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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farmers' Market Share: Caramelized Cardamom Apples

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge ALISSA NELSON
  • Alissa Nelson
Despite being an avowedly city-livin', farmers' market-shoppin', Fair Trade coffee-sippin' -- did I mention self-loathin'? -- walking cliché, I need to clear out my mind and lungs periodically.

Believe it or not, I actually grew up 45 minutes from the nearest city, where I was surrounded by pick-your-own options. The first warm days of spring were inevitably marked by my family squatting in the middle of a strawberry field, sneaking occasional berries while filling up a cardboard flat in the May sunshine. Summers were all about blueberries, massive quantities that would make your head spin.

Then when the weather got crisp, we would make a trek on narrow winding New England farm roads to one of the old orchards. If I was really lucky -- like, really REALLY lucky -- I would even get a caramel apple.

When I first moved to St. Louis, I missed apple season three years in a row. Who knew that it was over in October? Who knew that you could pick apples without wanting -- hell, needing -- hot apple cider at the end of the day? Y'all are crazy here.

While I miss my apples of Irish ancestry -- McIntoshes, Macouns and Courtlands, in particular -- I've come to appreciate the sun on my shoulders as I pick Ozark Golds and Jonathans. Last year, I discovered Mills Apple Farm in Marine, Illinois. I'm a girl of predictable tastes, and I was completely won over by their two dogs that jog alongside the tractor as you head out to the orchards. That aside, their farmers are lovely people, and they make a killer flaxseed cookie.

With all that down-hominess, you'd think I would be weaving my own basket crust for apple pie. Um, no. So even though I grew up in a little rural college town, we had a killer Indian restaurant in an old-school house building, where I first cut my teeth on coconut soup. For my first years of cooking, Indian food was the one thing that I refused to attempt, since I knew I couldn't do it as well as the professionals, nor did I have the time or inclination.

About a year ago I found myself seduced by the fantastic food photography in Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking, and I discovered that I could do a completely acceptable multicourse Indian feast in a totally reasonable length of time, dessert included. I'd consider these the grown-up version of the caramel apples of my youth, a fitting reward for my hard work in the orchards.

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