Red, crimson, maroon, gold, pink, yellow, green: Bite into any one of these colors of fresh, Michigan apples and a sweet or tart, crisp or mellow taste and texture will immediately delight, refresh, and nourish.
Archaeologists believe people have been eating apples since at least 6500 B.C., according to the Michigan Apple Committee (michiganapples.com). Michiganders, meanwhile, have been growing sweet apples since the 1700s, and the state currently boasts more than 14.9 million apple trees and 775 apple farmers, with an average annual crop of 20 million apples. Michigan is the third-largest producer of apples, behind Washington and New York. Thanks to a great location, lake effects, moisture-rich soil, and four seasons, the state turns out superb crops.
In her 2015 book, “Michigan Apples: History & Tradition” (American Palate), right, Michigan native Sharon Kegerreis shares these and other bites of knowledge about this crop and its impact on our state’s industry and on our personal, everyday eating experiences. For example, did you know Jesuit missionaries spread apple seeds in Detroit long before John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) traveled the Midwest?
Variety is the Spice
Hundreds of apple varieties can be found in Michigan’s apple orchards, which offer everything from antique heirlooms like Cox’s Orange Pippin to the modern Ginger Gold, Gala, and Honeycrisp. Many of today’s popular apples are heritage varieties from the 1800s: McIntosh, Jonathan, Northern Spy, and Red Delicious.
As a former restaurant owner (How About Lunch in Birmingham) and longtime food/recipe fan, I suggest crisp Gala and Braeburn apples. They make great apple crisp for last-minute company.
Not Far from the Tree
These close-to-the-shore Michigan apple orchards and farm markets — some with wineries — are just a few of the more than 130 that are mapped and noted on the Michigan Apple Committee’s website.
Apple Valley Orchard at 6480 Davis Rd. in Saginaw; 989-776-6820
Erie Orchards & Cider Mill at 1235 Erie Rd. in Erie; 734-848-4518; erieorchards.com
Fox Barn Marketplace and Winery at 500 S. 18th Ave. in Shelby; 231-861-8050; foxbarnwinery.com
Gold Coast Farms at 6331 120th Ave. in Fennville; 616-834-2317; goldcoast-farms.com
Knaebe’s Apple Farm & Ciderworks at 2621 S. Karsten Rd. in Rogers City; 989-351-7868; mmmunchykrunchyapplefarm.com
McCallum’s Orchard & Cider Mill and Winery at 5697 Harris Rd. in Jeddo; 810-327-6394
Nye’s Apple Barn at 3151 Niles Rd. in Saint Joseph; 269-429-0496
Royal Farms Farm Market and Winery at 10445 U.S. 31 in Ellsworth; 231-599-3222; royalfarmsinc.com
My Favorite Recipes that Feature Apples
RUSTIC APPLE GALETTE APPETIZER (Serves 8-10)
For the pastry:
1 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted cold butter, cut into pieces
4-6 tablespoons ice water
For the topping:
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 large Empire or other tart red apples halved, cored, and cut into very thin slices (2 cups)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
3-4 ounces goat cheese
Tip for Success
For this recipe from her book, “The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook” (Storey Publishing), author Amelia Levin says: “During prep, tossing the apple slices, once cut, into lemon juice will prevent browning.”
For the pastry, combine the salt and flour in a medium bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the butter until it’s the size of coarse crumbs. Drizzle four tablespoons of the ice water over the top and stir with a fork. Gently knead the mixture with your hands until the dough holds together. Shape into an oval disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the topping, melt the butter in a 10-inch, deep skillet over medium heat. Separate the onion slices into rings and add to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown and tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in one tablespoon of the thyme. Toss the apples with the lemon juice in a bowl.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a rimmed baking sheet or line with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 14-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Spread the onion mixture in a 10-inch circle in the center of the dough. Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles over the onions.
Bring up the edges of the pastry, folding as you go and pressing over the filling to partially cover it. Brush the egg over the edges of the pastry (discard any remaining egg). Bake for 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and crumble the goat cheese over the exposed filling. Sprinkle the remaining ½ tablespoon thyme over the goat cheese. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.
