An Ode to the Winesap
People who know me and know where I’m from ask me the same question this time every year: Do you know (or are you kin to) B.J. Reece?
Well, yes. Both.
People ask this question because many Atlantans, in the fall, travel to my home county, Gilmer, in the Appalachian foothills. They go there to fetch fresh apples, and one of the apple houses on Highway 52, on the east side of the county, bears the name B.J. Reece Orchards. Gilmer County is the apple-growing capital of Georgia, and has proudly proclaimed itself such since I can remember. I grew up among the south-side-of-the-county Reeces, who tended more toward livestock farming, but my childhood autumns were filled with Sunday-afternoon visits to the two different Reece-owned orchards on Highway 52 East, B.J.’s and Hillcrest Orchards. We’d come home with a half-gallon of freshly pressed, unfiltered cider and a peck or two of whatever apple was coming in that week.
My favorite apple — the Winesap — came off the trees in late September and early October. The Winesap is crisp and tangy, but without the sometimes excessive sourness of the Granny Smith. Lovely to eat, but I also discovered, after I moved away from home and learned to cook, that the Winesap is a wonder in a pie or, better yet, a cobbler. When I lived in New York, my father would pour a half-bushel in a big cardboard box and ship them to me every October. About half would survive the trip reasonably intact, and they were destined to be peeled, sliced, sautéed in a lot of butter, then dressed up with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. And butter. Lots of butter.
As an expat Southerner in New York City, desperate for good Southern cooking, I tweaked my cobbler recipe until I got it just to my liking. It’s Winesap time, so y’all know what I’ll be doing today. Here’s my recipe. Tweak away or just bake yourself a cobbler with this recipe; it works. By the way, apple cobbler might be the best accompaniment to a glass of bourbon you’ve ever had.
Basic Apple Cobbler
Get a deep, round Pyrex dish, about eight or nine inches in diameter.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Peel and slice into wedges enough Winesaps to produce two pounds of peeled fruit.
Put your biggest skillet on the stove and over medium heat, sauté the apple slices in three tablespoons of butter until they are tender.
Pull the apples off the heat and stir in ¼ cup sugar, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.
Melt a ¼ pound (one stick) of butter in your Pyrex dish. (Use the highest butterfat-content butter you can find. It makes a huge difference in flavor.)
In a mixing bowl, stir together one cup all-purpose flour and one cup of sugar. Stir in 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Whisk in a half-cup whole milk to form a stiff batter.
Pour the batter in thick streams over the melted butter, but do NOT stir it in.
Layer the cooked, spiced apples on top of the batter and butter.
Put your Pyrex dish on a baking sheet (to catch any bubble-over) and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until golden brown.
This is so good, you don’t need ice cream on it. But then again, ice cream never hurt anything.