I have been asked for this recipe and so I shall supply it, in accordance with The Law of Internet Acquiescence. To remind, I have noted that I make killer (not literally) cooked apples, and so I’ll tell you how I do that.
First, the apples. Choice of apple here is important, same as it is when you’re choosing apples for a pie. And, same as you don’t want your apple pie to turn into an apple swimming pool, you want the apples in this recipe to remain, well, apple-shaped, or, rather, shaped like the slices you cut them into.
Turgor is important here — the pressure inside a plant cell against the cell walls is what keeps any fruit or vegetable firm. Less turgor means less firmth (not a word, but should be), and so, you get softening or wilting much faster and easier. You do not want apples to break down so quickly that they turn to SWEET GOO, despite how delicious SWEET GOO sounds — that’s great if you want applesauce*, less great if you want cooked apples.
So, higher turgor is important, which is to say that you’re looking for apples that are not already starting off kinda limp. You want those crunchy crisp hard-breaking apples. To borrow a phrase from Black River Orchard, an apple that feels like you’re breaking a chip of slate in half, snap.
The second consideration is, you want either a mix of sweet and tart apples, or one apple type that is itself an excellent balance of sweet and tart. For that “one apple” solution, I like to go to GoldRush apples, or Cosmic Crisp, Suncrisp, or whatever. You probably want to use Honeycrisp and that’ll be good, too, though I am less a fan of Honeycrisp than you, because I am a giant apple snob with Strong Apple Opinions (aka applepinions). If you want heirlooms for this purpose: Belle de Boskoop, Esopus Spitzenburg, Northern Spy, Zabergau Reinette, and I’ve even used russets, but I’ll note that russets are also quite dense, which isn’t the perfect texture. They do work, though.
You have your apples.
The amount of apples you choose to use is up to you — you can tweak this recipe from two apples to twelve. Doesn’t matter, really.
Peel the apples.
Slice the apples — not too thin but not too thick, either. I don’t know the measurement here but you know what I mean. Not, like, mandoline thin, you don’t want them to melt. Again, we need slices to stand up to the cooking.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a medium or large pot over med-heat.
Toss in the apples.
Sprinkle with salt.
Let the apples cook a couple minutes, while stirring often so that there’s not any browning or anything.
Then, put in enough orange juice so that it’s maybe not quite halfway up to the top of the apples. Definitely not enough to cover the apples. It’s okay if you don’t use enough, you can add more later. For now the goal is twofold: first, to soften the apples, and second, to impart the orangey flavor.
Which yes, sounds strange. I used to do this with apple cider (the non-hard variety) and it’s great, truly, but the orange… adds a magical dimension to it? I think it’s like how some apples actually have a citrus component to them already, and therefore this lends itself a curious complexity that only deepens when you add your spices: a generous spranklin’ of cimmanon, er, cinnamon; a pinch of clove; a pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg. Can also do a pinch of ginger if that is a flavor you like.
At this point, you’re just going to cook down the apples fo 15-20 minutes over that medium heat — the goal here is to reduce the orange juice while softening the apples. Don’t over-stir, because you don’t wanna mash the apples. But you also don’t want the heat to cook them to the pot-bottom, so, move them gently now and again with a soft spatula or perhaps a baby’s hand, because baby hands are very gentle wait no my lawyer is telling me now do NOT, repeat, do NOT use any part of a baby to stir hot food. Cold food, okay, fine. Not hot food. Whew. Thank the gods for legal counsel.
The orange juice will get kinda syrupy. This is ideal. The apples will soften, but still maintain their shape and relative structure. This is also ideal.
It is at this point you can be done if you want to be.
I will, sometimes, add in a splash of really good maple syrup or brown sugar right at the end. Or, if after tasting you find it too sweet, a squirt of lemon juice over it is good. Basically, you want to work to still find that sweet/tart balance, and if that means adding some stuff, do so.
And that’s it.
What to do with this?
Besides, you mean, shoveling it into your mouth and making happy sounds?
Well, it goes great on oatmeal — cooked fresh or overnight oats.
It’s delicious with granola or toasted nuts.
Warm it back up and pop some vanilla ice cream in there, and it’s basically like ice cream on pie, just without the crust.
Or, crumble in some graham crackers and eat it that way.
You could even use this in an apple pie, since sometimes there’s benefit to pre-cooking your apples in a pie so that they don’t shrink and cause air gaps in the top crust.
I am at this time reminded of a passage from the Scripture of Fieri, the Book of Flavortown 4:2 — “And lo, he said he would eat it on a flip-flop, and it would be good, and it was good.”
I dunno. Just fuckin’ eat it, it’s delicious. Apples are good for you.
YOU KNOW WHAT IS ALSO GOOD FOR YOU.
Reading is fundamental, so I hear, and so if you like apples, and you like books, and you like spooky shit, Black River Orchard awaits you. And I remind that if you pick up the book for the holidays and buy it from Doylestown Bookshop, I will sign and personalize the book. But wait, there’s more: I’ll gladly invent a new evil apple variety just for you, while also giving you an evil apple sticker. And we all like stickers. We’re all basically fourth graders at heart, aren’t we? If only I had a smelly marker to give you.
And as always, if you’ve checked out the book, or any of my books, or any book by any author, leaving a review at the usual review places is a huge help to us, and we thank you for it. A book like this in particular will thrive when people talk about it and share how much they love it — honestly, it’s how both The Book of Accidents and Dust & Grim reached their audiences.
And now I ask: what’s your favorite apple recipe?
*I note here that this recipe can also work to make a great applesauce. The tweaks: don’t need to cook the orange juice down so far; blend it with a hand-blender if you like it smooth or mash it with a potato masher if you need them sweet chunks; keep cooking after you blend/smash so that it loses a bit more of the liquid and the sweetness condenses further; the end.