November is here, and many of us are reflecting on last year’s Thanksgiving feast, our homes filled with close and distant relatives, friends and friends of friends, our tables groaning with turkeys, mashed potatoes, yams, dressing, cranberry sauce, every imaginable vegetable and pies, cakes and more pies. But this year, another month of large traditional celebrations has evolved into small gatherings of only our closest family members and friends. However, we will not be discouraged because gratitude is eternal, and even in challenging times, we have much for which to give thanks.
This is the kind of rain
The earth loves most--
Not the surging downpour that floods and crushes
Then turns to nothing.
This rain falls and falls in a generous dance
That will sustain the oaks
When the dry days come
And everything devoids of damp.
This rain makes the primroses laugh--
This gentle bath that cradles them
Deep into night when the jeweled face of the moon
Sways behind her lacy veil.
And when the morning yawns
Gray as a sweet kitten,
Even then the rain plays on,
Touching the rosemary deep between her toes.
There is a feeling of forever in this rain,
This soft friend who lulls us
Into the most delicious dreams,
Green dreams of mosses
And the Spirit’s wet wings.
Rain is not the only cause for gratitude. The cool weather turns the outdoors into a wonderland of vivid colors as the leaves turn from every shade of green to red, yellow and dark rich brown. This is the harvest time, when pumpkins abound along with sweet orange yams, crunchy nuts and the best autumn fruit of all—Apples! Let’s be grateful for apples and remember the first Thanksgiving when Native Americans hosted immigrants from England in a simple meal of wild turkey, venison, clams, shellfish, corn, squash, nuts and apples. Oops! We’re not so sure about the apples. While crabapples are native to North America, apples are not.
We do know that the Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony brought apple seeds with them and planted apple trees from seeds. However, those first apple orchards in America were certainly not thriving by the fall of 1621 when the first Thanksgiving feast was held to celebrate a successful harvest. And since neither butter nor wheat flour was available at that time, there were no pies for dessert, not even pumpkin pies, though pumpkin might have been on the menu as a savory vegetable.
Today, apples are the largest commercial fruit crop in America. This beautiful fruit, which can be enjoyed either raw or cooked, is popular now throughout the world. In America, 2,500 varieties of apples are grown, and there are 7,500 varieties world-wide. It may surprise us to learn that geneticists have determined that apples are actually indigenous to Kazakhstan. But this luscious fruit has traveled east, west, north and south from its place of origin, and now China is the largest producer of apples in the world, putting the United States in second place.
Sadly for me, apples do not grow in Hawaii, but we are able to get good quality apples shipped over from New Zealand. If you live in an apple growing region, now is the time to visit your local orchard and stock up for all your autumn baking projects, especially Thanksgiving cakes and pies. If you happen to have an apple tree in your own yard, you are fortunate indeed. Our website (myteaplanner.com) can help you get started with all kinds of apple-related recipes from all over the world. But first, I highly recommend that you read, or re-read, my co-author Kathleen Pedulla’s beautifully illustrated October 2020 blog, “Getting Ready for Pie Season.” She will teach you everything you need to know to create a perfect pie crust and inspire you to bake a beautiful Thanksgiving Apple Pie.
Here’s a quick survey of some of the apple cakes, pastries, puddings and desserts available on our website and previous blogs:
My March 2017 Blog: “Relishing Russia”
Apple Sharlotka: I was served this light, spongy Apple Cake, containing chopped fresh apples several times during my travels in Russia. Simply sprinkled with a little powdered sugar, it is delicious and perfect in the afternoon with strong coffee or hot spiced tea.
My October 2016 Blog: “Dining on the Danube”
Easy Apple Strudel: As our ship cruised down the river, I attended a cooking class taught by our on-board Austrian chef. While his recipe for authentic Apple Strudel seemed daunting, I was able to fine an easy adaptation using store-bought phyllo pastry. You will love it.
My December 2019 blog: “Holiday Homage”
Rudy Pedulla’s Watsonville Caramel Apple Spice Cake: This recipe, created by my brother-in-law Rudy, who knows his California cuisine, produces the queen of apple cakes. It is everything a very special Thanksgiving or Christmas cake should be—rich, dense, packed with spices, chopped apples, raisins and nuts, and crowned with a rich caramel icing that begs to be decorated with a few candied cranberries or sprigs of holly.
From “The Tea Book” section of the website:
Afternoon Tea and the Four Seasons: “An Autumn Afternoon Tea”
Warm Spiced Cider: Nothing says autumn like a pot of hot apple cider warming on the stove with a ladle and cups nearby for guests to help themselves. Make it special by floating orange and lemon slices on top and tossing in a few whole cloves and a cinnamon stick. The fragrance will fill your home with festivity.
Apple Butter Bars: You will want to make these oatmeal shortbread bars filled with apple butter and topped with streusel every year for the holidays. This year you can give your family an extra treat by making your own Apple Butter. Look for my recipe at the end of this blog.
A Calendar of Tea Parties:
September, “An Ozark Farm Harvest Tea”
Ozark Pudding: (Apple and Walnut Baked Dessert): This humble pudding is my late sister, Margaret Murdock Pedulla’s recipe. It celebrates the beauty of autumn in our home state of Missouri and the black walnuts and apples that thrive in the Ozark region where we were born. Serve this pudding warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream, or just pour some heavy cream over each serving.
