Maria Owens makes pork and apples
Cook of the Week
This weekend dozens of people will travel to Maria Owens's property in Winfield for a day of apple picking, hay rides, apple sauce making, games and an unusual chili pot luck.
Maria, a retired teacher from Naperville Unit District 203, and her husband, Bob, have been hosting fall celebrations for several years, gathering family and friends on the three-acre property they fell in love with in 1977.
"We started (the festival) with great-nieces and -nephews,says Maria. "They brought their little friends and Bob would give hay rides.
This year the Owens will include their 18-month-old grandson in the festivities, as well as Bob's spanking-new John Deere tractor to pull the hay wagon.
The older kids arrive early to put up Halloween decorations; younger ones generally busy themselves by building a scarecrow with one of Bob's old flannel shirts, a pair of jeans and hay.
The parents will hang out together, enjoying the freedom of letting their children run loose on the spacious property.
"We set up a tent for the food, says Maria, who has asked each family to bring a pound of their favorite chili. Rather than setting them out individually, "we're going to throw it all into one pot and I'll make a big pan of cornbread.
One of the highlights of the day surely will be the annual applesauce making.
The kids pick and wash the apples, and those 5 and older earn the privilege of using plastic, serrated knifes to cut them up at a picnic table.
The apples are tossed into a pot core, skin and all and cooked down on an electric hot plate outside while the children play.
When it's ready, each child gets a turn running the slurry through a mill or ricer. The results go into individual plastic containers for the kids to take home. Maria might serve part of the warm applesauce with dessert, spooned over ice cream with caramel sauce.
That's just one inventive way Maria uses the apples from her orchard. She has developed a bushel-full of recipes, from main courses, side dishes and desserts, to make the most of the red and golden delicious, McIntosh and Jonathan apples they grow organically.
"These recipes are my hybrids, she says.
Maria combines ideas from various sources and adds her own imagination to dishes like apple soup with curry powder and a mock apple pie with buttered bread for crusts.
This week we showcase her savory recipes: pork tenderloin with onions and apple cider sauce, bread stuffing, recipe at dailyherald.com/food, with cottage cheese and red cabbage coleslaw, a trio that works together as a complete, apple-centric meal.
Add some warm apple crisp and any way you slice it, that's a fall celebration.