Pioneer Pie & Apples Pure And Simple

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A Happy Day

Thanksgiving was delightful here, with a cheerful group of family and friends enjoying each other and the food and my darling grandbaby, Oliver, who was the effortless star of the day. Since his daddy is experiencing some food issues, I made several things he could eat, among them an outstandingly delicious pumpkin pie that was wheat-, dairy-, soy-, and sugar-free. It came out a deep, golden brown, smelled amazing, and tasted terrific. I imagine it was a lot like what our pioneer ancestors ate (OK, except for the coconut milk), so I’m calling it;

Pioneer Pie

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, & coriander
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 pie crust

Mix together all ingredients (except crust) well, pour into a pie dish lined with crust and bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 and bake until set (45-50 minutes more). Cool for 30 minutes before slicing. The flavors meld even more nicely overnight.

Sugar-, Wheat-, Dairy-free Pie Crust

2 cups almonds or hazelnuts
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2-3 teaspoons safflower oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor, grind nuts coarsely. Add coconut oil and process for a few seconds. Add safflower oil and salt and process until mixture begins to clump (5-8 seconds). Pat into a pie dish, firming up the sides and bottom with your fingers. Prebake at 350 until crisp (20-30 minutes) for uncooked fillings, or fill and bake as usual for cooked fillings.

About Those Apples

Apples have tempted humans since time began, and rightfully so. Unlike many sugary treats, apples balance their crunchy, juicy sweetness with an outstanding array of health benefits. Apples, blueberries, and grapes rank among the most beneficial of all fresh fruit, and eating just 5 servings a week offers significant health protection. However, replacing whole fruit with fruit juices actually increases the risk of disease, so Mom is still right about that apple a day.

So we can safely and happily offer apples to our kids, right? Well, as long as they are organically grown, yes. Otherwise, not so much. Year ago, Meryl Streep’s influence led apple growers to abandon the use of alar, a carcinogenic pesticide growers used on apples to keep them unblemished by bug bites. However, unless we buy organically grown apples, we’ll still get more of a mouthful than we want, since USDA studies show that 98% of conventionally grown apples still retain pesticides. The levels are within the range deemed acceptable by the FDA, but is that really low enough?

Pesticide Check, Please

A few years ago, Richard Wiles, senior vice president for policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, said; “The mix of pesticides today is less toxic than it was 20 years ago, but we still have a lot of pesticides left over. I think we’re due for another look at whether we’re doing the best we can to protect the public from pesticides in food.”

Today, we have new concerns to add to our longstanding ones. Traditional apple breeders hand-cross pollen from fruit with valuable characteristics in hopes of getting even better offspring. New apples like Honeycrisp, SweeTango, and Pink Lady were developed by patient hybridizers who grow thousands of seedlings and wait, sometimes for years, to taste the results. Each autumn, breeders taste test up to 500 apples a day, looking for that special something that indicates an outstanding new fruit. (Apparently, French grad school students are much sought-after as taste testers, thanks to their experienced and subtle palates.)

GE Apples On The Way

Two new apples, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny, were recently developed in Canada using genetic engineering (biotechnology that creates plant hybrids that could not occur in nature). The idea behind these new apples is that they won’t turn brown when sliced, as normal apples do. This involved creating a reversed version of the gene that makes apples produce polyphenol oxidase (PPO) when cut or bitten or damaged. These bio-tampered apples been working their way through the FDA evaluation process and are approaching consumer availability, about which the tamperers are very excited, since they’ve worked so hard to bring this achievement to market.

Really? How pathetically sad that all this energy has been expended on solving an absurd problem. Obviously, it’s not an issue for anybody except perhaps caterers, and those who package pre-sliced apples (labeled and marketed as ‘fresh’, amazingly enough). Organic growers reject all genetically engineered foods, as do the countries of the European Economic community, and it remains to be seen whether these biotech apples will gain consumer approval or not.

A Happy Apple Story

For now, let’s delight in fresh organically grown apples, which are abundant and delectable just now. My newest favorite are called Opal, a cross between Golden Delicious (which I think is anything but) and Topaz, a Czech Republican apple with a complex parentage. Opal is notably crisp, with a bright and slightly spicy flavor that has a distinct floral finish (kind of like apricots). In the US, it’s grown by Washington State’s Broetje Orchards, partly as a First Fruits fundraiser for projects that serve the young in terms of education, nutrition, and food politics.

That’s totally lovely, of course, but it helps that the apple itself is just a knockout, gorgeous inside and out. The skin is a glowing golden yellow blushed with apricot and peach, the flesh is creamy white, crunchy, and utterly delectable. Organic Opals have been on sale at my local Town & Country Market, and after trying one, I loaded up my cart with them. What are they good for? Pretty near anything, as far as I can tell. For fresh eating, they are amazing. Sliced and drizzled with pomegranate molasses, they are insanely snackable. Sauted with garlic and sea salt, they taste gorgeous with Brussels sprouts and kale. They make lovely sauce, light, bright, and needing no added anything to taste like pure autumnal treasure. Baked, they remain tender yet firm. Here are some fine ways to eat them:

Baked Opal Apples

This scrumptious, savory side also makes a pleasant light entree.

Savory Baked Apples

4 Opal or Fuji apples
2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dried cherries or apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped

Core each apple, leaving skin intact. In a bowl, combine goat cheese, garlic and vinegar, stir in dried fruit and nuts and gently stuff apples. Bake at 350 degrees F until soft (30-40 minutes). Serves 4.

Apple & Turnip Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 large turnips, peeled and diced
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
1 cup unfiltered apple cider
1 quart vegetable broth
2 Opal, Gala, or any tart apples, cored and diced
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup cilantro, stemmed

In a soup pot, combine oil, onion, salt and paprika over medium high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add turnips, potatoes, and apples, cover pan and sweat for 5 minutes. Add cider and broth, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender. Puree with an immersion blender and serve, garnished with yogurt and cilantro. Serves 4.

If you have some fine local cider on hand, try this:

Apple Cider Shrub

1 cup unfiltered organic apple cider, chilled
1/4 cup unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar
1 quart sparkling water (sodium free), chilled

Combine all ingredients and serve. Makes 4 servings.

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