Two weeks ago my wife was at the end of a seven day stretch of third shift. By day six I was running ideas of what to do with the kids so she could sleep in peace when she arrived home at 8am. We’d run out of errands to do, we’d played at the pool a couple of times and we’d visited playground outside our general area. We had pretty much done it all and I’d run the kids pretty ragged all week, but I still had two more mornings to keep them occupied and out of the house.
Then, just as I had resigned myself to a day at the house letting them consume movies by the bushel, I got an email letting me know that the next day would be the first “pick your own” day for apples at a local orchard. And while I knew it would be early for any apple worth biting into, I figured I could find enough things to do with them that it would be worth the trip.
Here in North Carolina the apple harvest has been hit hard by the weather this year. It got warm early, then a frost really did some damage as a good deal of the crop in Hendersonville, a major producer of apples, was lost. As a result, I kept my expectations low and decided to just have some fun with the kids.
They had fun roaming the orchard, looking for apples that looked red enough to pick, running from the chickens and pigs native to the adjacent farm, and, of course, eating the first apple cider donuts of the season. The farm even had a little homemade hard apple cider for the adults, which was consumed while the kids were fast asleep after a very long week.
But what of the apples? Well, to be blunt, they weren’t very good. My son remarked that they reminded him more of lemons than apples, and I couldn’t disagree. They were very tangy and acidic, so I tried storing them in a brown paper bag with a few bananas to see if I could speed up the ripening process some. After a few days they got a little better, but not enough where the kids had any interest in eating them.
Some friends of ours and their kids came apple picking with us, which left us with quite a bit of apples that were generally inedible. So, I did the only thing I know how to do with a giant bag of apples that weren’t going to be eaten before they go bad – make apple butter. This time around I decided to mix things up and add some maple syrup into the batch after the apples had cooked down some. It was a nice, albeit subtle addition, to the recipe that I think helped round out some of the overt tartness.
After the apple butter was done I still had a handful of apples that I didn’t know what to do with. Some of them made it into an apple crisp that we brought to a cook out we were invited to, while I took the rest of the apples in a different direction: I pickled them.
Pickling apples in something that I’ve wanted to try for some time and just never got around to trying. Well, now seemed like as good a time as ever, so I dug up the link I’d been saving and got to work making Honey Ginger Pickled Apple Rings. They were very easy to prepare, just a handful of ingredients brought to a boil, then poured over a jar full of apples.
After a few days getting happy in the refrigerator we were more than happy with the results. They were tangy, sweet, acidic, and very refreshing thanks to the ginger. My wife even speculated that they would be really good with a pile of pulled pork, which has me playing around with pickled apple slaw ideas as I write this.
If you’re adventurous enough, I’d highly recommend giving these pickled apple rings a shot. If not, then you could always try your hand at some maple apple butter if you’ve got more apples than eager consumers on hand.
Honey Ginger Pickled Apple Rings
recipe by Chef Peter McCarthy of EVOO in Cambridge, MA
- 1 quart water
- 3/4 cup honey
- 3/4 cup cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup sherry vinegar
- 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
- 3 star anise
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries
- zest of one lemon
- 10 sweet-tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced into rings (or cut into wedges, if you prefer)
- Combine everything but the apples in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes
- Put the rings (or wedges) into four one quart jars and ladle the hot liquid over the apples
- Add the ginger slices and star anise, if desired
- Screw on lids to jars and refrigerate for up to 3 months, or process to preserve longer
Maple Apple Butter
- 4-5 pounds apples, peeled, cored and diced (or shredded)
- 1 1/2 cups apple cider
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Zest of one lemon
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 cup cane sugar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon Malden sea salt
- Combine apples, lemon juice and zest, apple cider, water, cinnamon sticks and vanilla is a dutch oven
- Bring to a boil on the stovetop and then place in a 300 degree oven for 2 to 3 hours
- Remove cinnamon sticks, puree with immersion blender, strain through a fine sieve and return to dutch oven
- Add sugar, salt and maple syrup and bring up to a simmer on the cooktop, then cook at 300 degrees for 4 to 5 more hours, or until it reaches desired thickness
- Funnel into sterilized mason jars, seal and refrigerate, or process to preserve for longer