Fall for Rome Beauty Apples

Drought, heat, and topsy-turvy weather create interesting conditions for late-season apples.


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Oliveto pasty chef Yakira Batres smiles about her tarte Tatin.

Photo by Lori Eanes

The apple trees this year have gone bananas. With the drought, record heat, and the topsy-turvy weather this summer, the late-season apple trees on Torrey Olson’s farm in Sebastopol have exhibited some bizarre behavior.

In July, Olson said, “There were Rome Beauty apples the size of tennis balls on some parts of the tree, while other parts of the tree were still blooming. They’re so confused this year. I’ve never seen that happen before.”

Rome Beauties are a late-season apple that gets short shrift, partly because they’re fairly common, as they were once a favorite of California’s apple processing industry.

“They used to do a lot of apple drying around here, so you’ll see huge blocks of Romes. They were planted for processing. They tend to grow pretty big, which the canneries preferred.”

This year, they may not be so common. For Olson, whose 14 acres boast Asian pears and a wide variety of old-fashioned apples, this year’s Rome crop will be smaller than usual, and will be coming in earlier too, with its season having begun in late September.

So perhaps such apples will be considered a little more precious this year.

Romes have a neutral personality when eaten raw, Olson said. “I’ve never been a huge fan of eating Romes fresh, but they’re a classic cooking apple.” Romes are crisp, and not too sweet, so they can take added sugar and stay firm during long baking times—perfect for baking pies and tarte Tatins, with their layer of caramel.

At a stand like Gabriel Farms, the apples are already chosen for you, which makes it easier on the shopper, because a good apple, according to Olson, “depends on the variety. Apples in the store are tricky, because they’re grown for color and look, and not necessarily for flavor. For us, when you pick an apple from us, we basically put out what we think is a really good apple.”

Look for Gabriel Farms’ Rome Beauties, Pink Ladies, and Granny Smiths early this month at the Saturday farmers’ market in downtown Berkeley.

 

Tarte Tatin

Recipe courtesy of Yakira Batres, pastry chef at Oliveto.

Serves six

1 1/2 large apples

1/4 cup white granulated sugar

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)

1 sheet of prepared puff pastry

 

Spray the bottom of a six-inch oven-proof pan, such as a stainless steel sauté pan, with nonstick spray, unless using a cast iron pan.

Peel and core apples, and then slice them ?-inch thick. Fill the bottom of the pan with two layers of apples, and sprinkle with sugar. Put generous ?-inch nubs of butter about an inch apart. Don’t worry about using too much butter.

Gently heat on stove over medium heat, allowing butter and sugar to melt together. While it is still melting, roll out puff pastry to ?-inch thick. When the sugar begins to take color, keep an eye on it, and move the pan over the heat source so that all the butter and sugar cook evenly, as most pans have hot spots that will make some areas brown faster. Do not stir apple slices. You can pull the pan off the heat, and place it back on the heat, to control the temperature, if necessary.

Remove the pan from the heat once the caramel is in a pale, just-brown state all over the pan. The apples should slide, not stick. If they stick, it is overcooked.

Drape your puff pastry over the pan and trim with scissors just around the lip of the pan. Do not crimp. Using a fork, pierce the puff pastry to allow steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the pastry is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly, before placing a plate over the pan, and flipping the tart onto the plate.

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