fruit

Up Your Apple I.Q. with Northern Spy

When it comes to locavore restaurants in New York City, there are few that make a better argument for sustainable, seasonal eating than Northern Spy Food Co. For those of us less knowledgeable about the bounty of our surroundings, apple season is just another few months of the year. But for Northern Spy—incidentally named for a local apple variety—fall is a time for celebrating the delicious biodiversity of our North Eastern apple harvest.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Long

Photo Credit: Suzanne Long

 

How did you come up with the name Northern Spy?

As is often the case with names, we were (legally) denied our first choice, and while scrambling to find a name just a month before opening, we were scouring the Oxford Companion to Food and came upon a list of apple varieties; when the name "Northern Spy" was read aloud we knew. The name naturally connects to regional agriculture. For those who know what it is, its a great recognition and for those who don't know right away what it means, we think it has a good ring to it. — Chris Ronis, Owner

 

Northern Spy apples with sunchokes, kohlrabi, fennel, brussel sprouts, mâche and brown butter vinaigrette

Northern Spy apples with sunchokes, kohlrabi, fennel, brussel sprouts, mâche and brown butter vinaigrette

The flavor of apples, at least in the Northeast, tends to be linked to childhood nostalgia. Do you have any specific memories that influence how you cook with apples?

I grew up in Western New York, so my memories are of apple picking and warm cider in the fall. My mother always baked pies and crisps from September through Thanksgiving, and my family is of German decent so caraway was always a prominent flavor. She would top apple pies with caraway seed or include apples and caraway in the crockpot when making pork shoulder and sauerkraut. — Amy Hess, Pastry Chef

Cider poached apples with spice cake and caraway

Cider poached apples with spice cake and caraway

 

To what extent does your sustainable mission influence the farmers you work with and how do you usually discover new varieties?

Since apple trees take time to cultivate, we haven't really asked about growing extra Northern Spy appless or anything like that. Our new variety research really comes from  having our market forager grab a bunch of different varieties each year from  all different stands; we eat them and see which ones fit best with what new dishes we're working on. — Hadley Schmitt, Chef

Are there any new techniques or flavor pairings in your apple cookery that you are particularly excited about?

An old school technique of my aunt's that I'd love to fool around with is coring the apple, slicing into thick, half-inch rings and hanging them from a string for a few days until they shrivel a bit and turn into a chewy snack. But a flavor I've liked and used the past few years are malted grains, or simply 'malt', and apples.  — Hadley Schmitt, Chef

Union Square Greenmarket. Photo Credit: P Romaine

Union Square Greenmarket. Photo Credit: P Romaine

 

Northern Spy's Favorite Local Varieties

Granny Smith, Rhode Island Greenies

Use: ideal for baking
Why: low sugar content, don't break down as easily as other varieties
Recipe idea: apple fennel sorbet

Gala, Pink Lady
Use: compotes and sauces
Why: perfectly sweet, easy to puree

Northern Spy
Use: nearly everything
Why: good texture, perfect balance of sweet and tart

Winesap
Use: snacking
Why: they're on the sweet side

Crab apples
Use: apple sauce
Why: always nice and tart
Pairs well with: pork dishes

Mutsu/Crispin
Use: cooking
Why: they hold up very well
Recipe idea: braise in cider and pair with buckwheat waffles or pancakes

Golden Russet
Use: baking
Why: old fashioned apple flavor, almost maple undertones
Pairs well with: bacon

au marché: the san francisco ferry building

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

There are cities that you assume have a phenomenal market, and San Francisco is among them. The Ferry Building more than meets expectations, with a combination of indoor purveyors, outdoor stalls and in-house restaurants that could make other culinary cities jealous.

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Among the edibles that made me most envious: peppercress. I've never tasted this baby green before, and boy is it fantastic (and spicy!!). So is anchovy cress and mustard cress. New York, you seriously need to work on the super-flavored greens. Washing it down with the sweetest little nub of a carrot makes the experience all the better.

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Also enviable: the airy, spacious—but protected—atrium of the market. On a sunny day, of course,  outside is better, but in the drizzly rain the Ferry Building still seems gorgeously lit.

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A pit stop at Hog Island Oyster reminded me of my days in Paris, where I used to slurp oysters stall-side with nary so much as a slice of lemon. (They have condiments and bread at HIO, but the proximity to fresh produce is the point.)

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It was there that I tried my first Alaskan oyster. From Glacier Point, this particular mollusk boasted a mellow salinity and remarkably clean sweetness that made it prime for condiment-free slurping.

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For those of us who need more than a mollusk in the morning, the nearby biscuit shop will do you well. I opted for the lemon/rosemary, which had actual tart chunks of candied citrus. The crumbly texture was actually like a soft scone, but I'm no stickler for terminology.

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Those with more ample appetites would enjoy the breakfast bars slinging hot sandwiches, such Cowgirl Creamery. I, myself, frequented Mariposa, whose faux rye bread made for a delicious smoked salmon breakfast sandwich.

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If you've funkier tastes, consider the array of local 'shrooms. I eyed them from Mariposa each morning, wishing I had a kitchen in which to play.

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But of all the things I envied most, it was the incredible fruits. Strawberries whose fragrance seduced from yards away. Kumquats so sweet you wouldn't even make a lemon face. (Though, admittedly, I do like my kumquats sour.) Dried pluots from Bella Viva Orchards that quite literally blew my mind.

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That first day, I left the market with an incredible taste of place. But I returned, almost daily, to dine at the Slanted Door or Boulette's Larder, to graze on samples of dark chocolate coffee toffee or to simply daydream about the things I'd do with such produce in my kitchen.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who comes here for inspiration, as I spotted local food legend Alice Waters perusing the stalls at the larger Saturday outdoor market. A vote of confidence if there ever was one.