“I came up with the idea for this sweet and savory appetizer after tasting tangy fresh chevre from Evergreen Lane Farm in Fennville (evergreenlanefarm.com) and sweet-tart Michigan apples together,” Levin says. “… the galette hits on all your senses.”
FRUITED BREAST OF TURKEY SALAD (Serves 8-10)
2 pounds of premium deli turkey breast, sliced to ½-inch thickness
6 medium to large apples: 2 Granny Smith; 4 Gala, Fuji, or Honeycrisp
3 ribs of celery
1 cup of drained pineapple tidbits
1 to 1 ½ cups mayonnaise (more or less, to desired consistency)
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Stir the lemon juice and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Chop the apples, unpeeled, and add them to the bowl, gently coating them in the lemon juice mixture. Drain off any extra juice.
Dice the celery and gently stir it into the apple mixture. Add the pineapple tidbits.
Cut the turkey breast into smaller-than-bite-sized cubes. Add to the bowl and gently mix.
Add the mayonnaise in small portions, folding the ingredients in, until the salad is moist and everything is coated. You may need more or less mayonnaise, according to taste.
Tip for Success
When chopping the turkey and apples and dicing the celery, their size should be “just right” for having three or four pieces fit on the spoon or fork for tasting the flavors and textures together.
This salad keeps beautifully, refrigerated, for four days and is an ideal entrée for a brunch or celebration buffet, possibly served with muffins or rolls and a spinach Mandarin salad (fresh, tossed, spinach salad with a slightly sweet vinaigrette dressing and topped with thinly sliced red onion, mandarin orange segments, and slivered almonds).
At How About Lunch, the catering/carryout restaurant I had in Birmingham for many years, this is something we served daily and was our most popular entrée for catered bridal and baby showers.
NUTTY-APPLE TUNA (Serves 6)
Five pouches of albacore or light tuna, 2.6-ounce size, or one 11-ounce pouch
1 Michigan red apple
½ cup crushed pineapple
¼ cup dark or golden raisins
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 rib of celery
1 container, 7-ounce size, Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon, if desired
½ teaspoon grated orange peel, if desired
Empty the tuna pouches into a medium-sized bowl and break up the tuna with a fork. Add one tablespoon of the lemon juice and mix it, with the fork, into the tuna.
In another bowl, put the remaining two tablespoons of lemon juice and the sugar. Stir together. Chop the apple, unpeeled, into small (approximately ¼-inch) pieces. Toss the chopped apple into the lemon juice mixture and stir. Drain off the extra juice.
Drain the pineapple well, and add it to the bowl containing the tuna. Also add the chopped apple mixture, the raisins, the pecans, and the celery, diced small. Gently mix.
Slowly blend in, by small spoonfuls, the yogurt until everything is coated and the mixture is a pleasing consistency. All of the yogurt might not be needed. If desired, add the cinnamon and grated orange peel.
Tip for Success
Add the yogurt by small spoonsful, slowly, to obtain the consistency that fits your taste.
I must admit, my mom (and How About Lunch manager Darlene “Big Red” Longo) and I first discovered a fruited tuna years ago in what had been a local gallery that also had a lunch counter with freshly made, healthy, and extremely delicious sandwiches — including one similar to what became our own Nutty-Apple Tuna Pita.
This can be made the day before and is wonderful in rolled or pita sandwiches or on croissants. It’s also delicious on a bed of chopped, fresh greens, garnished with Michigan red apple slices.
ROSE STEFFENS’ APPLE CAKE
1 ²/³ cups flour
1 ¹/³ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
¾ teaspoon salt
¹/³ cup shortening
¹/³ cup water
1 cup applesauce
¹/³ cup nuts, chopped
²/³ cups raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease well and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan or a tube pan.
In a large bowl, mix the first eight ingredients. Then add the next six ingredients. Beat for two minutes and add the egg. Beat another two minutes.
Bake for one hour. If using a tube pan, let cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool the cake right-side up.
Tip for Success
“Make your own applesauce,” says Sharon Kegerreis, author of the book “Michigan Apples: History & Tradition” (American Palate), which includes this recipe by Sharon Steffens, owner of Steffens Orchard Market of Sparta, Mich. “Cook down apples — like Cortland, McIntosh, or Paula Red — with a little fresh cider or water. Puree for a smooth blend.”
If desired, top slices of this cake with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.