A Conversation with Amy Traverso
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook
How many apples and how much time did it take you to write The Apple Lover’s Cookbook?
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook took 4 ½ years and I divided my time in equal measures between recipe development, writing and research.
When I started my research I lived in San Francisco. I used to go to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and buy every kind of apple variety I could find. I’d return home and review all the apples’ characteristics. With pad and pencil in hand I’d take lots of notes which I would later refer back to when writing the book.
In terms of number of apples, that’s a tough one because some recipes call for 1 pound of apples, while others require up to 5 pounds. But it’s safe to say I used between 300-400 pounds of apples in recipe development while writing the book.
Over the 4 1/2 years I was always sending my recipes out to various testers, but it wasn’t until the photo shoot for the book that I actually got to see my dishes being prepared outside of my kitchen.
Speaking of the photo shoot, the photographs are stunning, tell me what it was like taking pictures for the book?
Photographing the recipes was a highlight! …..
I worked with Squire Fox and three food stylists. The pictures were taken over 3 days in his New York City studio. We met in advance and mapped out which recipes we were going to shoot with an eye towards balancing sweet and savory dishes. In total we shot about 25-30 recipes and 59 apple varieties.
Michael Carlton was an editor at Yankee Magazine when I was starting out in my career. At the time, I had had few writing assignments. Michael saw my passion and gave me my first big break. Everyone needs a break like that, and it was the late Michael Carlton that gave me mine in food writing.
I’ve always wondered, why is the red delicious apple no longer crisp and delicious?
Over time, large-scale growers began favoring red delicious apples that were uniformly red and thick-skinned, and those apples aren’t always the most flavorful fruits. As growers kept selecting the fruit that looked good and shipped well over long distances, they stopped cultivating the characteristics that once earned the red delicious its name. Though an unintended consequence, we’ve now got a red delicious apple that is mealy and flavorless. In in a word, mush.
Your favorite apple varieties, the Pink Pearl and Calville Blanc D’Hiver, are rather homely when compared to varieties like Sweetango or Jazz. Do you think Americans are misguided when seeking the red and glossy apple?
Absolutely, some of the best tasting apples have russet skin. Many varieties are overlooked because they’re not beauties, such as Ashmead’s Kernal, another favorite of mine.
A lot of produce can fall into that same trap. Farmer’s markets are giving consumers better access to less known varieties, and I encourage everyone to try new varieties when they’re seasonally available.
I have a handy Apple Variety Cheat Sheet in the book categorizing apple varieties in terms of firm-tart, firm-sweet, tender-tart, and tender-sweet. And, I include Apple Notes where I point out what apple varieties are suitable to which recipes.
When it comes to being adventuresome in the produce aisle, we’ve made the most advances with tomatoes. Today consumers have welcomed the availability of great tasting, heirloom tomatoes in all colors, shapes and sizes.
I loved reading in the book about the apple themes of your wedding and being married in an orchard! How do you balance your roles as wife, mother, senior editor of Yankee Magazine and successful cookbook author?
Yes, there’s a lot to juggle, but I have some key advantages. First, Yankee Magazine has been great; they’ve supported my time away this fall to promote the book and do publicity during the peak season. The events and cooking demonstrations I do are often family friendly affairs, so it’s also the case that I can bring my family along.
Another big help is that I write and do recipe development from my home kitchen and office. This keeps me close to my 3-year old son Max, and I am able to grab important moments with him so I don’t miss out.
My husband Scott and I also got in the habit of stopping work at 4 p.m. so we could spend the later afternoon and early evening hours with Max. Then later when he goes to bed, we grab additional work hours in the evening to compensate.
I think most people would find it surprising to learn that in the early 90’s China overtook worldwide apple production. Today, they dominate by producing 35% of the world’s crop. What did you think when you uncovered this fact?
I’m cautious about products made with Chinese apple concentrate because apples are famously vulnerable to pests and diseases, and different countries have different standards about pesticide use. Even in this country, apples tend to be pretty heavily prayed. This is why I serve organic apple juice to my son, Max.
You have more than 1000 followers on Twitter. Do you enjoy social networking?
I was resistant to Twitter because I looked at it as one more thing to do. But I’ve found that I enjoy tweeting and engaging with people online. And, it’s turned out to be a great tool in getting the word out on book signings, TV appearances and radio spots for The Apple Lover’s Cookbook.
Which cookbook authors have inspired you most in your career?
I love Judy Rodgers from the Zuny Café in San Francisco. She’s an amazing chef. When I use her cookbook, it’s like her voice is right there in the kitchen with me.
People should also know about Tessa Kiros. She has culinary roots and family ties to Greece, South Africa and Finland. Her cooking blends all these cuisines in a style that emphasizes fun and family. Her sensibilities in the kitchen are similar to mine.
All the recipes look delicious, could you share some ideas for the Thanksgiving Table?
I grew up in Connecticut, which is where I’ll be spending Thanksgiving. My mother is in charge of the savory dishes and I’m in charge of sweet. This is what I have planned:
From the Apple Lover’s Cookbook I’m making Apple Pie with Crumb Topping. It’s my favorite pie recipe in the book because it’s like the best of apple crisp and apple pie all in one delicious package. The top is piled with a thick layer of nutty, crumbly topping made from pecans, brown sugar, flour, and butter. This recipe does especially well with apples that have a spicier profile, such as Baldwin, Goldrush, Ginger Gold and Suncrisp.
From Yankee Magazine’s Best of New England Recipes I’m making a Pumpkin Chiffon Pie that features a walnut graham crumb crust. Everyone looks forward to a great pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and this recipe is a winner.
Which recipes from the book would you pair with Still River Apfel Eis?
I love Still River’s apple ice wine! I suggest serving it with richer dishes to compliment the wine’s great acidity.
On the savory side, I would suggest a dish in the book that was inspired by my editor’s memories of a London pub dish called the Bedfordshire Clanger. I adapted the recipe to my own tastes and call it Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust. It’s a combination of spiced ground pork filling with a layer of firm-tart apples on top. I suggest using firm-tart variety like Granny Smith or a firm-sweet variety like Golden Delicious. The savory crust of cheddar and sage make it a fantastic combination with pork. I’ve served this at buffet dinner parties; it’s a guaranteed hit.
On the sweet side, I’d favor the cozy, four-point bundles of Apple Dumplings with Cider-Rum Sauce. Another great pairing would be the Cinnamon Rice Pudding with Spiced Apple-Cranberry Compote All work beautifully with Still River’s apple ice wine.
What’s next for Amy Traverso?
Writing The Apple Lover’s Cookbook has been a joy. I like going deep into a subject where I have the opportunity to uncover the origins and history of food.
Truthfully, I’m not ready to move on from apples. I have so many other recipes I plan to explore and share. Someday I’d like to follow up with a second edition to the book; it would give me the chance to share more tested recipes and report on the new apple varieties that are in development today.
If I were to choose another subject matter for a book, I wouldn’t stray far. I’m just fascinated by fruit. One of my initial thoughts is to dive deep into stone fruits, but time will tell.
On last question, what was it like to hold The Apple Lover’s Cookbook in your hands for the first time?
So exciting. The publisher W.W. Norton went above and beyond featuring more color photos than I expected. And the jacket, designed by Jan Derevjanik, is gorgeous. Everyone worked so hard to present my research, recipes and the apple itself to full advantage. As a first time author, the experience has been thrilling.