Maine is blessed with an abundance of apple trees, many planted generations ago by hardy homesteaders. Because apples are highly adaptive plants, the deer and birds have spread the trees into the fields and forests. This has been a productive year for Maine apples. Trees with bright red and golden orbs line the roads, often with piles of fruit on the pavement.
For our early ancestors, the apple was not just a sweet table fruit. Apples were a source of vinegar, a hearty beverage; cider, a sweetener; apple molasses, and animal feed.
Today we are rewarded with the fruits of their orchards, and the subtle flavors, textures and aromas of dozens of varieties. Bright red apples made into delicate pink sauce, cinnamon flecked apples in pies or crisps, tart apples for snacks, and freshly pressed apples in tangy cider.
While there are hundreds of varieties of apples, they fall into just four major categories: firm-tart, firm-sweet, tender-tart, and tender-sweet. Firm-tart apples like Granny Smith, Rhode Island Greening and Northern Spy and firm-sweet apples like Golden Delicious and Pink Lady are best for baking. Tender-tart apples like McIntosh, Cortland and Macoun break down easily during cooking, and make a superb sauce. Tender-sweet apples, like Gala and Fuji are delicious in salads and eaten out of hand.
Apple picking is a favorite family activity, and this is a wonderful time to take an outing to your local orchard. Taste different apple varieties, learn about the year-round cultivation of apple trees, and bring home some apples to store for winter.
Baking a pan Apple Gingerbread Muffins is a fun way to continue the educational opportunities in the kitchen. Learning to peel and core an apple is an invaluable skill, appropriate for kindergarten–age and older folks. Knife knowledge is the foundation of becoming a chef, and often the difference between loving or hating to cook.
These muffins, or little snack cakes, are both delicious and nutritious. My second- grade cooking students loved preparing these treats, especially the hands-on opportunities to measure, grate, mix, portion, and bake. Once cooled, the cakes were topped the cakes with a dollop of whipped cream and proudly shared them with the school.
APPLE GINGERBREAD MUFFINS
- 2 medium apples
- ¼ cup canola oil or melted butter
- ½ cup applesauce
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup molasses
- 1 cup hot water
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 16 muffin cups or 3 dozen mini muffin cups.
- Peel and grate the apples. You should have about 1-1/2 cups. Set aside.
- In a small bowl or 2-cup liquid measure, whisk together the canola oil or melted butter, applesauce, egg, and molasses. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the whole-wheat flour, cinnamon, ginger and baking soda.
- Fold in the grated apples.
- Mix in the molasses mixture, and then stir in the one-cup of hot water.
- Portion batter into muffin tin.
- Bake in 350-degree oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 15 - 20 minutes.
- Remove muffins from pan and let cool on a rack. Makes 16 regular size muffins.