Dear Barbara: My family is getting together, and I am supposed to make an apple pie. I’ve never made one before; do you know what kind of apples I should buy? — Shopper at Raley’s, name unknown
Dear Shopper: I can give you some suggestions of common apples that people seem to favor. They would be the Golden Delicious, Pippin, Granny Smith, Fuji, and perhaps Gravenstein apples. However, I much prefer to mix them and use two or three of my favorite apples.
Varieties that I would not use are the softer Red Delicious, Rome Beauty, Winesap, and McIntosh apples. Firmer apples are best for making pies. Good luck with your pie!
Dear Barbara: I have had a package of scallops in my freezer for over six months; do you think they are still good? — Margery from Lodi
Dear Margery: I would suggest that you thaw them and look at them. Do they look fresh? Do they smell fresh? Is there any freezer burn on them? If there were any kind of peculiar odor, I would not use them.
However, I have had scallops a little past six months that were just fine. The standard rule of thumb would be “if in doubt, throw them out.” You never want to take a chance with any food, especially poultry and seafood.
Dear Barbara: I made some pea soup from the holiday ham bone, and what I didn’t like was the taste of the peas. I used dried peas that were a well-known brand. A strong taste not found in fresh, frozen or even canned peas was there. I don’t know exactly how to describe it except for something like melting plastic or a chemical smell. Do you have any tips on how to mellow the taste of the peas? — David from Burbank
Dear David: I don’t feel that the flavor of plastic, or a chemical smell came from the peas. Did you perhaps store them next to something that would affect the smell of the peas, or possibly scorch the soup while cooking?
I have some split dried peas, and they have no detectable odor other than peas. I would certainly try the recipe again, maybe with a different bag of peas, and see if you get the same results from it.
Dear Barbara: I’m having a very difficult time making Almond Rocha candy. I have been making Almond Rocha for years, with the same recipe, and it’s come out perfect. In the last ten years or so, however, I’ve had such a difficult time with the butter separating, rather than mixing, while cooking in the sauce pan. I’ve tried several different kinds of butter, but the problem persists. Any idea what the problem could be? — Vivian from Lodi
Dear Vivian: There are many things that it could be, so I will list a few. Have you moved to a different altitude in the last 10 years? Are you using a heavy-bottomed pan? Be sure your ingredients are all at room temperature when you start, and use a clean wooden spoon.
If your candy thermometer is old, it could be that the temperature is off. You can check that by placing it in boiling water. At sea level, it should read 212 degrees.
A huge variable is the weather. Don’t try it when it’s raining, or hot, or humid. Sugar pulls moisture from the air, which may be why the butter separates.
Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.