Farm to Restaurant: Macoun Apples
Before "farm-to-table" was a culinary craze, it was simply the way everyone ate. Today's discriminating eaters may be hyper-aware of where their food comes from, but do they know how it got there? How do farmers select their crops? Why do chefs choose a particular variety of fruit or fowl? In this occasional series, we talk to producers and chefs to see how food gets from Farm to Restaurant. In this installment: Macoun apples.
The wet summer washed out crops of rich, sweet tomatoes from local farmers’ markets, but “I’ll tell you something, it made some gorgeous apples,” says Jim Kent, who runs Locust Grove Farms with his dad and brother. Family-owned since 1820, the Hudson Valley farm grows 70 varieties of apples whose picking season begins in July and ends in early November. The Macoun (pronounced Ma-cown) peaks now; the Kents spot-picked, returning to trees three or four times, from mid-September through last week. Cornell University apple breeders named the cross between a Macintosh and a Jersey Black in the twenties “but nobody really liked it until the seventies. The flavor is intense; it’s crunchy; and it was the No. 1 requested eating apple until the Honey Crisp bumped it off,” says Kent. Summer pruning helped develop color this year, drawing customers to Locust's stands at Lincoln Center on Saturdays and Thursdays, in Union Square on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and on 97th Street on Fridays.
“I think Macouns have a really good sweet-tart flavor and water content to be sliced in the salad with watercress, arugula, frisée lettuce, endive, radicchio, celery root, kohlrabi, cabbage, parsley, and chives. We also make a dressing out of an apple butter made with Macouns and Jonah Macs because they’re a little bit mushier, with a higher pectin amount, so it makes a better butter. We take the apples, a little vinegar, some water, and cook it until it’s mushy, and pass it through a food mill. Then we add a certain amount of sugar and some spices to it and cook it down until it’s really thick. To make the dressing, we add red wine and balsamic vinegar, a little apple cider, and some canola oil. You know what the butter would also be really good in? You could also add it to a sauce at the end, like when you make gravy for pork and sauerkraut. It’s good for toast, or if you use preserves in tarts it would be good for that.”
“I love the Macoun because it’s not too tart and not too sweet — right in the middle, and the flavor when you bake it is nice. For the cake, I make Macoun apple sauce and then fold the hot apple sauce into a smooth batter. I also make an apple confit. You slice the apples very thin and make a burnt sugar for the bottom of a pan with piece or two of cinnamon and salt. Then you layer the apples like shingles with little bit of sugar in between, and I top it off with salt and lemon juice. You let it sit overnight so the sugar pulls the juice from the apples and the next day you cover it tightly and bake it in a water bath for five to six hours. It just makes the apples get really tender and full of a lot of flavor. Sometimes I do a Calvados ice cream with it and sometimes I do a cream-cheese ice cream.”
“Macouns have a wonderful tartness and a movie-sound-effect crunch. Texture is just as important to me as flavor. I just love them. I did a Macoun apple and celery root gratin with roasted duck and frisée salad. We layer celery root and slices of apple, sometimes I put in quince, with a little bit of cream that’s infused with fennel seed. It’s not super brown or cheesy [like some gratins], so it’s not about the goop. It has a really light quality. I think it’s hard to make food that’s light in the fall. I like having part of it showcase the richer flavor of the cooked apple, and the frisée has some raw apple to show the crispness.
The other dish I do is so simple. We give it to some diners like petits fours. I sauté wedges of Macoun with butter and lemon zest and a splash of sherry vinegar, and roll them in caramelized sugar like adult caramel apples.
I've been using Locust Grove for six years, going on seven. First of all, I like any stand that focuses. They really are about the apples, and the guys behind the booths are hilarious. A huge part of the new show [Alex’s Day Off premiering Sunday morning on the Food Network] is about wherever you are and shopping that you’re picking out great things, and the relationships you make where you shop can make your food better too. ”