We caught the tail end of Southern California’s apple picking season in mid-November, trekking down to Oak Glen to procure cups of steaming apple cider, wax paper bags of apple cider doughnuts, and a mile-high apple pie. Incidentally, we also visited a taxidermy museum, fed deer handfuls of corn kernels, and met a pink-barretted baby llama on the leash of a crazy woman who introduced her with the following: “Her is my pet llama, and her is one-month-old.” But the point is this: apples. They’re perhaps the most staple fruit we have here in the U.S.—although fyi: the only three fruits native to North America are the cranberry, the blueberry, and the concord grape, but you remember Johnny Appleseed—as ubiquitous in a brown bag lunch as peanut butter and jelly. But the truth is that the apple, like any fruit, isn’t really something you should be eating all year. In Los Angeles, we’re spoiled to live in a place where farmers markets occur every day of the week and year-round, but I grew up in New England, where the notion of farm-to-table is far more challenging come February. Most of us have been tempted to buy off-season produce in the grocery store—asparagus from Peru in November, strawberries from Mexico in March—and I mean, every once in a while, what’s the harm in that?
Enter Hugh Acheson. You might recognize him as the hip dad of the Atlanta restaurant scene or as a sometimes judge on Top Chef, but I’ve been most inspired by his cookbook, A New Turn in the South, which is as cute, cozy, and community driven as can be. In addition to the 123 delicious, accessible, and ingredient-driven recipes that fill its pages, this book makes very clear Acheson’s philosophy of food—“local first, sustainable second, organic third”—and he uses apples to illustrate his beliefs:
"Let’s think about an apple in February. The apple is picked in Chile by a migrant picker. It goes onto a truck and then into a sorter. The apple gets graded, cleaned, waxed, and stickered. It gets packed into a box and then sits for a day or two. It goes onto another truck and is off to customs. It clears customs and then gets onto a very big boat. It floats on the water for a week. It arrives in New York and goes to a warehouse. A broker buys the fruit and then moves it, via truck, to another warehouse. A produce wholesaler buys a bunch of it and ships it down to the commercial vegetable market near the airport in Atlanta. A local company buys the product there and trucks it to a grocer. The grocer packs the apples into a cooler and after some time the apples get onto the shelf. The apples, shiny and waxy, cost $1.99 per pound.’
"Let me tell you how I like to order apples. First of all, the key is to order apples in season. Apple season in Georgia is from August to November. So, say in September, a fax comes to me on Tuesdays from a small cooperative of farms called the Northeast Farmers of Georgia. It is sent by a dear man named Bill. I put a check next to a box for Arkansas Blacks, a wonderful Southern crisp heirloom apple. Bill gets the fax and calls the farmer. The farmer picks the apples and delivers them to Bill, and Bill drives them to me in Athens. It is so simple.’
"This process supports Bill. It supports the farmer. It supports my local economy. It lessens the consumption cost. It lowers the amount of non-renewable resources used to ship the items to me. It reduces the number of hands that touch my product. Oh, and the apples taste better—much better."
Kind of hard to argue with that, right?
So back to those recipes, dozens of which I have plans to make: Lemonade with Vanilla, Mint, and Rosemary; Marinated Anchovies with Grapefruit and Pepper; Fava Beans with Mint, Proscuitto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Brown Butter Vinaigrette; as well as his take on Southern classics like Fried Chicken, Cornbread (“Cornbread should not have sugar in it. That’s cake.”), Shrimp & Grits, and Lemon Chess Pie. For my first foray, I gravitated toward the Italy-Atlanta mash-up Southern Carbonara—which substitutes country ham for pancetta and adds collards to the mix—as well as a first course of Local Lettuces with Feta, Radishes, and Dill Pickle Vinaigrette:
Both recipes were simple, snappy, and delicious, and I’ll definitely make each one again. My honest advice for you is to buy the book yourself and explore the myriad of yumminess it has to offer, but if you’re not convinced, click here for the Carbonara recipe, and here for the salad (bonus: with the salad you’ll also get recipes for Medjool Dates stuffed with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Celery (yep, so good) and Smothered Pork Chops with Chanterelles (next on my personal list), plus a nifty little interview with the chef himself.) This addition to your cookbook collection will make those weeknight meals more delicious, those backyard dinners more unique, and it will certainly inspire you to buy, eat, and cook as locally as possible.
Case and point: just yesterday I had to make an apple pie for a second Thanksgiving dinner, and fresh on the heels of Acheson inspiration, I went all local: Braeburn apples, a lemon, an orange, even eggs. And that little fact continued to warm my conscience as the pie filled my tummy all the way from last night’s dinner to this morning’s breakfast:
Alas, Acheson’s book doesn’t include an apple pie, so here’s a shout out to Apt. 2B Baking Co. for the recipe used above.