I have had a bunch of Spy apples sitting around for the last week or so. They were meant to become pie filling, but the pumpkin pies went further than I thought they would, so the apples have remained, unneeded and unloved, on top of the refrigerator. Something had to be done with them before they went bad, and that something, I decided this evening, was that I would make stewed apples, one of my favourite holiday recipes. I know that it is not yet December and that I should still be resisting the onset of the commercially prolonged Christmas season, but it was an emergency, and this way you all get the benefit of a recipe that you can use when Christmas actually comes within reasonable celebrating proximity.
Melt half a pound or so of butter in a good sized stock pot. Add the finely chopped peels of 8 or 10 clementines or the zest of 4 or 5 large oranges. Add several sticks of cinnamon, several roughly cracked whole nutmegs, and two dozen or so each of whole cloves and whole allspice. Saute this until the peel has had time to soften and the pot starts to smell amazing.
Add 8 or 10 pounds of cooking apples, peeled and sliced. Cooking apples are those that resist falling apart when you cook them. Northern Spys are a great choice because they have so much flavour. Cortlands are good too because their flesh does not brown like most apples. Ida Reds are another of my favourites. Add enough brown sugar to sweeten the apples, but not enough to overwhelm them. This will differ according to the tartness of the apples you are using. Use your judgement, but err on the side of too little. Simmer everything, stirring frequently, until the apples begin to soften.
Add two or three cups each of raisins and dried cranberries. Keep simmering. As the raisins and cranberries rehydrate, you will likely find that you need to add some fluid, again depending on the apples. Apple cider is a safe choice, but rum works very well also. You could also use orange juice, cranberry juice, or whiskey. Feel free to experiment, but add the liquid gradually. You want the mixture to be moist but not swimming.
When the apples have softened and the dried fruit has rehydrated, remove the pot from the heat. Alternatively, you can also choose at this point to add a healthy dose of heavy cream and cook everything a little longer. Either way is good. You may eat it immediately after it is finished, but the flavours will only intensify if you leave it cooling on the stove overnight or let it rest even longer in the refrigerator. It is great both cold and reheated, both as a breakfast or snack in itself and as a topping for cake or icecream. I have never tried to can it properly, but it lasts quite a long time in jars in my refrigerator, and it tastes like Christmas whenever you happen to bring it out, even in November.