August, “A North American Family Reunion Tea”
Spiced Apple Gelatin: This is one of my favorite recipes of all time. I have served it in every season of the year because everyone loves gelatin, and there is something magic about making your own. I often include Spiced Apple Gelatin in the Thanksgiving meal because, like Cranberry Sauce, its intense sweet and tart flavor complements the turkey and dressing. I always use Martinelli’s Apple Cider, and the inclusion of lemon and cinnamon create a bright note of holiday cheer. This condiment or dessert, whichever you prefer, is a visual wonder of glittering golden color and deserves to be made in a decorative mold and served on a cake pedestal.
Apple Butter originated in the Middle Ages in Northern Europe, especially Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Monasteries that maintained large apple orchards produced Apple Butter to save a portion of their crop that otherwise would not stay fresh throughout the winter. Over time, making Apple Butter became a seasonal community activity in farms and villages throughout Europe. Apple Butter is cooked for a long period of time—about two hours, resulting in a deep brown color due to the intense caramelization of the apples. This high sugar content makes Apple Butter last much longer than Apple Sauce. Interestingly, Apple Butter contains no butter. Its name comes from its thick, butter-like texture. Apple Butter has been popular in America since the Colonial Period among the Pennsylvania Dutch and Northern European immigrants who settled in Appalachia.
As a native of the Ozarks, where apples are everywhere and fried apples are considered a vegetable to be eaten with Chicken Fried Steak, I have been in love with Apple Butter all my life. In my childhood, I found something intriguing about the rich brown color, so different from an actual apple. A transformation had taken place. And the aroma-- the essence of autumn! Apple Butter smells like Pumpkin Pie, and it tastes so much better than boring Applesauce. Someone went to a lot of trouble to turn familiar everyday apples into something magical. I have always been grateful to the grandmas, mothers and aunts who took the time to make Apple Butter. Now I am one of them.
A supply of Apple Butter in the fridge or pantry opens up many happy possibilities. Peanut Butter Sandwiches are so much more fun in the autumn with piles of Apple Butter inside instead of jam or jelly. Apple butter can go on top of the morning oatmeal. And it can be stirred into a carton of plain yogurt for lunch. Of course, Apple Butter can also be included in a wide variety of baking projects. In addition to Apple Butter Bars, you can make Apple Butter Thumbprint Cookies, Apple Butter Cake, or you can swirl a cup of Apple Butter into a cheesecake recipe for a festive and fragrant autumn twist. I am happy to include a recipe for Apple Butter Pie made with Home Made Apple Butter at the end of this blog.
This recipe for Home Made Apple Butter produces a very intense sweet and savory flavor because of the inclusion of both spices, lemon and kosher salt. Do not peel the apples, but core them and cut them into small pieces. For my homemade Apple Butter, I used large Envy Apples from New Zealand, but you can choose the best apples from your region. One recipe that I consulted recommended Honeycrisp.
- 6 large apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into small pieces (about 10 cups)
- 1 cup light brown sugar, rounded and packed
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup bourbon (optional)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- zest and juice of 1 small lemon
Special equipment: paring knife, citrus zester and citrus squeezer, large cooking pot or Dutch oven with lid, large wooden spoon, immersion blender (or food processor), 2 pint-sized glass jars with lids or 2 medium sized bowls with tightly fitting covers.
Makes: about 4 cups
- Core and dice the apples and place the pieces directly into a large Dutch oven or cooking pot. Add all of the remaining ingredients to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- Reduce the heat to low and place the lid on the pot at an angle to allow steam to escape. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples become very soft and most of the liquid is absorbed. This process will take between 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours. Watch carefully toward the end to make sure the mixture doesn’t start to burn.
- Remove the pot from the stove and cool for 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender, work the mixture until it is smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can puree the cooled mixture in a food processor or blender.)
- Pour into jars or bowls with tightly fitting lids and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Apple Butter Pie
This old-fashioned autumn dessert would be a welcome introduction to your Thanksgiving table. It contains the same spices as Pumpkin Pie and has a similar, custard-like texture. You can make your Apple Butter Pie with a single crust, or with a decorative lattice top crust. As I mentioned earlier, Kathleen’s October 2020 blog will give you all the details about making pie crust. Alternatively, don’t be shy about buying a package of Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts. My recipe for Apple Butter Pie includes a buttery streusel topping with oatmeal, brown sugar and toasted almonds.
Preheat oven to 350° F
Special equipment: deep 9” pie pan, small and large mixing bowls, hand-held electric mixer, rubber spatula, pastry blender or fork, foil covered cookie sheet, wire cooling rack
Makes: one 9” pie, 6-8 servings
Pastry for a 1-crust pie (home-made or Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts)
- For the Streusel Topping:
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into cubes
- ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup rolled oats
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ cup sliced toasted almonds (or other chopped, toasted nuts)
- Place all of the Streusel ingredients in a medium sized bowl and mix until crumbly with a pastry blender or fork.
- Set aside as you prepare the pastry. Cover the Pie Crust lightly with a dampened paper towel as you prepare the Pie Filling.
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup Apple Butter
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk or half and half (I used half and half.)
- In a small mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon and set aside. In a large mixing bowl with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs lightly until combined. Add the sugar mixture and beat just until no lumps are visible. Stir in the Apple Butter and mix on low speed until all the ingredients are incorporated. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Gradually add the milk or half and half, beating on low speed just until combined.
- Place the prepared pie shell on the foil-lined cookie sheet and pour the Apple Butter mixture into the pie shell. Bake in the pre-heated 425 F oven for 10 minutes.
- Lower the heat to 350 F, open the oven and sprinkle the reserved Streusel Topping evenly over the filling, reaching to the edges of the crust and covering all the filling. Bake for an additional 45-50 minutes until a sharp knife or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before cutting. This pie is delicious at room temperature or cold. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.