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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Apples -- A Truly Autumn Crop

Have you ever noticed that the apples you buy in the spring and summer are soft and pithy and not worthy of your expectations?

Apples may appear on the produce stands all year round, but they are historically an autumn crop. Since they can be grown farther north than any other kind of tree fruit, apples like to blossom later in the spring, when the flowers are not as likely to be damaged by frost. A late blossom means a late arrival for the fruit, and they generally will taste best in the harvest months.

Surprisingly, apples are members of the rose family. Wild roses have similar blossoms to the apples’, and rose hips and apples are also alike in form, although quite different in size. Other close relatives include pears, cherries, peaches and plums.

Unfortunately, apples are high on the list for pesticide spraying, so I always recommend choosing organically grown whenever possible. Local is best too, so don’t forget the farmer’s market before the season winds down.

There are thousands of varieties of apples. Some lend themselves to eating right out of the hand, while others are transformed after baking. Right off the tree, I like the crisp sweet varieties best, like fuji, gala and braeburn; but for a world-class pie or apple crisp, go for a tarter one like pippin, gravenstein or granny smith.

“An apple a day” is right on for colon health. One apple, eaten whole with the skin, has nearly 17 percent of the recommended daily fiber intake. They also make a perfect food for the dry Indian summer and autumn months due to their moistening and cooling properties that soothe dry, hot lungs and reduce thirst. Apples make a good fever-reducing remedy, too. Try grating them and giving them to feverish kids.

Raw Almond Apple Pie
Yield: one 8- or 9-inch pie

If you crave a healthy dessert that gently lifts you into the Indian summer and harvest season, this one is for you. This pie is so sweet, fresh and fulfilling, you really won’t miss the “real” thing, especially if served with a dollup of nut cream (recipe below) on the side.

ALMOND CRUST
2 cups almonds
1 1/2 cups pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean pod, scraped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

FILLING
2 apples, grated
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
6 apples, cored and rough chopped
1 1/2 cups (about 30) pitted dates, soaked in water 30 minutes
1 cup raisins, soaked in water 30 minutes
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons psyllium powder (see note)
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds, and another 1/4 cup for garnish

For the crust, oil an 8- or 9-inch pie plate. Process the almonds in a food processor until finely ground (you can also leave them a little course for texture, if desired). Add the dates, vanilla and salt; process until incorporated. Press the crust into the prepared pie plate.

Mix the grated apples and the lemon juice in a large bowl.

Blend the rough-chopped apples, dates, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and almond extract in a food processor until puréed. With the processor running, gradually sprinkle in the psyllium, and blend until thoroughly incorporated.

Fold the apple purée and 1/2 cup of the sliced almonds into the grated apples. Turn the filling into the prepared crust and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup almonds over the top for garnish. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours before serving.

Note: Psyllium is a seed that is extremely high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. In powdered form, it is used to thicken raw custards and sauces. Make sure to purchase it powdered, as the whole husks won't break down enough to go undetected. You can find psyllium in the bulk aisle or in the supplements section at your local natural foods market.

Nut Cream
Yield: about 3/4 cups

This versatile recipe can be used for a variety of purposes. If blended with very little water, it can be frosted over cakes and dolloped on to pies or fruit. Use more water, and it transforms into a sweet and healthy replacement for cream in your favorite recipes.

1/2 cup fatty nuts (cashews, walnuts, macadamias, filberts) soaked in water 30 minutes (soak 8 hours to activate the enzymes, optional)
1/2 cup pitted dates, soaked in water 30 minutes (save soaking water)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend all the ingredients with just enough soaking liquid to make either a smooth, thick spreadable frosting or a thick, yet pourable sauce or cream.

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