Apples, the Valentine’s Day gift without peer

Russell Powell Recipes, Seasonal Leave a Comment

Apples are symbols of love, healthy, sensual, and delicious. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The apple is a symbol of love, health, and sensuality; it’s also delicious. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

WITH VALENTINE’S DAY just a few days away and bitter cold temperatures expected, seduce your loved one with a healthy and more flavorful alternative to candy: apples.

Apples are nutritious, naturally sweet symbols of beauty. There are plenty of New England apples still available that are excellent for cooking or fresh eating.

You will be doing your sweetheart a favor by serving apples, satisfying their sweet tooth while promoting a long and healthy life. Apples contain phytonutrients, chemical substances that play an important role in maintaining good health and preventing disease. The phytonutrients in apples help regulate and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels.

Apples contain polyphenols, which protect cells and tissues from free radicals — molecules that can cause damage by attaching to cell membranes, DNA, and proteins.

There’s lots more:

  • A medium-sized apple has only about 80 calories.
  • Apples have plenty of dietary fiber, and they are a good source for potassium and Vitamin C.
  • Two apples a day cut one’s risk of stroke by nearly one-third.
  • Fresh apples keep teeth clean and massage gums.
  • Apples contain pectin, a soluble fiber that encourages beneficial bacteria to grow in the digestive tract.
  • Eating an apple before exercise increases endurance, as quercetin, a polyphenol found in apples, makes oxygen more available in your lungs.
  • Eating an apple before a meal is a good strategy for people trying to lose weight.

The highest concentration of nutrients in an apple is in and just under the skin, so it is best to eat apples unpeeled.

In addition to their many healthful qualities, buying local sends a loved one a powerful political message as well, supporting New England’s orchards and the regional economy.

Impressive as these virtues are, though, they are not especially romantic. Apples need to be more than wholesome and locally grown to make an impact on your sweetie. They must be mouth-watering delicious, sensuous, and evoke love and beauty. In these, the apple has no peers.

No story about the apple’s irresistible appeal is more telling than Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden. The apple works on all the senses: colorful, fragrant, crunchy, crispy, brimming with juice. Smooth and shapely, an apple is as beautiful to touch as it is to behold, fitting snugly in the palm of one’s hand.

Golden apples have symbolized beauty and desire over centuries and across cultures. They appear in fairy tales from Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, and Russia. In Norse mythology, golden apples grant immortal life to the gods.

Golden apples figure prominently in several Greek myths about beauty and love. Eris, the goddess of discord, outraged that she was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis, threw a golden apple inscribed “for the fairest” before the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera.

The three argued over who should get the apple, and Zeus was unwilling to decide. He directed the mortal Paris, a Trojan shepherd boy, to answer the question instead.

The goddesses attempted to bribe Paris. Hera, queen of Olympus, told Paris she would grant him power to rule the world. Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, promised to make him a great strategist in battle.

Aphrodite, goddess of love, trumped them both, offering Paris the love of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world (never mind that Helen was married to the king of Sparta at the time). Paris awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite, and she helped him elope with Helen to Troy, launching the Trojan War.

Aphrodite used golden apples again to help a mortal named Melanion marry the brilliant athlete Atalanta. Atalanta had pledged to marry only if a suitor beat her in a foot race. At Aphrodite’s instruction, as Melanion and Atalanta raced, he threw a golden apple ahead of her whenever he fell behind. Each time, Atalanta stopped to pick the apple up, and she lost the race.

Fresh or baked, the apple’s sweet, seductive sensuality makes it a perfect gift on Valentine’s Day. Here is a recipe that is bound to make a powerful impression on your loved one.

Valentine’s Day Apple Pies

Yield: 1 dozen mini pies

Crust (may be made ahead, refrigerated for 3 days)

2/3 c pecans

4 T raw cane sugar

1/2 t salt

1-3/4 c white whole-wheat flour

6 T cold butter, cut in small pieces

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 T water

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In food processor, pulse pecans, sugar, and salt until finely ground.

Add flour and pulse.

With motor on, add butter a little at a time until well mixed.

Add egg and water and process until mixture starts to clump together.

Press 1/4 cup dough in bottom and up sides of each ungreased muffin cup.

Prick the bottom of each with a fork.

Bake 6-8 minutes or until crusts are set and edges light brown.

Cool on a wire rack.

Reduce oven to 350°F.

Filling

4 crisp New England apples, like Cortland, Honeycrisp, or McIntosh, unpeeled, cored, and diced

1/3 c raw cane sugar

3 T lemon juice

1-1/2 t cinnamon

1/8 t nutmeg

1 T white whole-wheat flour

In large saucepan, combine all ingredients except flour.

Cook on medium-high, stirring for 1 minute until sugar melts.

Reduce to medium heat, cover, and cook 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until apples start to soften.

Remove from heat, and stir in flour. Cool slightly.

Spoon 2 tablespoons filling into each muffin cup.

Topping (may be made ahead, refrigerated for 3 days)

1/2 c steel-cut oats

2 T white whole-wheat flour

2 T raw cane sugar

2 T coconut oil

1/4 t cinnamon

pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.

Press 1 tablespoon topping onto each pie.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until topping is lightly browned.

Cool at least 15 minutes before removing.

Run sharp knife around pie edge; pry pie out with butter knife.

Serve with slices of cheddar cheese.

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It is especially important at this time of year to keep apples cold. The days of soft apples in late winter and spring are long gone, thanks to sophisticated techniques like controlled atmosphere (CA) storage.

The apple you buy now should be nearly as crisp as the day it was picked — as long as it has been kept cold from farm to table. If apples have been displayed for too long in produce aisles or if they are not refrigerated at home (41°F or colder), they can get soft, no matter where they come from or what time of year it is.

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