Book Review

In Praise of Apples: A Harvest of History, Horticulture, & Recipes

by Mark Rosenstein

Lark Books, 50 College Street, Asheville, N. C. 28801. Phone: (704) 253-0467; Fax: (704) 253-7952 or toll-free: (800) 284-3388. Web: 1996. 176 pages. Hardcover. 9 by 12 inches. 190 color photos, apple and culinary glossary, recipe index. $34.95.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Bob Allen (5/1998)

In his book, "In Praise of Apples," author/chef/restaurateur Mark Rosenstein shares his on-going love affair with apples. For the last twenty years, he has held forth at The Market Place, an award-winning restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. He has trained with Madeleine Kamman and Simone Beck and has worked in the kitchen of Roger Vergé, at the Moulin de Mougins. The book presents some 66 recipes, using apples in beverages, breakfasts, main dishes, salads, soups, side dishes and desserts. The extraordinary collection of photographs -- some historical, some original -- display the dishes and show scenes related to all phases of apple growing and enjoyment.

The book, which the author says "isn't really a cookbook -- it's an adventure," begins with a chapter on choosing the right apple. Forty-seven apples, mostly antique or heirloom, are categorized as dessert, salad, cooking (pie, sauce), or cider. In the last category five apple varieties are distinguished as vintage, meaning that they have a good balance of sugar, acid and tannin; blending with other apples is not needed to make good cider. Unusual cider apples noted include Ashton Brown Jersey, Bulmer's Norman, Chisel Jersey, Michelin, Northwestern Greening, Smith's Cider and Sweet Coppin. Rosenstein encourages the consumer to look beyond the stock selection of apples available in most grocery stores to appreciate that "each of the thousands of different apple varieties is best used in particular ways." In the three years Rosenstein devoted to distilling his adventure with apples, he amassed a list of acknowledgments long enough to fill an entire page in his oversized book. He credits Peter Hatch of Monticello and Tom Burford of Burford Brothers Nursery for teaching him "about the two different types of orchards in our early history: the 'gentleman's orchard' and the seedling orchard." As CRFG member C.T. Kennedy has written, the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California, is a good example of a "gentleman's orchard."

Rosenstein points out that following the Battle of Hastings, the Normans introduced cider-making to England. Seedling orchards, in which every tree differed from its neighbor, were planted to guarantee farmers good cider blends. This practice, oddly enough, may have impeded the development of grafted varieties in England while in France dessert apples remained more popular than cider, encouraging the propagation of named cultivars.

One of the intriguing aspects of Rosenstein's use of apples in cooking is the concoction of several basic preparations that form a part of other recipes. Exemplary is an Apple Cider Reduction, where three cups of fresh or fermented cider are reduced to 1/2 cup by slow boiling and straining through cheesecloth. Rosenstein initially developed this reduction to thicken vegetable stocks. He says the cider reduction has the consistency of maple syrup and can be used on waffles or pancakes. It will keep for months in the refrigerator and can be frozen. Other recipes in which he uses it include smoked duck strudel, morel beignets, chicken timbales, ravioli with pancetta, papillote of trout, cider-glazed filet of beef, cider-cured country (air-dried) ham, pork tenderloin, chicken and apple sausage, cider soufflé and bread pudding. Among his other basic recipes are Cider Verjus (adapted from a Madeleine Kamman recipe) and Apple and Leek Stock. The stock appears in recipes for pistachio-crusted chicken breast, cider barbecued shrimp, paupiette of veal, turkey roulade, cider pot au feu, roulade of pork, creamy polenta, and apple, leek and potato soup. Rosenstein provides instructions for designing, planting and maintaining a backyard orchard as well as tips for canning, freezing and drying apples. Sidebars and photographs are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, enlivening the narrative with tidbits, mythical and factual, about apples and apple growers. Rosenstein's expression after sampling his Stone Fence Punch, reminding us that good fences make good neighbors, is wonderful.

Depending on the time of year, the apple enthusiast may have this book on the garden workbench for advice on planting a tree or two or perhaps in the den for planning on coping with the fall harvest or in the kitchen for help in preserving a bushel of fresh apples or on the bedside table for selecting the varieties to plant during bareroot season. In any case, this multifaceted book will be wherever you need it -- not on a bookshelf.

© Copyright 1998, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
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