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Comfort Me With Lady Apples

“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” (Song of Songs)

Is it possible, in flickering sensational moments, to time travel? I was at Applecrest Farm in North Hampton, New Hampshire and came upon crates of heirloom apples and one in particular was full of small, delicate, and picturesque apples. I swooned and instantly closed my eyes. I imagined myself wearing an open high-necked chemise with red sleeves tied on with ribbon points and a broad-brimmed hat with plumes. I stood in the Gardens of Versailles with formal gardens flourishing, ornamental trees, and pomme d'api trees laden with Lady Apples.

The Lady Apple is the oldest apple that is still being grown today (not to be confused with the Pink Lady Apple, which is full size). The Lady Apple was first documented during the French Renaissance and was the favorite of Louis XIV. It was hardy and flavorful, and was very popular with the Renaissance ladies who would keep one tucked away in their bosom and taken out to freshen their breath. Also known as the Christmas Apple, it was used for decorations. It has yellow-green skin and a pink blush and when I opened my eyes to return to reality, I was blushing with excitement. I had to buy some just to set on my counter in a pretty bowl and perhaps to bake with.

The flavor of a Lady Apple is sweet-tart with a succulent and subtle finish. Although French ladies sweetened their bosoms and breaths on these apples, most people today would not consider them as an eating apple with culinary virtues as other apple varieities. And they have the misfortune of being confused with the crab apple.

I then saw a crate of Calville Blanc d’Hiver apples and although I didn't swoon, I was enamored with these normal sized apples. These are also French apples dating back to the late 1500s. They are more lemony pear-like in taste and I learned that they are considered the best to cook with because of their texture and flavor. The shape of this apple is unique because of ridges that are said to resemble a crown. I bought a few of these apples, as well, but it was the Lady Apple that I was especially taken with.

Later on in the week, I ate a couple of Lady Apples, but kept the rest to display in a pink Depression-glass bowl. Each time I looked at them, I smiled. They made me feel lighthearted! The Calville Blanc apples went into my produce basket with the bananas and squash, but I knew they would soon be eaten in some form.

In my book, Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories & Desserts, I speak of baking as a Muse and when I take a break from research and writing, I go to the kitchen and stir up stories. "The ingredients in a story and a recipe can create a tantalizing conclusion...It is in my kitchen where I face the empty pages of the stories in my head and fill the empty tins, pans, and cookie sheets with delicious possibility."

And when the light grew dim and comfort waned from too much hard work, I remembered my apples and went to my kitchen. I made a French Apple Tart with my Lady Apples and Calville Blanc d'Hiver apples. I used the recipe in Pavlova in a Hat Box for the Rustic Pear Tart, eliminating the mascarpone and adding cinnamon to the spices. I also made an all butter crust with the European-style Plugra butter. I sliced and piled the Calville apples in layered circles and sliced the wee Lady Apples and piled them in the center of the tart. Ooh La La! Scrumptious! I was comforted with a Lady Apple Tart!

Pie Crust: 2 ¼ cups flour ½ Tbs. sugar 1 tsp. salt 1 cup shortening (or ½ cup butter and ½ cup shortening) I used all butter, European-style Plugra ½ Tbs. apple cider vinegar 1 egg ¼ cup water Filling: 4 medium pears (not too ripe) Three large Calville Apples and seven Lady Apples (sliced 1/4") 1 lemon (for juice and zest) ¼ tsp. cardamom ¾ tsp. ginger (and a tsp. of cinnamon) ¼ tsp. salt ¼ cup flour ¼ cup plus 3 Tbs. sugar 1/2 of 8 oz. container of mascarpone (or more, according to your liking) I eliminated mascarpone sanding sugar Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Alter the following directions accordingly 1. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Add shortening and using two forks or a pastry blender, mix into coarse crumbs. 2. Mix vinegar, water, and egg in a small bowl and add to flour mixture. 3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a circle, approximately 12 to 14 inches diameter; place on large parchment paper lined cooking sheet 4. Preheat oven to 400. 5. Quarter pears, remove cores, and slice into 1/2-inch slices. In a large bowl toss the pear slices with lemon juice and zest of lemon (grate lemon first and cut lemon in half and squeeze out juice of both halves); stir together in a separate bowl the cardamom, ½ tsp. ginger, salt, flour, and ¼ cup sugar; add to pears and toss well until pears are evenly coated; set aside. 6. Spread mascarpone in the center of the dough, leaving a 2 to 3 inch border; in a small bowl, mix together ¼ tsp. ginger, and 3 Tbs. sugar and sprinkle over the mascarpone. Place in preheated oven for just 2 to 3 minutes (this caramelizes mascarpone and sugar mixture). An alternative: forego caramelizing and spread the mascarpone over dough and mix in rest of ginger and sugar into filling. 7. Turn down oven to 350 degrees, let dough cool for 3 minutes or so, arrange the pear filling in a mound over the mascarpone and sugar mixture, still leaving a 2 to 3 inch border. Fold the border over the filling in a creative fashion. It might be tricky because the dough has started to cook and might crack a bit but you can pat and patch it easily (remember, it's rustic); sprinkle with sanding sugar and bake for approximately 30 to 35 minutes until crust is lightly browned; test pears with a fork to make sure they are tender, but not mushy.

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