Philadelphia – May, 1986. I’m walking down my college’s main thoroughfare, having just finished the very final final exam of my senior year. It’s late afternoon, and as I head toward my off-campus apartment, I come upon a street vendor selling shiny, green Granny Smith apples. I hand the man a quarter, and wipe the fruit on my pant leg. As I take my first bite, taut apple skin gives way to crunchy flesh and a delightfully fresh sweet-sour tang.
“THIS,” I tell the vendor, “is an apple that makes a person glad to be alive.”
I have eaten thousands of Granny Smith apples since then, and while few have been as life-affirming as the one I ate that May afternoon 23 years ago, many have been quite wonderful. Others have been crunchy-enough and sufficiently tasty. But every once in a while, I bite in to an apple and give it the same grade I got on that last exam: a disappointing C-minus.
And so it was, recently, when I ripped open a plastic bag of Granny Smiths I had bought at the Stop & Shop, pulled out an apple and washed it carefully (I’m a grown-up now) and bit in.
Mushy. Well, not mushy, exactly, but certainly not taut-skinned or crunchy-fleshed (which, I suppose, is what I get for buying a bag of apples flown in from God-knows-where in July when I could be enjoying local nectarines and strawberries.) But mushy-ish, in any case, which raised the issue of what to do with the rest of bag.
Throwing the remaining apples out was simply not an option; it’s a shame, not to mention a breach of Jewish law, to waste food just because it isn’t up to gourmet standards. And while I suppose I could have soldiered on and just eaten an apple a day (to keep the HMO away), I believe, more and more these days, that eating food without enjoying it is almost as wasteful as throwing it in the garbage can. And so, I looked for ways to use the apples in dishes where their lack of tartness would be less noticeable and their lack of crunch unimportant.
First up: an apple-cheddar omelet. I peeled one of the Granny Smith apples and diced it fine (the pieces need to be small so that they heat through and soften a bit inside the omelet without having to cook it so long that the eggs toughen up), mixed in a hefty handful of grated cheddar cheese and melted some butter in my frying pan, added two well-beaten eggs and the filling. A few minutes later, I had a dish worthy of a chic brunch eaterie.
The next day, with only one egg in the fridge, I put some apples and cheese into a honey-wheat tortilla and heated it in a dry pan. Ya vez! A quesadilla’s second cousin twice removed. And it was tasty, too – but at the rate I was going, it’d take me a week of lunches and a year’s cholesterol-allotment of cheese to make my way through the rest of the apples, and I was eager to be done with them.
Pie? Too Thanksgiving-y for the sunny July weather we earned with this year’s awful, rainy June. And an apple sorbet made with bland apples surely would not have been worth the time or trouble.
And then I remembered about my sister’s apple kugel, a recipe that has circulated in her husband’s extended family for years. It’s easy, it’s always well-received, and fortuitously, my sister told me when I asked for the recipe that it really only works well with Granny Smiths.
In minutes, I mixed the batter up with a fork, (the pinch of salt is my addition; I like the more balanced flavor it creates), added the six peeled, cored and sliced apples and stuck the pan in the oven. An hour later, the kugel was ready, and when I served it – warm on Friday night and at room temperature on Shabbat day – everyone at the table asked for more.
And my fruit bin? Emptied of the disappointing apples, there’s now room for the kind of summer peaches that make a person glad to be alive.
Preheat oven to 350.
Peel, core and slice 6 Granny Smith apples.
In a large bowl, mix together:
4 large eggs
1 Cup flour
1 Cup sugar
½ Cup canola oil
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Mix the apples into the batter. Transfer to a 9 x13” baking dish and bake for about 1 hour, until kugel is set. Serve warm or at room temperature.