I so look forward to apples coming into season in the fall. I’ve never been one to buy produce out of season, shipped around the planet so that one can have any type of fruit or vegetable at any time of year. It’s environmentally-unfriendly, the produce is far from its peak of perfection because of all the logistics involved in getting it from farm to market, and it takes all the pleasure out of savoring the first offerings of the year’s local produce. When you can buy asparagus and strawberries from the southern hemisphere in the dead of winter, do you really crave them come spring and summer when the local farmers bring their crops to market?
In all things relating to cooking, I opt for simple over fussy, and the least amount of ingredients, the best that they can be. Take the famous French Tarte Tatin, which has only four ingredients: apples, butter, sugar and flour. Ok, five if you take the optional whipped cream or crème fraiche, though you could be accused of gilding the lily.
The story behind this dessert goes back to the mid-1800s at a country inn by a railroad station in the forested area 100 miles south of Paris called the Sologne, which was popular with Parisians wanting a weekend in the country. Two sisters ran a lively inn and restaurant, providing honest country fare for the city folk. History has it that this dessert was invented by mistake, that one of the sisters left the apples on the fire too long, resulting in the sugar and apples being caramelized. Rather than tossing the lot, she put a round disc of pastry over the top and popped it in the oven until the pastry was cooked then turned it upside down for service. Et voilá, a classic was born.
At first, the recipe sounds off-putting, even a little dangerous during the move to right side up. But after a couple of tries, it becomes like second hand, and it will surely become part of your fall repertoire. The only apples to use are those that will keep their shape during cooking and not turn to applesauce. Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji or Jonathan are best; my preference is for a slightly under-ripe Golden Delicious. And do try substituting firm pears for the apples, which are equally delicious. A firm Bosc or a slightly under-ripe Anjou will both work well.