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An apple a day - not only healthy but delicious

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It seems like everything has a month named after it, and in the food world it's no different. This happens to be National Apple Month, an observance that officially dates all the way back to the early 1900s.

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The known health benefits of apples have a much longer history, going all the way back to medieval times, eventually giving rise to the saying that we are all familiar with and have no doubt used a time or two as we tried to elaborate on the fruits nutritional value - "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Apples' healthy attributes have received a renewed interest lately, following the release of studies linking apple nutrients to an impressive array of health benefits - ranging from decreasing the risk of heart attack, to lowering cholesterol, to promoting dental hygiene and reducing tooth decay, just to name a few.

If you aren't on board the apple eating bandwagon, maybe it's time you reconsider. If it's because you don't like the popular, colorful fruit, maybe you haven't found the right one. Each variety has its own unique texture and flavor, with some more suitable for eating than baking and vice versa. The following are descriptions of some that you might find on supermarket shelves locally.

The Cameo, discovered as a chance seedling in the late 1980s in Washington State, bears red stripes over a cream-colored background. This extra-crispy apple has a sweet-tart taste and resists browning, making it a natural choice for salads and fruit trays.

The Fuji was originally developed in Japan in the late 1930s and named after the famous Mt. Fuji, with U.S. grown Fujis appearing in markets in the 1980s. The fruit has a sweet flavor and firmness and is bi-colored, typically striped with yellow and red.

The Australian native Granny Smith was discovered in 1868 by 'Granny' Anne Smith of Ryde, New South Wales. The apple is known for its bright green flesh and extremely tart flavor. An all-purpose apple, this variety works well as a snack, dipped in caramel sauce or smothered with peanut butter, or in pies and sauce.

The Jonathan was discovered in Woodstock, N.Y., in the 1920s and is perfect for use in pies and applesauce. Crimson in color, with occasional splashes of green, the fruit has a spicy tang that blends well with other varieties in sauces or ciders.

The Pink Lady is known for its hot pink skin color and lily white flesh. A cross between Golden Delicous and Lady Williams, it has a unique tart flavor and is perfect for snacking, slicing or dicing on a salad, and also for baking.

Right now is also the perfect time for the backyard apple growers to be sharing their annual harvest. Fortunately, I've been privy to a couple of bagsful, some of which I've already used in some of my favorite apple concoctions.

Apple cake piled high with whipped cream or ice cream is always a favorite in our household, so this week I'm offering several variations of the popular dessert, incorporating fresh apples or applesauce. All are wonderfully moist and delicious and sure to be real hits, whether served up to family or as dessert at special social gatherings.

The caramel frosting recipe for the applesauce cake is one of the best recipes I've ever tried from one of my very favorites, Paula Deen. It's creamy thick, doesn't harden, and is absolutely delicious.

Until next time, from my house to yours, happy cooking!

Apple Cake

½ cup shortening or margarine

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup water

2 tsp. soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

2 cups flour

Mix together, and then mix in the following:

5 cups finely chopped apples

1 cup walnuts

2 tsp. vanilla

Pour the batter into greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

Sauce

½ cup butter

2 cups powdered sugar

½ cup half and half

Boil mixture gently for ten minutes, stirring while you do so. Add 2 tsp. vanilla. Serve warm cake and sauce with Cool Whip, real whipped cream or ice cream.

Applesauce Cake

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup shortening or margarine

2 eggs

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. cloves

½ cup raisins

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 cup sweetened applesauce and 1 tsp. soda mixed together

Beat sugar, shortening and eggs. Mix in applesauce and soda. Add the remaining dry ingredients and raisins and beat well. Bake in 350 degree until center springs back when touched. Frost with caramel icing.

Caramel Icing

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/3 cup heavy cream, or more if needed

1 (16-ounce) box confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup chopped nuts, optional

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in brown sugar and cream. Bring to a boil, and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat with a handheld electric mixer until it reaches a spreading consistency. At this time it may be necessary to add a tablespoon of heavy cream, or more, if frosting gets too thick. Just be sure to add cream in small amounts because you can always "add to," but you can't take away. Frost cake and sprinkle top with chopped nuts, if desired.

Apple Cake

4 cups peeled apples, sliced

1 cup sugar

2 tbsp. margarine

1 tsp. cinnamon

Cook these ingredients over low heat until apples are tender, about five minutes. Grease and flour bottom of 9x13 cake pan. Pour in apple mixture and top with the following mixture that has been blended together well:

Pillsbury Plus White Cake Mix

3 eggs

1 cup water

1/3 cup oil

Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until top springs back to the touch. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Apple Freezer Coffee Cake

½ cup shortening or margarine

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream

3 cups flour

1 tsp. vanilla

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

2 cups sliced apples

Topping

2 tbsp. butter

¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ cup chopped nuts

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and mix well. Add dry ingredients, then sour cream, and fold in apples.

Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Spoon ½ of batter into each. Put topping on each. Cover with tinfoil and freeze. When ready to bake, remove foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until top springs back to touch. Serve warm.

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