Well, it looks like fall happened. Again.
Washingtonians take their apples seriously. Like real seriously. As someone who grew up in the South, then spent her young adult years in California, I didn’t know how deep apple appreciation ran. I mean, I ate apples (preferably in the form of apple fritters), I just didn’t think much about them, or have any appreciation for different varieties, or understand that when you get invited up to Harmony Orchards in Tieton for some apple picking, you DROP EVERYTHING and go. This year I was one of the lucky invitees, joining old and new friends to pile onto trailers being pulled by tractors, and roll around the farm sampling amazing heirloom varieties like Spitzenburg (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple), Pinova (my favorite apple), and Ashmead’s Kernel (the Sour Patch Kid of the apple world).
I came home with over 80 pounds of apples, and a month later, I’m proud to say that they are all gone. While some live on in my freezer as applesauce, most of the rest found their way onto the menu for this month’s Apple Harvest Supper:
Grilled cheese sandwich bites with Spitzenburg apple-bacon jam
Pinova apple chips with celery, creme fraiche, and tarragon whip
Homemade pretzel bites with apple-stout mustard
Bacon lardons with apple gastrique
Roasted brussels sprouts, Ashmead’s Kernel apples, and hazelnuts
Cider-braised pork shank with chiles and fennel
Charred radicchio with parsnip-pear puree
Pickled Jonagold apple, aged gouda, and black pepper-thyme croutons
Browned butter custard
Cider-glazed Ambrosia apples and pecan crumble
If you know me at all, you know that I would have stopped reading — and started eating — after the first line. Because (A) bacon, and (B) grilled cheese sandwich. I have a deep and glorious love of grilled cheese sandwiches that dates back to the time when they were the only thing I knew how to make. They’re my go-to comfort food, and have kept me fed through many I’m too-busy-to-take-care-of-myself meals, several indulgent I-am-a-cheese-monster evenings, and the occasional total sad-sack moment. Which makes it all the more funny that I almost didn’t share this recipe, because it didn’t seem fancy enough. Ha! Me + Fancy = Silly. But then I figured, hey, the Pantry isn’t a fancy place, and this is a fantastic sandwich. So, why not? And besides, I figured we could all use a break after last month’s 40-ingredient tomato salad.
Kim developed the bacon jam recipe a year ago, as one of the edibles in our homemade holiday gifts class. It was easily the runaway hit, and after 8 rounds of that class, the two of us ate an amount that remains a secret to this day. We filed the recipe away, moved on to a month-long salad fast, and forgot about days filled with bacon jam-smeared bread. When we were putting together the menu for our Apple Harvest Supper, the time was right to break out the jam and serve it up in the greatest bread vehicle known to man: the grilled cheese sandwich.
I didn’t offer up a recipe for an actual grilled cheese, because I’m assuming we’ve all got that notch on our culinary belt. Let’s just make sure that we’re using squishy bread (I like potato bread), lots of butter, and nice sharp cheese. Beecher’s Flagship cheddar goes swimmingly with the bacon jam, so that’s what I used here.
- 12 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
- 2 pounds (about 3) yellow onions, peeled, thinly sliced
- 2 pounds (about 4) sweet-tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled
- 1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon smooth dijon mustard
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste