Though Castaneda has lived in Maine for many years, he was born and raised in Mexico City. And one weekend, while his mother remained home with his two youngest siblings, his father took him, his brother and sister on a camping trip just west of the city.
“We were in a mixed forest with a nice blend of deciduous and conifers, at a high altitude,” he recalled. “We hiked quite a lot and got very hungry and came back to camp and cook.”
The camp included a lean-to and a fire pit, where they set up a proper outdoor kitchen, complete with a tripod that suspended a big pot for boiling water, a cast iron skillet and a Dutch oven.
“My sister took delight on helping cook,” Castaneda recalled. “My job was to gather sticks for the fire and tend it.”
For dinner, they cooked rice, vegetables and tortillas. And for dessert, his sister placed four apples in a Dutch oven and set it over the coals.
“By the time we ate the rice and veggies, the apples were cooked,” he said. “Sis cut open the apples and scooped the core and added a little honey, raisins and walnuts, [then] folded them back and let them cook a little more.”
Meanwhile, they tidied up camp and washed the dishes and utensils in water warmed over the fire. And soon enough, the apples were ready. With spoons, they carved into the sweet treat, tucked in their sleeping bags, gazing at the stars.
It was about 80 years ago, but Castaneda remembers the details of the trip well.
“Happy memories stay with us forever,” he said.
Since then, he’s baked apples at home in the oven, and every time, the aroma and taste remind him of that camping trip so long ago.
How to make a campfire-baked apple
It all starts with selecting an apple. Many apples are great for baking, but in general, crisp tart varieties are prefered, such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Pink Lady and McIntosh. Be sure whatever apple you choose is fresh and crisp, not old and soft.
Next, select what you’d like to fill your apple with. Castaneda’s family filled theirs with raisins, honey and walnuts. Maple syrup, brown sugar and a combination of sugar, cinnamon and butter are also good options. Play around with it and see what you like best.
You can partially core the apple with a paring knife and add the fillings before baking, or you can wait until the apple is partially baked and soft, as Castaneda recalled his family doing. Either method has its challenges. You’re either cutting into an apple when it’s tough, or when it’s hot. In either case, exercise caution during this step.
When partially coring the apple, leave at least ¼ of an inch intact at the bottom to hold in the fillings. Also, try to keep the top of the core intact to act as a plug for the top of the apple (like the top of a jack-o-lantern) while cooking.
To bake the apple, you can simply place it in a Dutch oven and set that on hot coals. Or you can wrap the apple in aluminum foil, wrapping from the bottom up and creating a twisted foil handle at the top, like a little branch growing from the top of the apple.
Knowing how long to cook the apple can be tricky. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Land suggests placing the apple on its side in “medium coals” for five minutes, then using tongs to grab it and rotate it to the other side for another five minutes of cooking. However, this cook time will change depending on the heat of the fire and coals. In general, you want the apple to be soft but not mushy. You can test this by pressing gently on the apple with tongs or a long-handed utensil, even if it’s wrapped in foil.
Once you’ve determined your apples are done, remove them from the fire and wait for them to cool a bit before lifting the lid and eating with a spoon. A plastic spoon may not be best for this snack, since it might bend with the heat and not cut into flesh, which will be soft but still require a little slicing to get through. A metal spoon should do the trick. And don’t be shy about adding more sweet filling to the apple as you eat. You could even add whipped cream.
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