Apples, hearty, handsome and holiday-colored, have played an important role in Thanksgiving and Christmas observances since Colonial times.
Their versatility is limited only by the imagination, and the names of popular varieties are pleasant to the tongue . . . Rome Beauties, Winesaps, Jonathans, Cortlands, red and golden Delicious, and, of course, McIntosh, a great favorite, especially in the Northeast.
Apples add color to centerpieces for holiday tables. They lend their flavor to salads, pies, puddings, cakes, quick breads, and stuffings for turkey or chicken.
They share honors with cheese for an impromptu snack when guests stop by. Cheddar cheese cubes or sticks are excellent companions to Jonathan apple slices. Gouda, a Dutch cheese, goes well with slices of red or golden Delicious apples, to start the list.
Apples also serve as a welcome to holiday guests in this manner: Cover a tray with fresh greens or sprigs of holly and stand a fat red, green, or white candle in the center.
Arrange polished red and golden apples around the candle and add large walnuts in their shells, or cracked open if you prefer. Place the tray on a table near the door so guests can help themselves as they arrive or depart.
The Hudson Valley south of Albany has been a prime apple-growing area since the days of the Dutch settlers.
Hudson Valley writers such as Washington Irving waxed poetic over apples roasting on the hearth on snowy December nights.
Local cookbooks praise baked apples with cores filled with a mixture of raisins, chopped walnuts, and sugar, served warm with a generous portion of pouring cream or vanilla ice cream.
Apple-growing families such as the Robert Goolds, who have owned their land near Castleton on Hudson since 1911, make frequent use of their favorite fruit in holiday foods.
Mrs. Goold, Marcia, has used her recipe for apple orange nut bread for more than 20 years. She wraps loaves of the sweet quick bread in Christmas paper and ribbon for gifts for friends and serves the bread to guests and at family meals. The bread, she pointed out, is good toasted for holiday brunches. Apple Orange Nut Bread 4 cups sifted flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 2 teaspoons baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 2/3 cup vegetable shortening 2 cups sugar 3 eggs 1 teaspoon shredded orange peel 2/3 cup orange juice 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated apples 1 1/2 cups raisins 1/2 cup chopped nuts
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cream shortening and sugar together until creamy. Beat in eggs until light and fluffy. Combine orange peel and orange juice, apple, raisins, and nuts. Add to sugar and egg mixture.
Add flour mixture and combine until dry ingredients are just moistened. Bake in 2 greased 3-by-5-by-9-inch loaf tins at 350 degrees F. for 40 to 50 minutes or until bread tests done.
Mrs. Peter Goold (Marion) is Marcia's daughter-in-law and an enthusiastic homemaker and cook. For holiday meals, she bakes apple cake with cream cheese frosting, a longtime favorite with both family and friends. The cream cheese frosting, she said, is also good on chocolate cup cakes, another family favorite. Marion's Apple Cake 2 eggs 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 4 cups diced apples, peeled 1 cup chopped walnuts
Beat eggs until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar, oil, and vanilla. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and add to first mixture. Stir in apples and walnuts. Put in greased 2-by-9-by-13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Spread with cream cheese frosting. Cream Cheese Frosting 1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened 3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened Pinch of salt 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Combine all ingredients together and beat until smooth.
Peter Goold, Marion's husband, busy with 15 varieties of apples grown on 100 acres of land, had a couple of suggestions for preparing apple dishes for the holidays. Use a combination of white and whole wheat flour for crust for apple pie, he advised, saying, ''The nutty flavor that results can't be beat.'' And when making applesauce, use sweet cider as the liquid, to heighten the apple flavor.
Peter Goold said, ''There is considerable argument about which variety of apple is best for a certain use,'' but his suggestions are: Cortlands for salads , pies, and applesauce. Northern Spies and Rome Beauties are good for pies, too, ''since they hold their shape. McIntosh are best for eating.''