecture at Harvard Medical School on this subject, training doctors and nurses.

Fannie says to use firm, medium-sized sour apples. She uses cinnamon or nutmeg for spices, and recommends adding a few drops of lemon juice and a few gratings of lemon rind to each apple if using nutmeg. My apples were relatively sweet, so I added a squeeze of lemon on top of each, which improved the flavor.

Peeled Apples and Brown Sugar in Baking Pan
Apples Ready for Baking
I’ve always baked apples with cinnamon or apple pie spice, until I read Fannie’s advice: “In the fall, when apples are at their best, do not add spices to the apples, as their flavor cannot be improved. Towards the spring they become somewhat tasteless, and spice is an improvement.” After baking without spice, I agree that at this time of year apples are delicious on their own and added ingredients only detract from their flavor.

I peel the top half of the apples if I want them to look good, otherwise the skin can split and leak. If you peel your apples, Fannie recommends coring them first to preserve their shape. Fannie didn’t specify a type of sugar, but my mom, who used this recipe, always used brown. This amounts to 2 tsp. sugar per apple, which you can reduce if you prefer.

Pan of Baked Apples
Apples Ready to Serve
Baked Apples
serves 8 – 10

10 apples, preferably sour
lemon juice (if not sour, or if using nutmeg)
grated lemon rind (if using nutmeg)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg, optional
boiling water

Wash  and core apples. Remove as much of the skin as you like. Put in 8” x 11.5” baking dish and fill cavities with sugar (and spice if using). Put a squeeze of lemon juice on each apple if sweet and/or if you’re using nutmeg.

Cover bottom of dish with boiling water, about halfway up apples. Bake in hot oven (400 degrees F). until soft, basting often with syrup in dish. This takes about 1 ¼  hours, but timing depends on the variety and size of apples. If apples start to brown too much and are still not soft, lower heat to 350 degrees F. Don’t let pan bake dry.

Serve hot or cold. Traditionally they are served with cream.

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