Fall is a season of thanksgiving. One of the blessings of the season is a good harvest and this year there has been a spectacular apple harvest – indeed a spectacular fruit harvest of almost every kind. I gave thanks and celebrated with Amy Traverso, author of the The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, during the Cider Days apple tasting at Clarkdale Fruit Farm. I joined the crowd at Traverso’s table tasting her pretty Quick Bread and Butter Apple Pickles that were deliciously fresh and slightly sweet. I did buy her beautiful cookbook and spent the next couple of days admiring the stunning portraits of 59 apple varieties, as well as dishes like Squash and Apple Gratin. The Apple Lover’s Cookbook has recipes for every course from appetizers to desserts, but she also includes a taste of apple history and genetics before moving on to cooking techniques and equipment with a brisk charm. Traverso has spent most of her professional life cooking and publishing. She served as the food editor of Sunset and Boston magazines, and writes for other publications including the Boston Globe and Conde Nast Traveler.
Currently she is the senior food and home editor of Yankee Magazine where she is “responsible for all the food, home and gardening content in Yankee. I assign and edit stories and write and report stories myself. They might be profiles of interesting New Englanders or deep dives into seasonal ingredients. I develop recipes and test all the recipes that other writers develop. And I edit recipes, which is very detail-oriented and anxiety-provoking work. A small error or omission and leave readers frustrated with a dish that didn’t work properly.” She shared a story about the time she was doing a cooking demonstration in a store when she made an omission in person. She put the dish together in front of her audience and then passed out samples of that dish that she had made a home. “As luck would have it, I completely left out the salt in the completed dish, which is what I used for samples. So everyone was tasting it and politely smiling, but didn’t seem terribly enthused about what I think of as a great dessert. When I tasted it, I knew why.”
I love cooking and I adhere to the Heath Gourmet Club motto that “a recipe is only a guide” but I have always been fascinated by people who actually make up new dishes on purpose, not only because they ran out of dill or spinach. When I asked Traverso about how she made up a recipe she said, “Some are pure invention, like the quick bread-and-butter apple pickle. That’s where you get this random idea—I wonder if apples would taste good in sweet pickle?—and head to the kitchen and experiment. But others are variations on classics, like apple pie. I happen to love my pie crust recipe, which I developed over time after trying a lot of different methods. For something more classic like that, I’ll look around at a lot of recipes and learn what I can from them before putting my own take on it. The International Association of Culinary Professionals has standards that it publishes to guide recipe developers on ethics—when you can fairly call a recipe your own. And I abide by those. But all cooks are building on the work of those who came before them.”
Although I think my father was a super-taster, able to name all the ingredients in a new dish set before him, I do not have that skill. Traverso didn’t think you really needed to be a super-taster to make up a recipe but “I do think you have to have a kind of taste sense—an intuition about flavors that go together—much like a painter has to have a kind of color sense. I’ve read that some super tasters actually run into problems because their senses are so finely attuned that flavors taste stronger to them, so their recipes might be calibrated differently, she said.
Below is her recipe for Quick Bread and Butter Apple Pickles using red skinned firm-sweet apples like Baldwin, Jazz and Melrose. She also likes a mandoline for making really thin slices of the apple and cucumber. The red and green skins look very pretty together. I have slightly shortened the directions because of space limitations.
Quick Bread and Butter Apple Pickles from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook
1 large seedless (English) cucumber, unpeeled
1 T. kosher salt (or only 1-1/2 t. table salt)
2 large firm-sweet apples (about 1 lb) unpeeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 medium shallots
1 c. rice vinegar
½ c water
½ c honey
1 T. sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig fresh tarragon, cut in four pieces
*Cut ends off cucumber and slice thin on a mandoline. Place in a colander and toss with salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. *Trim seeds and core from each apple half. Using a biscuit cutter push down into the apple to get two round cylinders. Thinly slice each cylinder on mandoline. Slice shallots on mandoline as well. Mix both in a bowl. *In a small bowl mix vinegar, water, honey, sugar and stir til sugar is dissolved. Add cinnamon stick and tarragon. Pour over apples and shallots *Rinse cucumber in colander and blot dry. Add to bowl with apples and stir well. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Keeps in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
I think this would make for a delicious sweet/tart addition to the Thanksgiving menu.
Between the Rows November 21, 2015