I walked into In Season Local Market on a sunny, brisk, fall afternoon and was pleased to see a basket filled to the brim with delicious looking apples. An ever-present snack in my house and a frequent accoutrement to a plate of cheese, apples are my favorite fruit. But until recently, I had never actually cooked with them. As I looked at these apples, though, I vaguely remembered having seen a recipe in M.F.K Fisher's The Art of Eating, so, I grabbed an armful and set out to find something to drink with them.
I've been meaning to try the beers from Crooked Stave, a fairly new, one-man brewing operation inside of Funkwerks Brewing in Fort Collins specializing in sour beers, and figured this was the perfect opportunity to. A sour beer sounded spot on with a sweet, tart apple dish. At the liquor store, the Surette, a wood aged farmhouse ale stood out the most. (I picked up a bottle of Tropic King as well, a controversial saison from Funkwerks, which I happen to be sipping on while writing this. The synopsis: balanced and beautiful.)
Once I got home, I looked up the recipe I had in mind and realized why it had stuck there. The simple recipe for baked apples topped with raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg was from the section of the book that had impressed me the most, "How to Cook a Wolf," a collection of recipes, anecdotes and advice Fisher wrote during World War II, when wartime shortages caused the government to enforce food and fuel rationing.
I've weathered hard times, as we all have, and it was immensely comforting and inspiring to read about how to combat them through cooking and sustenance. Fisher shares the recipe in an essay titled "How to Comfort Sorrow", about how to end a meal without breaking the bank.
She writes, "If you are cooking for people who feel that because they ate some such sweet desserts once a day when they were young, they must perforce eat them once a day when they are middle-aged and working like everything to save democracy, you will be hard put to it to make their prejudices fit your food bill. Eggs and cream and cinnamon, not to mention fuel needed for long slow bakings, have suddenly become rare and precious things to be used cunningly for a whole meal or a weekly treat, not as the routine and unctuous final fillip to a pre-war dinner."
And the dish was relatively effortless, inexpensive and very much soul-satisfying. I chose to make a meal of it by serving it with Shepard's Halo, a limited edition, soft-ripened sheep's milk cheese from Fruition Farms I had bought at Marczk's. The cheese is brined, which made it a wonderful meaty and salty contrast to the baked apples, which, I can only describe as yummy. And they were just as good cold as they were hot out of the oven. The beer, on the other hand, while a welcoming companion, wasn't entirely impressive. I certainly enjoyed the funky flavor it added to the meal, but it was a bit too one-dimensional.
Anyhow, while things are looking up in my life of late, the meal was a pleasant reminder that if by chance, they aren't, at least I can feed myself decently. Fisher introduces "How to Cook a Wolf" with an interesting musing: "It is hard to know whether war or peace makes the greater changes in our vocabularies, both of the tongue and of the spirit." I can't speak on war per se, but as for the bad times versus the good, I'm beginning to appreciate a healthy mix of both.
Here's the recipe, via M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating:
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Apples...almost any kind, although Delicious apples are, well, delicious, as are the ones from Ela Family Farms that In Season carries Brown sugar (1 tablespoon for each apple) Cinnamon Nutmeg Raisins Dates Left-over jam Butter (optional) Water
1. Core the apples, and place them in a baking dish. 2. Fill each hole with the fruit or jam, and put a dab of butter on top if you want. 3. Mix the sugar with enough water to fill the dish almost to the top, and bake slowly until the apples are tender.