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Ireland: Apple Amber

The apple, as one of the few fruits that grows really well in the Irish climate, has been held in high regard everywhere in this island for thousands of years. Before the new religion came in from the East, apples and apple trees were considered important enough to be looked after by the mighty Celtic virgin goddess Brigit herself. And in the Brehon law-code of a millennium ago, apple trees were protected to an extraordinary extent. Whoever damaged an apple tree belonging to someone else was liable to pay a fine of several head of cattle, and a landlord whose tenant was moving on was required to compensate the tenant on departure for any apple trees the tenant had planted during his stay.

As a food and as a basis for drink, the apple remains heavily cultivated here, though naturally Ireland imports apples from many other regions when the local varieties are out of season. And it would be a rare farmyard that didn't feature a few apple trees for cooking and cider-making purposes.

Apple Amber is one of those Irish recipes that plainly involves the cook strolling out to the tree on a whim, pulling a few green cooking apples off it, and taking them back inside to quickly turn them into something unusually nice to end the meal. But the fact that the apples are cooked before baking suggests that this method was meant to work well with storage apples as well, the fruit that had been put away in straw in the cold cellar to last until the first new fruit of the next summer and fall started coming in.

Originally, apple amber was usually constructed as a crustless pie: the grated apple was briefly cooked, seasoned and sweetened (cider vinegar was probably used when lemons were hard to get) and then baked by itself in a pie dish: then meringue was piled on top and the dish returned to the oven just long enough to brown it. More recent versions of the recipe call for the addition of a pie crust. We've used a crust on this version, as it does a nice job of soaking up the juices produced by the fluffy apple mousse as it bakes.

Click on "read more" for the recipe and method.   

Ingredients:

  • Pastry dough for a single-crust pie
  • 4 cooking apples, totaling about 1 pound, cored and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Juice of one lemon, strained
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 4 ounces sugar, or to taste

First, prepare the pie crust in a suitable pie dish. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180° C / 350° F.

Grate the apples on a coarse grater (or the grating disc of a Cuisinart or other food processor). Add the 2 tablespoons of water to a small heavy pot, heat until steaming, add the apples, and cook over medium heat until the grated apple reduces itself to a puree. (The apple bits do not have to completely disappear into the puree. It's all right to leave some texture.) Remove from heat.

Beat the egg yolks slightly. Add the lemon and three-quarters of the sugar to the apple puree: then add the egg, and stir well. Spoon the mixture into the pie shell and bake for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, start beating the egg whites, adding the remaining sugar gradually as you continue beating. Whip until stiff peaks form. When the pie has had its first twenty minutes in the oven, remove it and spread the meringue over the top of the pie, sealing it to the edges of the crust. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until nicely browned.

Serve hot or cold.

 

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