When I saw them in the store, I knew I just had to have them. I don’t know if they would have turned any other heads or whether I’m alone in my obsession. But there they were, heaped up in a basket: Stayman winesap apples. I doubt that they’d win an apple beauty contest, but there’s more than one kind of beauty, and when it comes to apples the proof is in the eating. Excellent for eating fresh, Staymans also bake into the most delicious pies. I quickly grabbed a bagful.
I didn’t have time to make the pies right away, so I popped the apples into one of the crisper bins in the refrigerator. That was some time in October. Two weeks ago, I finally had a few free moments to make the pie crusts, then peel, core, and slice the apples, and add spices.
In an effort to avoid sugar, I searched for a recipe with honey as the sweetener. The resulting pie was fabulous. But it occurs to me that apart from the crust and the basic sugar-and-spice mix, the quality of an apple pie has less to do with the recipe and more to do with the apples that go into it. The best apples for eating may not be the best for baking.
For instance, one of my favorite eating apples is the Macintosh. Unfortunately, this variety is perhaps the most ephemeral of apples: they bruise easily, and very quickly after picking get grainy and mealy and lose their bright, sweet flavor. Their lively taste and soft texture makes them excellent for applesauce but poor candidates for pie. Staymans, on the other hand, are fairly firm, with a thick skin. They hold up to baking, getting tender without becoming mushy and without filling the pie shell with liquid.
The website of the Arbor Day Foundation tells us that the Stayman apple (also known as Stayman winesap) is a cultivar developed in 1866 by Dr. Joseph Stayman of Leavenworth County, Kansas, (www.arborday.org). Also that the Stayman was “popular to pioneers for its ability to keep long during the winter and its wine-like taste ...,” according to a blog post by Sheereen Othman at http://arbordayblog.org.
The honeycrisp.com site describes Staymans as, “Firm and crisp . . . known for their . . . robust sweet-tart taste.” The site adds that, “Many love to make pies and bake with Stayman but a fresh Stayman apple is excellent for eating out of hand.” My experience exactly!
With precise refrigeration readily available, apples today can be stored and sold year-long; however, apples are still best closest to picking in September and October. Local farmers’ markets are a great place to try some different varieties and see which ones are your favorites.
I found my Staymans at Kimberton Whole Foods. From experience, I knew that they wouldn’t be there long, which is why I snagged some before I had any sense of when I’d have time to make pie. Sure enough, the next week the Staymans had been replaced by another variety. I felt sad, thinking that I’d have to wait another entire year before savoring that delicious flavor again.
My sadness didn’t last long, though. A friend listened to my story, and the following week handed me a bag containing six big, beautiful, Stayman apples. He said he’d found them at the West Chester Growers Market, from Fahnestock Farm.
If you’d like to try honey-sweetened apple pie, here are the ingredients that I used:
7 Stayman apples, peeled, cored, and sliced fairly thin
1/3 cup honey, heated until pourable
2 teaspoons cinnamonpinch each of cloves, nutmeg, and salt
1/3 cup flourThe seven apples were more than enough for a nine-inch pie crust. I baked the extra filling separately, without crust, in a glass baking dish.
Enjoy!Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” And check out Pam’s new book for children and families: Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets. Available at amazon.com.