Driving west from the Adirondack National Forest, we’ve spent the last few days slowly pecking our way across the south shore of Lake Ontario towards retro honeymoon paradise in Niagara Falls. This is not the New York you think of. This is not 24-hour-beauty-salons-, steaming-manhole-covers-, brunch-everyday-, young beautiful-things-partying-on-the-roof-terraces-of-their-Tribeca-highrises-New York, this is the other one. Sleepy mountain hamlets, retiree dream houses on the edges of postcard-perfect lakes, all but abandoned industrial towns, crumbling trailer parks on roads to and from nowhere. It’s a big state.
Eager to start sampling the local foods on offer—the stuff you just can’t get anywhere else—I’ve been watching the roadside like a hawk. We’ve gone through hours-long stretches of back roads, passing nothing but forest, houses, the occasional roadkill and a touch of fast food. Not exactly what I had in mind. Finally we passed through Rochester and on the other side, still heading ever West, we started to see lovely tidy rows of apple trees making order out of the countryside.
Yes! Something local! Ok, so it isn’t something that I can’t find anywhere else, but I still started to salivate over the thought of biting into a crisp autumnal red delicious straight from the picking.
We stopped at Sanger’s Farm store in Youngstown. The place was bursting with baskets of enormous fruit, and smelled like the inside of Grandma’s oven. Well, not my Grandma of course, but someone’s. Over the soft banter of Jamaican migrant workers sorting through the bounty, my honey and I made our choice—a $2 basket of Fujis in mottled red and yellow, and a cheeky mini walnut pie for extra good measure. Saveur’s Anna Stockwell would have been proud.
A couple of hours down the road, mini pie long gone, we stopped by a lake for lunch and began with an hors d’oeuvre of fresh, cold, crunchy apple. Perfect. Not mealy, not soft, just enough sweetness but not overdoing it—a good apple is a master of understated quality. I relished the unadulterated goodness of it, and then made a beeline for the campsite to experiment.
Now, the Mr. can be a real pain-in-the-you-know-what about eating anything to do with cooked apples, so I met with some resistance to my ideas of cobblers, crumbles, crisps, and the like. Instead I opted for a little savoury-sweet trick, and whipped up some apple and cheddar biscuits.
Wary of my track record with the camp oven, I moved some coals away from the main portion of the fire in order to keep a more comfortable cooking temperature. We made use of technology, and inserted an electronic probe thermometer into the oven, heaping the coals on until it reached around 325F. 20 minutes on, and eureka! I have successfully baked biscuits out in the woods. Mr. Stephfret downed the lot and pretended the I-hate-cooked-apples conversation never happened.
Apple Cheddar biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
generous pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter
2 handfuls of grated cheddar cheese
1 medium apple, cored, peeled, and finely diced
1/2 cup milk
Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together with a fork. Work the butter into the flour mixture with the tips of your fingers until the texture resembles breadcrumbs, then mix in the cheese and apples. Pour in some but not all of the milk, and mix with your hands until the dough holds together, no more. Add a little more milk if you need to, but stop once you have a moist dough. Pinch off handfuls of dough and form into 2 1/2 inch discs. Place in a greased baking dish in a 325F oven for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through and golden.