Sweetly Spiced

It’s officially stick season here in Vermont, which means the leaves have all dropped and the bare trees are waiting for the cool embrace of winter’s snow to adorn their limbs. According to nearly everyone we’ve talked to, this is supposed to be one of the coldest, roughest winters Vermont has seen in a while. I’d like to say I’m ready, but I’m secretly dreading taking on the snow and ice in this town with only front-wheel drive.

As the regular growing season winds down and I step back to survey the damage of weeks of enthusiastic farmer’s marketing, I realize that I may have gone a bit overboard. Within view of my kitchen table I can see eight gourds, half of which are edible, two bushels of apples, half a dozen Indian corn, and a pile of dried fall foliage.

Every year, my love for Fall temporarily impairs my judgement and I convince myself to buy more produce than Anden and I could ever consume, and more than this small apartment can accommodate. Luckily, we got an extra table for decorative fall material and the gourds will keep. As for those apples that went soft before we could eat them all, we expedited their use and transformed them into something new.

DSCN2911Chai-spiced apple sauce

In my Favorite Things post back in July, I introduced a chai recipe I received from my friend and college roommate, Ellie. The spicing was simple, only cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Each of these spices has a strong presence on its own, but compliment and balance each other beautifully when joined together. They’re versatile enough to use in a variety of sweet or savory dishes and they’ve found their way into many of my Fall meals. Cinnamon and cloves are already natural partners in apple dishes, but cardamom adds an enticingly spicy note that tickles the senses. By using whole spices rather than ground, you achieve all of the flavor with none of the grit. Nor do the spices overpower the actual star of the show: the apples. After prepping all of the ingredients, the crock-pot takes care of the rest.

Ingredients:

5 lb assorted apples (9-10)

1/2 cup apple cider (or apple juice, or water)

1/4 cup packed, light brown sugar

2 small cinnamon sticks

5 cloves

3 green cardamom pods, cracked open (you can use a mortar and pestle for this, or crush them on a cutting board with the flat of a chef’s knife)

Begin by preparing the apples. I have a nifty apple peeler, corer, slicer tool for the job, but you can easily use a paring knife to achieve similar results. I actually had to look up the best way to do this and you can find a quick how-to video here. Save the apple peelings for now. I’ll explain in a bit.

The apples should fill a 4.5 quart crock pot.

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Add the cider, sugar, and spices, then mix gently with a wooden spoon.

I used apple cider as my liquid of choice because I had extra in the fridge and I thought it might help intensify the flavor. I can’t empirically prove that this is the case, but the results were out of this world. The real key to this recipe is quality apples and spices. If you start there, it’s hard to go wrong.

Once you’ve combined all the ingredients in the crock pot, turn the heat on low and let it cook for about 7 hours. Stir once with a wooden spoon about halfway through cooking.

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You can eat the applesauce hot or cold and it pairs well with roasted meats like the pork chops I made last week. This recipe prepares 8-10 small servings, but it’s hard to stop at one bowl.

If you’re wondering why I had you hold on to the apple peels, it because I hope you’ll try out this home project.

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Fall in a Bag

When you cook applesauce in the crock pot, it fills your home with the sweet smell of spiced apples all day. Long after the applesauce has been consumed, you can recreate the warmth of this Fall fragrance by saving the peelings from your apple baking projects. You’ll need:

  • small cinnamon sticks
  • whole cloves
  • apple peelings
  • sandwich sized ziplock bags

Add two cinnamon sticks and 8 cloves to each bag, then loosely pack with apple shavings, about 1 1/2 cups. Seal these bags and stick them in the freezer. When you’re looking for a little spice, pull one out, empty the contents into a medium pot (about 2 qts), fill with water, then let it simmer on the stove all day. Add hot water as needed and enjoy the sweet spice of Autumn whenever you want!

I’m more excited than I should be for my new post schedule considering I only pushed it back by a day. I hope it will allow me a bit more flexibility with my time, especially as classes extend into Saturdays, starting after the holidays. We’ll see how proactive I actually am going forward, but for now it offers me a little breathing room in my weekends to catch up on class work.

I hope you’re not burnt out on pumpkin recipes just yet, because I haven’t forgotten about those gourds I collected like pokemon cards over the past month. There will be a lot of tinkering in the kitchen this week and I’ll present you with my favorites next Monday. See you then!

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