Monday, October 15, 2012

Apples - Fall's Delightful Bounty

The apple - so symbolic, so fundamental, so delicious!

Central Virginia, right near the mountains as we are, is apparently a great place to grow apples.  All up and down Route 29 in Nelson and Albemarle counties signs for orchards dot the roadside (as well as signs for wineries, but that's another post entirely - heck, that might really be another blog entirely "Sausage Boy Gets Drunk?")  Up in Charlottesville, right next to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, is a real popular place called Carter's Mountain.  The apples are good, the view from the top is totally amazing and it doesn't hurt that they sell these pretty delicious and addictive apple cider donuts as well.  For a lot of people in and around Charlottesville, apple picking means Carter's Mountain.  Not for us, however.
About three years ago we discovered an orchard more in our neck of the woods, Dickie Brothers, and it has become one of our favorite places.  The land has been in this family since it was granted to them by King George.  Yeah, really.  King George II, you remember, the egomaniacal tyrant against whom the freedom-loving American colonists rebelled and created their own nation dedicated to the proposition that...oh, you know the story (or at least that version of it).  Anyway, it's this complete out-of-the-way place, incredibly beautiful, tucked in this little holler of a valley right up alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Just gorgeous.  And they grow our favorite apples, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Fuji and Pink Lady.
My son Felix with what is arguably his favorite food.
Every year for the past three we've gone to Dickie Brothers at least twice, perhaps as many as four times not only to pick our own apples, but to get some of the pre-picked bushel boxes as well. The boxes of the premium apples (first quality) come out to 55 cents per pound and the boxes of the "seconds" (smaller, mis-shapen, slightly blemished apples) cost about 35 cents per pound.   For fresh apples, right off the tree - for nature's unbelievable health and bounty, it's a marvel I don't come home with 5 bushels every time I go.  We eat apples like crazy during this time of year, I know have at least three a day.  I make gallons of applesauce with the seconds, I juice with them and make dried apple rings in our food dehydrator.  Just writing about it now makes me wonder if I'll have time this weekend to go get more, our box upstairs is getting dangerously low.

We all know that apples are good for us, "an apple a day" and all that, right?  Well, I just finished reading a book called The Wisdom and Healing Power of Whole Foods.  It's pretty amazing.  The basic argument is that the best foods (and the ones that can actually heal us of our various food- and lifestyle-induced maladies) are natural and whole foods.  I'm probably preaching to the choir here.  But if you think about it, modern science and modern health care haven't really followed that approach.  Their approach has been "Oh, vitamin C is good for a cold, so just take some vitamin C and you'll get better."  The problem with that approach, and with any that tries to isolate or separate the constituent parts of a whole food is that they never work as well as the whole foods themselves.  Just look at the apple - in one clean, fresh apple there are over 300 different phyto-chemical compounds.  I imagine there are many whose function scientists and nutritionists are still unaware.  But clearly, those compounds work together to make apples incredibly healthful.  Compare that to the nutrition in a bag of potato chips, go ahead.  Yes, if salt and fat were nutritious, America would be a nation of super athletes instead of slowly becoming the laughingstock of the world as our obesity rates continue to skyrocket.  Whole raw foods are clearly what our bodies crave.

Apples' Sweet, Sweet Cousin (well, no relation really)

However, I digress.  Back to our beautiful orchard nestled in the Nelson county countryside.  It turns out that Dickie Brothers has not only the best apples this side of the Pacific Northwest (sorry Carter's Mountain), they also grow sweet potatoes.  My wife actually got me into sweet potatoes years ago, she's always loved them.  I'm now a huge fan, I even used them in a juice during my juice fast, and I make a really mean (I mean a really really mean) sweet potato soup.  I suppose I could write a whole post about the health benefits of sweet potatoes, how they are loaded with betacarotene, have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and how they contain 438% of the USRDA for Vitamin A, in addition to a slew of other important compounds and vitamins, but you should already know this.  It's one of those foods, with that deep, rich orange-colored flesh that you can look at and know how healthy it is for you.  Or at least you should, colorful foods being generally much more healthful than other foods.  The sweet potato is a pretty far cry from it's cousin the white potato, which is pretty lackluster nutritionally speaking (they're not even in the same family botanically).

So every year we get a big load of their sweet potatoes as well.  Which, finally, leads me to why I wrote this post - this recipe.

Roasted Apples and Sweet Potatoes

Forget the pecans, forget the brown sugar, milk, eggs and marshmallows.  Forget everything else that people throw together (in the form of sweet potato pie or casserole) to ruin a perfectly good and healthy sweet potato.  This recipe is as simple as it gets.
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cubed (you could peel them, but why would you?)
  • 3 medium-size apples, cubed (again, see above)
  • 1 ½-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Celtic sea salt (sea salt will do)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.   In a large mixing bowl, pour the olive oil over sweet potatoes and apples. Season with sea salt and stir to coat evenly.
3. Pour onto baking pan, spread evenly forming one layer.  
4. Bake for 15 minutes, then stir. Reset timer for 15 minutes and check to see if they are done, they should have some golden brown edges and be fork-tender.
5. Remove from oven and serve or store in refrigerator for later.  
(ps - These store great in the refrigerator and reheat well on the stove-top.  You can can even get them a bit crisper this way - I had last night's leftovers tonight as dinner)
One tip is to use a shallow baking pan to allow the sweet potatoes to get a little crisp - that's how I like them.

 So - go pick some apples and try this out.  Better yet, drive down to Dickie Brothers for yourself.

Have a great fall everyone!


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