Virginia knows its apples. Since the day that Thomas Jefferson first bit into a Newtown Pippin and started singing its praises we’ve been planting apple cultivars from near and far. Apple orchards now thrive on something like 18,000 acres of Virginia soil, and we’re seeing a great revival of our centuries-old tradition of crafting hard apple cider as well.
From the Blue Ridge over to the Bay, there’s really nowhere an apple tree can’t take root. And frankly, that speaks to the agriculture of Virginia as a whole. Crops just thrive here. We are home to more than 47,000 farms, with agriculture the state’s largest industry. From peanuts to ham, maple syrup to sweet potatoes, pork to artisanal bread, I’m constantly meeting cool folks who love what they grow or make and who create truly incredible products. I am lucky that my restaurant, Lemaire in the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, is smack in the center of it all.
Growing up, my family had a place down on the Bay. My father was (and still is) an avid gardener. Instead of planting just two or three tomato plants, which is really all you need, he planted thirty. Instead of planting an apple tree or two, he planted an orchard. I was down there recently, spotted a good-looking apple, picked it right off the tree, and it was perfect. He’s got about ten different apple varieties there. At Lemaire we have a few trees by the parking lot and they give us bushels of apples every fall—so many that we have to think of what to do with them quickly because we can’t fit that many apples in the walk-in. So we make apple butter, applesauce, and a number of dishes I will share with you here.
The following recipes feature three of the many different apples that thrive here in Virginia: the Stayman, the Albemarle Pippin, and the Beauty. I’m not going to tell you that these are the only apples you can use in these dishes. Some people might give me grief for saying this, but honestly I don’t know if any apple is necessarily bad for a certain dish. I have yet to try an apple I didn’t like. And the flavor of a given variety of apple can change from year to year depending on the rain, the weather, and how long it’s been stored. So experiment with your local apples. Go to your local farmer and buy what he or she has and it’s probably gonna be great wherever you are. The following recipes feature Virginia products, the brands of which I’ve noted, because that’s how and where I cook—it’s all about seasonality and fresh product and celebrating the bounty of your region.