Not just for polishing anymore

“As American as apple salsa?!”

Hey, it could happen. In fact, if you judge from past winners of the North Carolina Apple Festival’s annual apple-recipe contest, that most lore-ridden of all our fruits is doing way more, these days, than pumping up Grandma’s standby pie.

For at least two decades, this popular event has inspired Southeastern cooks to produce a remarkable assortment of delights. And while there’s no age limit for participants, recipes must be prepared with only locally grown apples and contain at least two cups of the fruit (or one cup of applesauce).

Furthermore, everything must be freshly made — and of course, the recipe has to be original.

The four contest categories are as follows: low-cal, breads, pies and pastries, and desserts. And from these restrictions springs an amazing wealth of apple-enriched goodies. Back in ’96, the now-notorious “Mountain Wildfire Apple Salsa” used green chiles, cilantro, lime juice and jalapenos to complement its main ingredient. Then in ’97 came the “Fat-Free (believe it) Apple Coffee Cake,” followed in subsequent years by such imaginative concoctions as “Cheerios Applesauce Muffins,” a reinvigorated version of traditional apple dumplings and “Morning Glory Apple Bread” (made with carrots, Gala apples, coconut and pecans). And lest we forget, there was also that divine “Heaven & Earth Sweet Potato Apple Pie” a few years back that garnered second place for its creator, George Rankin (yes, the men flour up for this event, too).

Local high schools also get into the act each year with Home Economics (or is it Domestic Science now?) students participating by submitting individual entries as part of a graded class project.

Apples, it seems clear, are not just for polishing anymore.

This year’s panel of six judges includes local celebrities and apple professionals such as Fox 21 reporter Mike Cable; WHKP weatherman Paul Speranza; Henderson County Attorney Angela Becker; local nurseryman Jerry Merrill; ex-Oakland Raider Mickey Marvin; and Caroline Blackwell, who owns the Immaculate Consumption Cookie Company in Hendersonville.

After the contest (Friday, Sept. 1, First Citizens Bank Plaza at Main Street and 6th Avenue, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.), the 2000 Grand Prize-winning item will be auctioned off, with all proceeds going to charity. And, as always, this year’s winning recipes will be published in the Hendersonville Times-News.

What follows is a sampling of prize-winning recipes from years past:

Mountain Wildfire Apple Salsa

(Doug and Ryan Sparks, first place)

2 cups apples
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped tomato
1 2-ounce can green chiles (finely chopped)
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
1 tablespoon cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chopped jalapeno peppers
1 teaspoon salt

In large pot, stir apples, onions, lime juice and tomatoes over medium heat until blended. Add in all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Simmer for one hour on low heat, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool. Serve with chips as dip, or use as topping on meats or on salads and sandwiches.

Heaven & Earth Sweet Potato Apple Pie

(George Rankin, second place)

3 eggs
1 29-ounce can sweet potatoes, drained & mashed
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired)
3 large apples cut up, cored & peeled (Golden Delicious)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 9-inch pie shell
unbaked pecan halves
whipped cream (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sweet potatoes, sugar, spices and salt. Add apples and then gradually stir in milk. Pour in pie shell. Bake on bottom rack of preheated 400-degree oven till knife inserted near center comes clean (about 40-45 minutes). Cool completely on wire rack. Garnish with pecans and whipped cream, if desired.

Apple Brandy Cake

(Geraldine Emanuele, second place)

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon soda
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup brandy

In the first bowl, sift together the flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and soda. In second bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, sugar and eggs. In third bowl, mix together the apples, nuts, vanilla and brandy. Combine first and second bowls. Mix till moist. Add contents of third bowl to mixture. Pour into greased 9-by-13-inch glass pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool on rack; cover with plastic wrap. Let sit two days before serving.

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