Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jill's Fall Favorites

In my other life, I am an English Professor at Salem State College. But rather than pulling me off in a different direction, teaching at Salem State offers another way for me to explore what it means to live, shop, cook, and eat in New England.

Nearly all of my students are either New England natives or else have immigrated here. Like Jill, they know the names of the best apple orchards around and the seasons for oysters, lobster, and cranberries not because they are already locavores, but because those things are part of the landscape of New England. Others, like Ramon, know what it is to stare gloomily at the rows of imported tropical fruit and know that even in the heart of summer they will never taste as sweet and rich and thick as they do right off the vine. Ramon savors fall apples not only because when he was younger apples were a delicacy but because in the Fall they have, with a totally different taste, that same quality he can only long for in the mango: the whisps of fresh air that still cling to a vine-ripened, fresh-picked piece of produce.

This semester I’m teaching Composition, World Literature, and Food Writing. We’re blending analysis and practice as we read and write our way through the semester. We started with Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. Then Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle tansformed the way that at least two students eat. The two seasonal New England Cookbooks in print, Duncan MacDonald and Robb Sagendorph’s Old-Time New England Cookbook and Leslie Land’s Yankee New England Cookbook, left the students quite clear that a publication which successfully combines both a deep sense of New England tradition and a contemporary spin on ingredients and cooking directions remains to be written. One of their writing assignments was to compose a small section to go into that newer, better publication. The work was so good, that it belongs in the publication, and we’ll be posting it here from time to time.


The moans and groans of children all over the U.S. can be heard to mark the beginning of Fall. But the back to school season is not all Fall is famous for. In New England as soon as the leaves start to turn we know that fair season is right around the corner. Fairs have some of the tastiest, unhealthiest food you will ever eat. Anything and everything is fried or covered in sugar. Some of these tasty treats can be made right in your own home giving families the chance to have their own family fair. These fairs only come around once a year so put down the Weight Watchers book and go crazy.

Candy Apple
8 medium sized apples
8 wooden sticks
3 cups white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring

Wash and dry the apples. Remove any stems or leaves and insert a wooden stick into the end of each apple getting it as close to the top without poking through. Set apples aside. Heat and stir sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan until sugar has dissolved. Boil until the syrup reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, or until a little syrup dropped into cold water separates into breakable threads. Remove from heat and stir in cinnamon and food coloring. Dip one apple completely in the syrup and swirl it around a little with the stick to coat. Hold the apple above the saucepan to drain off excess. Place apple, with the stick facing up, on a well greased pan. Repeat with remaining apples. If syrup thickens or cools too much, simply reheat briefly before proceeding. Let cool completely before serving.
NOTE: For even more candy to your apple roll it in candies M&Ms, or for something a little healthier go for nuts or shredded coconut. This process should be done just after the syrup coating.

Apple Cider Donuts

2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup fresh apple cider
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons melted butter Vegetable oil Powdered sugar

Beat the eggs and the egg yolks together in large bowl, then gradually add cider and both brown and granulated sugar. Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and spices together and stir into egg mixture along with the melted butter. Stir only enough to mix. Turn dough out onto work surface, floured just enough so the dough won't stick as you roll it out. When dough is 1/2-inch thick, cut out donut shapes using a well-floured cutter and let them rest 5 minutes on lightly floured surface. Keep the holes to fry also. Heat enough oil to fill your frying pot to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. When it reaches 365 degrees F, drop 3 to 4 doughnuts in. They should not be crowded. As soon as they float to the top and are holding their shape, turn them. Fry until golden on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove as they are done and drain on absorbent paper. After they have cooled dust lightly with powdered sugar.