As part of the perpetual human inclination to long for what is impossible, I suppose it’s no surprise that in the midst of one season I am frequently hungry for whatever is furthest out of season. When summer’s blistering and swelter have long since worn out their welcome, I think with great fondness of weather cold enough not only to cool my overheated brain to a slightly more manageable temperature but also to encourage the peak production of root vegetables with which to make those satisfying soups and roasted dishes that give a welcome tot of inner warmth to body and soul. In springtime, the autumn’s pears and quinces seem so remote as to have been but a beautiful fever dream of seasons past.
And though winter is short and blunt in north Texas most of the years I’ve spent living in it, it isn’t long dropped toward freezing before I think what a joy it would be to have weather balmy enough to require something cool and liquid, or just bursting with juicy freshness, to cheer my fainting spirits. Mostly, this is merely a sorry reflection of my lack of maturity and patience with whatever is present on the table or in my life. But perhaps it’s also possible to place a little of the blame on some of the first-world realities of the modern era. Indoor climate controls make winter ever so much drier than it was in my soggy single-pane-windowed youth. The normal chill of wintertime is confused in my body and household by a central heating system, never mind by old lady hot flashes, and the vast improvements in food packaging, shipping, and storage mean that I have access not only to fresh, picture-perfect produce that is nothing like currently in season where I live but just arrived on store shelves there from a country where it is at its peak growth. I can buy freeze-dried or frozen goods that are sometimes fresher and more flavorful on being prepared or reconstituted in my kitchen for having been processed so quickly at the point of harvest than any such things often were right in their natural local peak years ago.
My tastebuds and dietary inclinations care nothing, still, for seasonal propriety. So if I can get something preserved—old-school, as jams and canned goods and classic charcuterie, or flash-frozen on a factory ship in mid-ocean—that’s able to be prepared in ways making it as tantalizing and palatable as the fresh-harvested stuff, you can bet I’ll be indulging. Today, sitting in a blower-heated space at elevation and looking out at drizzles of snow, what should my wandering mind and salivary mechanism conspire to make me wish for most fondly? Some juicy, dazzlingly bright tasting fruit. Thank goodness for being a spoiled twenty-first century citizen. It doesn’t hurt to make a dish that will assuage both the out-of-sync wish for cool, juicy refreshment and any appropriately wintry hopes for a good tummy warmer.
Baked Apples with Raspberry-Rose Snow
Clean and core fresh, crisp apples. When I don’t have a cylindrical fruit corer on hand, I will opt to use a melon baller and just work my way through each apple sphere by sphere until I’ve tunneled through it and removed stem, blossom and seeds. Lacking a melon baller, I will use a narrow-bladed knife. You can leave the blossom end of the apple intact to keep it from leaking its filling during the baking, or you can make an edible “stopper” out of dried apple pieces, a handy way to give your diners a treat without any inedible parts. Set the prepared apples aside for the moment.
Make a paste, of whatever proportions please you, using marzipan (since there’s such a long tradition of wonderful commercially made marzipan, I feel no obligation to make my own, but if you want homemade, have at it), seedless raspberry jam (ditto), cream cheese (or labneh or goat cheese), a tiny pinch of salt, a dash of cardamom, and some elderflower cordial. Fill the apple tunnels with this goodness.
Put the apples into the buttered ramekins (individual) or casserole and bake them just until softening. About a half hour at medium-high heat (375°F/190°C), give or take a little, will do. While they’re baking, take a small handful of beautiful frozen raspberries per apple, crush them into their individual arils (gently enough to make pretty little dots rather than a messy mash), and stir in a dash of rosewater. Stick them back in the freezer that way until the moment before serving the apples, when you’ll sprinkle them over the top as a cool, burst-of-winter-sun contrast to the heat and creamy juice of the apples. And a tiny reminder of what fresh-from-the-garden goodness is like in other seasons.