When my children were little, we lived along the Yentna River in Southcentral Alaska and neighbors were few and far between. Sometimes, in the summer, a group of kids would wiggle into their lifejackets and an older one would drive a skiff upriver for a group visit. Or, in the winter, they would pile onto snowmachines and navigate the warren of trails winding from the river back into the woods and on to various homesteads. But, basically, it was more of a solitary lifestyle for my daughters growing up. That was never more evident than during holiday celebrations. Ever try to trick-or-treat at a wilderness lodge?
For all the lack of pizazz Halloween held for my daughters growing up, they have embraced the holiday as adults living in Anchorage. They fuss over their costumes, fuss more about their spouses', and every year either host or go to sometimes-elaborate costume parties. They basically make up for all the lonely and quiet Octobers of their childhood. It seems every week I am being asked by someone in my family for substantial donations of cooked food for entertaining guests or bringing to a party.
Luckily, in the backyard of our small Anchorage office, we have a formidable crabapple tree. The tree’s production schedule always conveniently coincides with a time when my husband Carl and I are in Anchorage as we wait for freeze-up to happen on the lake in front of our lodge. We need an ice thickness of about nine inches on our lake before we can fly back out (we are estimating around the third week of November this year). Cooking crabapples, either into a jam or jelly, pickling and preserving them, making spicy crabapple rings, and turning them into other treats has become a ritual of fall for us as we enjoy extended time in Anchorage. This year, for one daughter's recent gathering, I decided to make candied crabapples. The tartness of the apples and the sweetness of the caramel complement each other.
I've been lucky to travel to China twice in the fall. It's interesting that candied crabapples are a popular (perhaps the most popular) street food in China this time of year. You can find vendors carrying long poles of stacked candied crabapples for sale seemingly on every street corner. Eating candied crabapples has been a popular street-food tradition in China for hundreds of years.
Taking a cue from our Chinese neighbors, I just stuck small sticks (branches from my crabapple tree) into each apple to craft easy handles for eating. I also added chopped dark chocolate, nuts, seeds and other toppings on hand.
There are two types of caramel-making recipes. One calls for water and sugar heated and the other calls for sugar heated on its own. I find using a little water is easier. Corn syrup makes the caramel less likely to crystallize (which makes it kind of seize up into a big cluster of hardened sugar) and makes the end result smoother. If you are opposed to using corn syrup, substitute a quarter teaspoon of lemon juice in this recipe and it will have the same results. If you don't have the inclination to make caramel, as the recipe calls for, just melt some caramel candies.
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Toppings (about 1/2 cup each):
Dark chocolate, Chopped pecans, Chopped pistachios, Toasted sesame seeds, Medium-coarse sea salt.
Mix the sugar, corn syrup and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan (don’t stir -- that might cause crystallization), until the mixture is golden amber, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Slowly whisk in the heavy cream, unsalted butter, vanilla extract, and salt. Return to low heat and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Let the mixture cool until the caramel is thick enough to coat a spoon.
Insert small, sturdy sticks into the stem ends of 12-15 clean and dry crabapples and dip the apples into the caramel, letting the excess drip off. Roll the apples in various toppings and then let cool on a parchment-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
Makes 12-15 candied crabapples.