I come from a place with no apples. I mean, the grocery store has apples, but they’re not really apples, having been trucked in from Washington or — I’m sorry, I really am, but I have to say it — flown in from New Zealand. They are bland, mealy little things; you eat them out of habit. Fresh-pressed cider is something you hear about, and then forget. Apple-cider donuts are an impossibility.
I realize that everyone else already knows about apples. But I have to write about them. They are in season, and they are so very, very good.
And here is at least a novel, if not entirely new, idea for apples: you should cook them. Yes, yes, of course there is apple pie — but I say you should cook them in sauces, and with meat. Caramelized apples, pan-fried in butter for a few minutes and with just a touch of salt, are delicious. They’re especially good with typically-German foods, like cabbage, sausage, and pork. With cabbage, I would wilt it for 2-3 minutes in butter and then toss it with thyme, a dash of wine vinegar, and the caramelized apples. With pork, I would try the following recipe — a variation on the American pork-with-applesauce combination.
Just to note: when you are buying apples, make sure they are local. New England has delicious apples, and right now, in October, they’re perfectly sweet and firm and tart. If it has a sticker, it’s probably not local. Local apples are likely to be smaller, firmer, and darker than imported apples. Look for local Macoun, McIntosh, Cortland and Empire varieties, among others. Or to be safe, go pick your own. And while you are there, get apple cider and apple-cider vinegar and apple-cider donuts and also more apples. And bring me along, too.
Recipe: Pork Chops with Caramelized Apples, Walnuts, and Thyme
Serves four. Active time: 30 minutes. Actual time: 30 minutes.
4 pork loin chops (with bone is fine)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
3 tbsp fresh thyme, or 1 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
1 cup walnuts
2 small- to medium-sized apples, cored and cut into 8 slices each
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup apple cider
1 cup apple cider vinegar, plus 2 tbsp more
Freshly ground pepper
(1) Turn the oven on to 250 degrees and toast the walnuts, crushed into small pieces, for 5 minutes, or until they become a light golden-brown color.
(2) Heat the olive oil in a large pan with a heavy bottom (to retain heat). Pat the pork chops dry with a paper-towel. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the pork chops (along with a good pinch of salt and a few cranks of the pepper grinder) and cook until the bottom sides are browned, then turn them and do the same, about 5 minutes each side. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic and 1 tbsp of the fresh thyme (or 1/2 tbsp of the dried), and cook the pork chops, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.
(3) Meanwhile, combine the cider, vinegar, and remaining thyme in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer 10 minutes. You want the liquid to reduce to a syrup. If too much liquid evaporates, add more vinegar and cider, in 2-to-1 proportions.
(4) At the same time, melt the butter in a separate saucepan over medium-high heat and cook the apples, stirring for 6-8 minutes. Be careful not to let the apples stick to the pan (so stir them often). When the apples are slightly golden, but still firm and not yet mushy, remove them from heat.
(5) Uncover the pork chops, and use a knife to check to see if they’re cooked through (there should be no pink, especially near the bone). If they are, raise the heat to medium-high and add the remaining 2 tbsp vinegar. Turn the chops once to coat them, and allow the vinegar to evaporate (it should take only a minute). Remove the chops from heat and place them on plates or a serving platter. Sprinkle walnuts and caramelized apples over the chops and finish by pouring cider-vinegar syrup over everything. Serve, and enjoy.