Sometimes the best ideas for cooking with tea come from a complete upending of one’s preconceptions. How’s it done? In my case I often open the tea cabinet and pick out a tea at random and then another without identifying which teas they are. I let them steep for three minutes each using water at just under the boiling point (Yes, I know that each tea likes its own temperature for brewing but I’m throwing caution to the winds here a bit). Then I taste the teas side by side and jot down without self censure the initial impressions of each. Sip each again, take more notes as new nuances of flavor become evident. Let the teas cool, taste and take notes once again. From those notes flows the ideation process of cooking with tea and pairing foods with the teas. The product of that creative outfall of ideas has led me to many inspired, good-enough-to-repeat dishes. Here’s one.
As fall seems to begin, however reluctantly, with summer letting go of its furious grasp, nationwide, I am turning for inspiration to my local farmers markets. Apples in many shades, shapes and flavors are starting to appear and I am drawn to one of those picked-at-random teas, in this case oolong, to use as the basis for a poaching liquid for the fruit. For the fruit, I chose first of the season Pink Lady apples with their crisp texture and sweet/tart floral notes. The tea, as many oolongs are, is delicate and fragrant.
Here’s a non-recipe recipe: Brew the tea, sweeten ever so slightly with honey and now tackle the apples. Peel and core them. Cut them into thick wedges. Place them in a buttered baking dish. Now sprinkle them with a very fine dusting of ground allspice and cinnamon. Pour the brewed tea over all, cover the whole thing with foil, and bake in a moderate oven (350° F) for about 35 minutes, or until the apples are tender when pierced with the point of a small knife. Served hot or warm with a dollop of crème fraiche or softly whipped cream melting into a delicious pool, here’s a dessert to herald the cooler seasons to come. Provide a spoon and a fork for this one. As textural counterpoint, crush some deliciously spicy ginger cookies and scatter over each serving, if you like.