Apples and Pork: A Meal for a Hungry Community
Last week I cooked dinner for 85 people. The menu, on one of the first truly chilly fall evenings, featured apples. A friend brought two huge boxes from a local organic apple orchard. The skins were ugly, but once peeled the apples revealed themselves to be gorgeous, juicy fruit. Funny how things can look one way and turn out to be something completely different.
We peeled the apples and sliced them into thin rounds. We put them in a huge roasting pan and tossed them with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves and sprinkled on sugar and apple cider. They went into a very hot oven and cooked down into a roasted spiced applesauce.
The main course was pork. Lots of it. Some 40 pounds seasoned with handfuls of chopped fresh sage from another friend’s garden and lots of chopped garlic. I poured local apple cider over the meat and placed it in the oven alongside the apples, which quickly filled the kitchen with a scent that was a cross between apple pie and sweet perfume.
While the apples and pork roasted we got started on a huge pot of mashed potatoes (with lots of butter and heavy cream), and chopped lettuce and vegetables for a tossed salad. We buttered crusty rolls and heated them in the oven. I pulled fragrant, earthy sage leaves off their thick stems and got them ready to garnish the potatoes. This was not a dinner party or a catering gig. This fresh autumnal meal was for a soup kitchen.
I’ve been cooking at a local soup kitchen for several years. Some nights we have 30 or 40 people. 60 makes a busy night. But times are bad. Many Americans are struggling right now, and we had a premonition that the numbers might be high this month — given the collapse of Wall Street, the slowing economy and the general sense of insecurity that so many people are filled with these days. We cooked for three hours. The potatoes were fluffy and creamy. The pork came out of the oven moist and juicy, redolent of garlic and sage. The apple cider and pork juices mingled to create a delicious natural gravy. The apples, raw just an hour before, were now tender and almost buttery, bathed in a sweet, well-spiced cider sauce.
The tables began to fill around 4:30. There were about 30 people patiently waiting for their meal – mostly regulars who we see every month.. For the next hour and a half there was a steady stream of people, many whom I had not seen before. It was as if the scent of baking apples had floated through the community and knocked on the door of everyone who is struggling to make ends meet — as if the seductive aroma of garlic and pork, the butter in the mashed potatoes called out to all who were needy. By 6:00 we had served 85 people — the biggest crowd I have ever seen at the soup kitchen. And, as if that weren’t heart-breaking enough, there were many families with young children.
Many arrived at the kitchen window with empty Tupperware containers. “Do you happen to have any leftovers? they asked. “Might there be something to take home for tomorrow?” Happily we had a whole pork roast left and some apples and potatoes. We packed up food for over 20 families. When a young mother and her toddler stepped up to the kitchen I made sure to be double the amount of food in their container. I added some of the fresh apples. “They might not look pretty,” I explained, “but once you peel them they are really sweet and delicious.” The mother looked me in the eye. “I’m in no position to be judging whether or not apples are pretty,” she told me. “You just gave me one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Thank you so much.” I could barely answer. I was choked with emotion and merely nodded a thank you back to her. I cried the whole way home, wondering about a world where some have so much, and others have so little.
Roasted Mashed Apple Sauce
Unlike regular applesauce, which requires peeling and seeding apples and then simmering them, this roasting method results in a sauce with a slightly smoky flavor and a wonderfully thick texture.
You can make the sauce a day ahead of time and heat over very low temperature, or serve cold, or at room temperature.
Makes about 4 cups
12 apples, a combination of really tart and really sweet, like Jonathan, Macintosh, Cortland, etc, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced or quartered
About ½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch ground cardamom
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the apples with the butter, sugar, and spices in a large roasting pan. Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil. Roast on the middle rack for 25 minutes, tossing the fruit once or twice during cooking. Uncover the pan and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the fruit feels quite tender when tested with a small, sharp knife.
Remove the pan from the oven and, using a potato masher, mash the fruit until thick and chunky. The applesauce will keep in a covered jar for several days.
*You can also add any of the following ingredients before roasting:
Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger or ¼ teaspoon ground ginger.
Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, sage and/or thyme instead of the other spices.
Add maple syrup or brown sugar instead of white sugar.
Add ½ cup cranberries to the apples.
Add ½ cup seeded Concord grapes to the apples.
Add 2 ripe quince (peeled, cored, and chopped) to the apples before roasting.
Instead of all apples, add about 6 apples and 6 ripe pears peeled, cored. and chopped.
Roast Pork with an Apple-Herb Stuffing and a Cider-Applesauce
Ask your butcher for a boneless pork roast with a slit cut three-quarters of the way down the middle (but still attached) so there is a large pocket for the stuffing. The pocket is filled with a savory apple and breadcrumb stuffing, and the roast is surrounded by apple chunks, cloves of garlic, and a splash of apple cider, and placed in a hot oven. The high heat causes the apples to cook down into a delicious, naturally chunky applesauce. (Be sure to have kitchen string on hand to truss the roast.)
Serves 6 to 8.
For the stuffing:
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
Generous grinding black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ tablespoon chopped fresh sage, chopped
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 large tart apple, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
3/4 cup breadcrumbs, homemade or storebought
1/3 cup apple cider
For the roast:
One 4-pound boneless pork roast, with a slit cut ¾ of the way down the middle, but not all the way through
1/8 teaspoon salt
Generous grinding black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves whole
5 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 6 wedges each
1 ½ cups apple cider
To make the stuffing, in a large skillet, heat the oil and butter over low heat. Add the onion and chopped garlic, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the chives, parsley, sage, and thyme and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped apple and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs, cider, and salt and pepper to taste. (The stuffing can be made several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Open the meat up and season both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides with half the sage and half the rosemary. Spread the filling along the bottom half of the meat, making sure to spread it out in an even layer. Cut five 18-inch lengths of kitchen string. Roll the meat up. Lift the pork up, take one piece of the kitchen string and tie it tightly, width-wise, to hold the stuffing in. Repeat with the remaining strings, tying a knot every 3 inches or so. Place the meat, with the fat side up, in a large roasting or broiler pan.
Use a sharp knife to score several large “Xs” in the fat side of the roast. Insert the thinly sliced garlic into the “Xs” and tuck several slices under the string. Place the whole garlic cloves and the apple wedges around the roast, and pour the cider on top. Sprinkle the roast and the apples with salt and pepper, and the remaining sage and rosemary.
Roast on the middle rack for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 and roast for about 1 hour, basting the meat once or twice. When done, a meat thermometer stuck in the middle of the roast will register between 150 to 155 degrees and the stuffing will be hot. The stuffing may “ooze” out of the roast, but it is still delicious and can be served in a separate bowl. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes before removing string and thinly slicing. The apples will cook down and form a thick applesauce — spoon it over the meat to serve.