IT’S HARVEST SEASON
It’s harvest season, and with it come a multitude of colours, flavours and lots of delicious local produce, like apples. Apple Crumble is probably one of the most popular desserts here in Québec. We love it in autumn and it’s very likely one of the first desserts we like to try with our two 20 pound bags of apples we went to collect ourselves on one of the most quintessential autumn activities here in Québec - apple picking. Some may think it’s a bit cheesy and unpractical to pay to gather your own fruit (like my significant other) but I like to continue the tradition, it goes beyond apples man! It’s the experience as a whole, duh!
At home, the two bags are swiftly emptied thanks to my young apple monster, whom without any kind of regard would be easily able to go through 20 apples a day, but before his arrival we had to find creative ways to avoid wasting them, and it’s not like here in Québec it’s a complicated task to find them; From pies and chaussons, to a variety of apple sauces you can even use with pork, to the all time favourite: Apple Crisp.
FROM BRITAIN WITH LOVE
Legend has it that this simple deliciousness was born - with a couple variations - right after WW2 as a cheap dessert brought forward by the industrious British. In my most tender memories my mom would frequently cook apple crumble for us but I can’t really remember seeing it on my grandparent’s table - So I played detective and reached out to my aunts and my dad. Turns out this recipe hadn’t yet arrived at Québec, we had just something similar.
I was convinced that this dessert made part of our québécois heritage for aeons, but seeing how recipes evolve, cross borders, mutate and then are adopted is something I find particularly interesting, each new person trying a new variation adds to this narrative and evolution.
As many families may (or not) have a surplus of apples in their refrigerators and as an attempt to motivate you to put those apples to use before throwing them away, here’s a simple recipe for the week, and although there’s (obviously) always a way to make it a bit more, ahem… “calorie rich” by adding more oats and even ice cream, I wanted to propose something simple and fairly healthy than can be done in a couple of minutes… with an exotic twist!
This is probably not the first time you’ve seen an apple crisp recipe on the interwebs, but here I would like to get away from brown sugar - the unmistakable companion - to something slightly similar with a certain variation in taste.
Summer ‘18 I had the chance to visit a small village in Colombia where coffee beans and sugar cane are the local crops (among other produce in smaller quantities). I was introduced to a wonderful family of local farmers, humble and hardworking people living in Marquetalia (Caldas) where I was kindly taught the intricacies of harvesting and processing both main products the traditional way. I had the opportunity to see first hand the transformation of sugar cane to ready-to-eat panela.
What is panela though? Glad you asked! Panela is basically the result of boiled sugar cane juice obtained by crushing the canes in a “trapiche” (which used to be actually a widespread activity during post-colonial Colombia in most farms) and then placed into copper molds to solidify. This product is then used to sweeten the coffee, for certain desserts (which we’ll play with in the future) and as a cure for common colds. In essence, panela is a solid block of sugary organic love which I may elaborate on in a future article.
Alcibiades and his family opened their home, showed me the whole process and beyond that, a simpler way of living, a more organic approach not just in terms of food but on the human side. The day after, I got to met Jorge Morales who took some of his precious time and explained the industrial (but still bio) way to do it, unknowingly of my visit. He decide to top the experience by giving me 2kg of pulverized panela for me to play with…
You may be wondering ‘but what’s wrong with brown sugar?’ and well, nothing really… But in these times of artificial sweeteners and refined sugars I think panela serves as an analogical counterpart that prompts us to get back in touch with nature and leave behind industrial processes than not only take away worthy minerals and vitamins from the products we consume, but are transformed using unnatural products we then without hesitation put in our bodies, leaving us with empty shells and disease-causing imitations.
I celebrate with this recipe the hard work of honest people, farmers from both Canada and Colombia whose daily efforts put in our tables the best nature can offer.