{You Pick Six} An Interview with Writer: Amy Traverso

Amy TraversoMy apple appetite keeps increasing. Sometimes I’m eating more than an apple a day!

But who can blame me? Certainly not Amy Traverso, who wrote The Apple Lover’s Cookbook and is Senior Lifestyle Editor at Yankee Magazine.

As mentioned in a previous post, I learned about Amy’s book after seeing her speak as part of a panel discussion at TECHmunch Boston. She was also named one of Boston’s “Ultimate Tastemakers” by Boston Common magazine.

So it’s truly an honor to have her participate in the eighth part of the interview series, You Pick Six. Let’s jump in!

* * *

What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
This time of year, it’s definitely my grandmother’s apple crisp, which she first discovered in an issue of Country Gentleman magazine back in the 1930s. She saved the clipping and now I have it. It’s different from the oatmeal-based crisps that most people know, because the topping is more like a cobbler or a sweet biscuit. You combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder as the base and the only liquid comes from a couple of eggs that you stir in until the mixture is crumbly. Then you drizzle 6 or 8 tablespoons of butter over the whole thing and sprinkle it with cinnamon. I have absolutely no self-control around this dish and will gladly eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you come to my house for dinner in the fall, chances are this is what I’m serving for dessert.

Grandma Mary’s Apple Crisp
Yield: 8 servings
Time: 1¼ hours, largely unattended

5 large tender-tart apples (such as McIntosh or Jonathan; about 2½ pounds total), peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick rings or slices
5 large firm-sweet apples (such as Jazz or Ginger Gold; about 2½ pounds total), peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick rings or slices
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF, and set a rack to the middle position. Arrange the sliced apples in an even layer in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish (no need to grease it); set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the eggs and, using a fork or a pastry cutter, work in until crumbly. The mixture will look like streusel, with a mix of wet and dry bits. (Have no fear; the eggs provide enough liquid.)

3. Spread the topping evenly over the apples, then drizzle all over with the melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake until the topping is golden brown and apple juices are bubbling, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes, then serve warm from the pan.

Apple Stack Cake-horz2What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
My father always told me that if you become an expert at something, you’ll always have work to do. Of course, you also have to be good at many things in order to have a career as a food writer. You should be able to cook, to cover trends, to write about restaurants. But having one area of concentration is useful.

What is a favorite quote?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – from Neale Donald Walsch. I used to hate public speaking or doing live TV. I completely dreaded having to promote The Apple Lover’s Cookbook. I wanted to stay in the kitchen and behind my computer!  And then I got a call from my publicist informing me that she had booked me on The Martha Stewart Show. I hung up the phone and cried. But having to do it (Martha was very nice, btw) and having to get up there and give talks at libraries and women’s clubs and farmers’ markets reminded me that the only answer to fear is doing exactly the thing that you want to avoid. And the rewards come back tenfold. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences since I got out there.

What is a favorite childhood food memory?
I grew up in one of those Italian families with the grape arbor and a big garden in grandma’s back yard and salame hanging from the rafters in the root cellar. We had big Sunday dinners with homemade pasta and from-scratch cakes. (As I type this, I realize it sounds like a bad cliche or a Saveur personal essay parody, so let me add that my grandparents mixed their red wine with ginger ale and we made our pesto with cream cheese instead of pine nuts because it was cheaper). But the centrality of those Sunday dinners taught me that food isn’t merely sustenance or fashion, but something that can connect you with your community and history. It’s where some of my happiest childhood memories live and it’s what I wanted to bring into my adult life by becoming a food writer.

What is a favorite cookbook?
I still go back to The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and have learned more from it than perhaps any other book I own. There are others that do a terrific job of teaching technique, but Judy Rodgers knew how to explain the mechanics without losing the poetry. Also, reading her book reminds me of living in San Francisco and all the wonderful food we had there.

Tell me about your book.
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook is my love letter to an incredible fruit—one that has woven itself into human history for thousands of years. The project began with a simple love of apple crisp and other homey recipes and of the orchards themselves, but when I started learning about the history (for example: Apples are native to Asia, not North America) and about their diversity (there are thousands of varieties being grown worldwide), I was hooked.

The Apple Lover's CookbookApple are unique in the fruit world for many reasons. Unlike, say, oranges or lemons, apples are available in multiple varieties pretty much everywhere they’re sold. Even my neighborhood convenience store has Granny Smith and Red Delicious. And they all taste very different. They also respond differently to cooking: one (Northern Spy) will hold up well in a pie and another (McIntosh) will turn to mush. So I decided to bring some order to the chaos and organize about 60 different varieties into one of four categories, based on how sweet (or tart) they are and on how they respond to cooking. Are they firm and tart? Tender and sweet? I used that info to guide the recipes—there are 100 of them, from soup to entrees to dessert—and the book helps you choose the best ones for, say, pie versus pancakes versus braised brisket.

The book is full of gorgeous photos by Squire Fox, and I give tasting notes and historical info for each variety, plus an index with apple products, apple festivals, and a guide to hard cider, which is growing exponentially in popularity.

* * *

Thank you so much for participating Amy!

+ + +
Photos provided by Amy Traverso.