September is here, with its glorious brisk, shortened sunny days, perfect light and wonderful harvesting season. The array of produce seems endless, so much so that it’s very tempting to go over the top when you stroll the aisles of your local market. But from a paddler’s perspective, September is the ideal time to take advantage of the huge variety of local fruit and vegetables to bring along with you on your next trip. Why not start with apples?
There has been a lot of scientific research in recent years to study the benefits of fresh produce for human health. The amount of rock-solid evidence is staggering. No longer does anyone need convincing that eating 5 to 10 portions of fruit and veggies a day is the way to go in order to maintain good health. Still, only one North American out of five meets those guidelines. It’s ironic that produce are the only food we have problems eating enough portions in big enough quantity… Usually, our challenge is the opposite: eating less meat, fries, soft drinks, candy bars, munchies, and so on…
But some produce are much easier to eat liberally than others. Apples are among them. They are the favorite fruit for the vast majority of Canadians and Americans and they certainly are among the best road (or waterway…) companions… Apples will easily keep for two weeks if properly stored in the bottom of your kayak hatch, which will prevent warmer air from raising their temperature. Actually, your kayak bottom can easily be turned into a controlled temperature warehouse for any fruit or veggie.
A bit of scientific evidence first. Like many other fruits, apples are filled with soluble fibers known as pectin, which help reduce high blood pressure, fight bad cholesterol in the blood stream and decrease the risk of contracting colorectal cancer. Apples are also rich in a flavonoids (a plant pigment) called quercetin that’s very effective against free radical molecules present in x-rays, pollution and that makes our cells grow old and eventually die. Quercetin helps reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration too. It is also considered effective to control asthma and gastroesophageal reflux disorder.
The USDA has made a list of more than 650 different varieties of apples that grow on US territory. Although there are often many names used to identify one apple one has to admit that this huge diversity is quite amazing. You may be familiar with the Golden Delicious, the Jersey mac, the Paula red, the Gala or the MacIntosh; but how about treasures such as the Westfield Seek-No-Further, the Sutton Beauty, the Strawberry Parfait or the State Fair? Apple biodiversity is very impressive and a good example of what could be a true icon of North American agricultural strength. But let’s be honest: even if there are a few thousand varieties around the world, 90 % of our small planet production comes from a dozen varieties in total. Through centuries, specific varieties were selected and grafted to suit fresh consumption, some were picked for their cooking potential while others were selected because they would make fine juice and cider. Some apples don’t keep for more than a few days while others can last the entire winter without any problem. Not to mention the perfect drying and the ideal freezing types…
Like many other produce, apple seeds were brought to America by the Colonists and became so popular that they eventually were ordered from England by the Boston Bay Company in the early days (around 1660). The first commercial production of apple cider came from Connecticut. Today, Michigan, Washington, Oregon and New York states have become the main apple orchardists in United States. The Pacific Northwest is the leader with a yearly production of about 35 million bushels a year. But since certain varieties from Canada (like the McIntosh) are highly prized by Americans and don’t grow well in the U-S’s somewhat warmer climate, they are imported in large numbers from Quebec and Ontario.
The best and most tasty apple will blend crispness, sweetness (in the form of fructose and sucrose), tartness (in the form of malic acid, citric acid and tannins) and aroma (in the form of phytochemicals). Apples are harvested from late summer until December (like the Granny Smith). Choose fruit that are in season and if possible buy them at a local farmer’s market to insure they are not waxed with paraffin. Go organic if you can. They will stay at their best if they are refrigerated or stored in the bottom of your kayak hatch. Remember that an apple left at room temperature can become soft and a bit mushy in just a couple of days. Eat them raw twice a day when you paddle or, for a bit of variety, try these simple recipes.
Apple and cheddar grilled cheese (2 portions)
Spread the interior side of the bread with mustard. Sprinkle half the slices with half of the grated cheddar cheese. Slice the Granny Smith apple very thinly, add salt and pepper on each side (this prevents oxidation). Put the slices on the grated cheddar. Cover the apples with the remaining cheese. Put the two remaining slices of bread on top, to make a sandwich. Spread one side of each sandwich with butter or margarine. Place the buttered side in a non-stick skillet that’s already hot, over medium heat. Using a spatula, gently press the sandwich to help melt the cheese. Cook while pressing the sandwich regularly until the bread becomes a nice golden color and that half the cheese is melted. Spread the remaining butter or margarine on the upside slice of bread. Turn it and repeat the cooking process on the other side until the cheese is melted and the apples warm.
This is delicious with a baby spinach salad sprinkled with dry cranberries. And you can also add some ham slices between the apple slices and the grated cheese if you can easily carry them on board (say, for a short trip).
Salmon and apple open face sandwiches
(Makes 2 sandwiches)
Mix all ingredients except English muffins together gently until well blended. Spread one quarter of the salmon mixture on each half muffin.
Easy apple caramel dessert
Cut each apple in halves, remove seeds and again cut each half in 4 pieces. Don’t peel. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent oxidation. Melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add apple pieces and cook for five minutes. Sprinkle with sugar and continue to cook, stirring often, until the sugar starts to caramelize. Don’t let it get dark! Sugar burns in seconds. Add water and continue cooking over medium heat until the caramel boils. Let it cook a few more minutes. Add the walnuts. Remove from heat. Place four ginger snap cookies in two plates, poor the caramelized apples. Let cool about five minutes before eating to let the apples soften the cookies. If you have access to vanilla ice cream, well, this dessert is pure heaven with a scoop on top…
Apple-curry and red lentil soup
(4 to 6 portions)
In a Dutch oven (large cooking pot), sauté onion, celery, carrot in olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add lentils, garlic, herbs, curry or curcuma and cook 2 more minutes. Pour water, bring the soup to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, or until lentils are soft. They will turn a nice yellow color and will become very soft, almost mushy. That’s normal. Stir well and pour the soup in large serving bowls, sprinkle with apples and bacon bits.
Serve with rye crackers
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