When you grow up in the country in North Carolina in the 70s-80s, you learn a couple things about food. You learn that fresh is ALWAYS best, and you learn that looks aren’t everything when it comes to good taste.
Unless, of course, you’re a little kid to whom looks ARE everything. Especially when it comes to food. If it didn’t “look right” to me, chances are I was going to avoid it. It saved me from chitlins, that’s for sure, but it kept me from truly enjoying things like collard greens (couldn’t get past the fact that vinegar was in it, and I couldn’t think about vinegar without shuddering a little.)
So, my Grandma’s fried apples took a little hit, optically.
The thing is, my Grandma did everything right as far as cooking them. She washed and cut green apples off the trees in our backyard, She cooked them on low heat in a tablespoon of oil until it bubbled. She sprinkled sugar to taste. Then she turned up to medium and stirred gently to keep the apples from burning. Then she poured a little bit of water into the skillet and covered it, to allow the steam to further tenderize the apples.
Only problem – once the cover came off, the green skin turned olive green and the meat of the apple looked green as well. Remember, looks are everything to a little kid. So I never realized how good they were…
So, a place called Cracker Barrel emerged into my life. I went for the biscuits. I left with a new perspective on fried apples. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t taste those either. Because I wasn’t going to violate my Grandma’s cooking for anyone’s chain. But I noticed that their fried apples were green as well. It was like she had been doing it right the whole time, and I was the only one missing out. Shame on me.
Next time I went home, I begged my Grandma to show me again how she made fried apples. Naturally, she refused the first time I asked, because I refused to eat them as a kid. But grandsons can be awfully charming when they have to. And I pulled out all the charm I had, trust me.
We made that dish and I finally tried it…and I was struck by what I had missed on. Perfectly tart and sweet at the same time, and even the green skin was good. I apologized profusely for everything I had missed out on over the years.
She just patted me on the shoulder with a “It’s okay, baby boy, you just didn’t know. But now you know how to make it, you can make it yourself. And I’m proud of you for trying it out.”
So, I worked on trying to make it as good as Grandma’s for years. I think I finally got it. In fact, I think mine is better than Cracker Barrel, to be honest. But there’s only one way for you to find out, so I’m going to give it to you.
GRANDMA’S FRIED APPLES WITH A TWIST
- 2 lbs Granny Smith apples, cored and quartered (Note: keep the skin on for authenticity)
- 1/2 cup of sugar, divided into 1/4 cup each
- 2 tbsp of powdered Saigon cinnamon, divided
- 1/2 a stick of butter, divided in half
- 2 1/4 cups of water
- Cornstarch for thickening
- 1 ounce unprocessed apple cider
- 1 ounce of Calvados apple Brandy
- 1/8 tsp of apple cider vinegar (also for authenticity)
- In a large bowl, toss the apples, 1/4 cup of sugar, and a tablespoon of the cinnamon. Toss until the apples are completely covered.
- In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat half of the butter on low heat until it begins to bubble gently.
- Place the apples in the skillet and gently brown them on the heat. Only brown them very lightly, as you don’t want to burn them. Gently pour in 1/4 cup of water until the apples become slightly tender. Remove them from the pan.
- Place the other half of the butter into the pan with the 1/4 cup of sugar, and the remaining cinnamon, apple cider, brandy and vinegar. On low heat, gently stir the mixture until bubbling.
- Blend the other 1/4 cup of water with the cornstarch, until thoroughly mixed. Pour a little at a time until the mixture is thickened.
- Replace the apples and stir gently until they are entirely covered with the mixture.
- Turn off the heat and cover, so that the apples will be heated through but not too soft.
- Uncover after 5 minutes and enjoy! You can cover vanilla ice cream with this dish if you like, but it’s very good as a standalone dessert.