Perhaps because my husband and I spend part of our time in a retired part of the New England countryside, where ruined chimneys surrounded by a few gnarled McIntosh apple trees are often the only sign of former human habitation, this apple is to me a favorite—a rugged symbol of the Yankee will to live.
The apple was named for John McIntosh, a loyalist to the English crown, who left the town of Schenectady at the time of the Revolution to resettle as a British subject in the frontier country of Ontario, Canada. Clearing a tract of forest land in the year 1796, he came upon a clump of young apple trees which he transplanted nearer to his house. One of these trees continued to live and bear fruit of an extraordinary flavor for 112 years—until killed by fire in 1908. The strain was propagated by the frontiersman's son, Allen McIntosh, through grafting from the original tree, and by the turn of the century was well established all over the Northeast.
The fragrant McIntosh is not the apple of your eye—not a candidate for the bon voyage basket. Dumpy, subdued in coloration (see opposite page), it is nevertheless an apple of your tooth. It is an apple of ineffable delight to munch in an autumn orchard or to cut up raw and eat at the end of a dinner party as the perfect foil to cheese and hot walnuts.
When cooked, the McIntosh is juicy and has a winy flavor. It makes the best pink applesauce in the world (cut up, unpeeled and uncored, boiled quickly with almost no water, strained and sweetened, if need be). Other apples may make better apple pies, apple compotes and apple dumplings. But this is the apple for such arcana as apple slump, apple float, apple Indian, apple crunch and apple butter—not to mention the brown Betty and the apple pan dowdy of early America.
TWO OLD-FASHIONED APPLE DESSERTS
There are many present-day variants and refinements of apple Betty, but I find this simple recipe the very best. It serves eight.
2 cups very coarse bread crumbs from crusty, stale, white French or brown Italian bread (more like the bread of our ancestors than regular bread)
½ pound butter, melted
8 pared McIntosh apples, sliced thin
½ cup water
Butter, light brown sugar, cinnamon
Soak crumbs in melted butter. Put a layer of sliced apples in baking dish that has been lavishly buttered. Sprinkle heavily with light brown sugar mixed with a little cinnamon. Cover with a layer of crumb mixture; top with other layers of apple slices, sugar, more crumbs, etc., till dish is filled, ending with layer of buttered crumbs. Sprinkle water on top. Bake uncovered in moderate oven 30 to 45 minutes or till apples are tender.
FOR VERY GOOD HARD SAUCE
Cream 1 cup of powdered sugar with½ cup butter; fold in the white of an egg, beaten stiff, and¼ cup of strong-flavored, dark rum, such as a Jamaica or a New England rum. Chill in freezing compartment before using.
Apple pan dowdy
A "receipt" that was given to me years ago by a nice old lady from Whitinsville, Mass. It makes a ravishing dessert that serves six.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE APPLE PART
7 McIntosh apples, cored
2 tablespoons butter in bits
1 cup sugar, brown and white mixed
1 cup molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ cup water
Slice apples unpeeled and put in deep, heavy pan with rest of ingredients. Boil very gently, stirring occasionally, 40 minutes covered, then 20 minutes uncovered.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE DOWDY PART
½ pound flour (half white, half whole meal flour, if possible)
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
¾ cup milk and water, mixed half and half
Extra milk and butter
Sift first four ingredients together into large bowl; stir in sugar, mix quickly into a dough (using hands) with melted butter, milk and water. Pat into flat cake slightly smaller than bottom of 9-inch piepan. Place in buttered pan; brush top with milk. Bake 35 minutes at 350°, then turn up oven to 450°; brush top of cake with melted butter, turn it over and bake 5 minutes more.
To serve, place half of hot apple mixture in round serving dish, place dowdy on top of it, cut in pie-shaped pieces. Cover with rest of apples. Reheat if necessary. Serve with foamy sauce, hard sauce or thick cream.
LOUISE DAHL-WOLFE/SERVING DISH FROM SHELLEY MARKS