It was a couple years ago, about this time of year. It was time for the monthly FPCe Women’s Group gathering, and it was a cool, crisp, late-summer evening such as this. I wanted to make something apple-y, in celebration of fall, and I had a TON of apples to use up. So, apple cobbler came to mind first. But shoot! At least three of the women in the group were not able to eat gluten. Being a gluten glutton, myself, I did not have any of the many flours and things needed to make a gluten-free dough. What to do, what to do?
Oatmeal, I thought. I can make oat bars with apple filling! Yeah, nice try. Still need wheat flour for that. Rice pudding? Maybe. If only I had enough eggs. Crap! Then I thought of polenta. Normally I make polenta with a combination of broth and milk. And most people think of it as a savory item. But why not? Corn cakes are often sweet. Here in Appalachia, old-timers eat fried mush with sorghum molasses or maple syrup, right? Why not polenta?
Rather than cooking the polenta with milk, I decided to use apple juice that I had canned. Polenta calls for a grain to liquid ratio of anywhere from 1:3 to 1:6, depending how thick you want it. I wanted it pretty thick, so I cooked 2 cups of polenta with a quart of apple juice, and just a quarter cup of 1/2 and 1/2 for fun. I also added about a teaspoon of cinnamon.
While that cooked, I chopped ten or so apples to get about 8 cups of pieces. I wanted the apples to be small, but not so small that they would turn to mush when cooked. So, about 1/2 inch pieces worked well.
I melted 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter in my big cast iron skillet and added about 1/4 teaspoon each allspice, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, and another 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. I like to heat my spices first to get as much flavor out of them as possible. The kitchen smelled like a bear hug!
I tossed in the apples and 1/4 cup each molasses and honey, and cooked the apples until they were just getting tender. By that time the polenta was done.
I poured the polenta into a baking dish – 9X13, greased – and poured the cooked apples over that. Then I made a fairly traditional crumble topping, but without the flour that you would normally use. I chopped a cup of walnuts in the food processor, took half of them out and processed the rest until it was almost like flour. Back in went the larger pieces, along with 1/3 cup brown sugar, more cinnamon, 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter that I had diced, and 1/2 cup oats. The pulse setting turned that into a nice crumbly topping.
That went over the apples, which went into a 350ºF oven for about 20 minutes, just enough to get the apples fully cooked and their juices bubbling up through the oat-walnut topping.
It was pretty tasty – an earthier taste than a normal cobbler, but also more substantial. It went over well at the gathering, and Mr. Dewey took care of the rest. He’s good for that.
NOTE: if you really need to make sure this is completely gluten free, be certain the oats are gluten free. Some oats are processed in the same facilities as wheat, and so can contain trace amounts of gluten; enough to affect a Celiac or someone with severe gluten sensitivities.