In fall you must make Apple Crisp.
I did not always know this. As much as I rely on apples now, I was not someone who grew up eating them very often. I remember apple slices and applesauce–segmented or resurrected varieties of the fruit–but not the whole entities. I also remember considering apples somewhat boring. Standard, sweet, and forever the same. And then I moved to Vermont and realized that maybe, though I liked apples well enough and my childhood meals were comparatively well-balanced and healthy, I had never really eaten a good apple.
I learned the importance of the Apple Crisp doctrine during college in Vermont, where apples predominate the food triangle during autumn; they appear in barrels and baskets, stands on the roadside, bubbling in warm pies, and pretty much overtaking every possible cranny of the state. Every fall I would gather with friends and show up at Happy Valley Orchards, an orchard run by my friend Tommy Heitkamp’s family, to load Cortlands, McIntoshes, Honey Crisps, and Galas into brown paper bags. We would peruse aisles of short apple trees and pluck the apple of our fancy off of low branches. Sometimes a bite out of an apple would reveal its inferiority and it would be tossed to the ground. You could eat as many apples as you wanted while picking. We climbed trees to get the most tempting fruit and sometimes a picnic would even take place at the roots of a tree, with brie and bread an probably chocolate.
The affair was usually a misty one, and on one occasion I remember dashing inside the small wooden commercial space to escape burgeoning drizzle. No trip could conclude without the purchase of apple cider donuts and a pitcher or two of cider.
And always, when we arrived back to campus with pounds of apples, their skins taut and still dewy, there was a Crisp to concoct. I have no memory of recipes being used; Crisps and Crumbles are nice because they thrive off simplicity, fresh ingredients, improvisation, and vanilla ice cream. A cold day and some fall colors don’t hurt much either. We would eat the Crisps by the spoonful, not bothering to separate the steaming dessert into bowls.
Now I am living in Northern California, a more temperate environment. Today was still and warm, hot even, and the evening could be enjoyed without a sweatshirt. And yet July was like late March in most other places. The skipping over seasons and then retracing steps and having bouts of summer during January, wintery days in July, autumnal days in August, and spring where fall is supposed to be definitely messes with my senses.
But signs of Autumn still make their way into the scene. The man who was selling strawberries and watermelons out of the back of his truck on Harrison Street is now selling pumpkins. Halloween decorations drape themselves over the elegant Victorian facades in my neighborhood (a very fitting architecture for Halloween, I will say). And apples have reappeared at the Sunday farmer’s market. Right now the Galas are still sweet but the Fujis are small and super crisp, the way I love them the most.
Back to where I started: Apple Crisp. I made a rather successful one yesterday, though the apples I used were picked by someone else. We stayed the weekend at the Goat Farm in Tomales (see “Grazing at the Goat Farm Gala”). Just like in San Francisco, the temperature reminded me much more of early Summer than mid-fall.
In many ways, the farm was actually undergoing spring. A new layer of grass crept through the dead remnants of a dry summer and cast a chartreuse veil over the hills. Baby goats (baby goats!) ran here and there, cuddling up in corners of the pen or munching ecstatically on hay. In the morning, the sun slowly warmed away a velvety layer of fog so it looked as though the cloud dissipating from the barnyard was illuminated from within. Grass stood tall under an echelon of due, almost appearing electric in the slanted sunlight.
Autumn had also sunk its teeth into the farm, as strange gourds decorated counter tops and pumpkins rested precariously on railings. My visit this weekend had no plans, except that we were going to a barn dance (and we did), we would probably make an excellent meals (check), and that I wanted an Apple Crisp. As I sat down to make the dish, I couldn’t help yearning for a cold nose and flushed cheeks from Northeastern air. Hot apple cider doesn’t necessarily taste the same without at least a frost, and I worried the Crisp would be similarly unfitting for the warm evening in store.
Yet one bite of the Crisp yielded complete satisfaction. The brown sugar, oats, and butter turned into a textured, tasteful topping. Different apple varieties melded together and offset each other’s distantly tart flavors. A dollop of vanilla ice cream melting rapidly over the whole affair prompted a predictable second helping. For a couple of spoonfuls, I was back under the fragile, fiery leaves of Vermont’s autumn.
Simple Apple Crisp
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8×12 pan. Chop 4-6 apples, preferably different varieties. Gravenstiens and Granny Smiths supposedly make great Crisps, but I used neither. Toss apple slices with 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice.
For topping, combine:
- 6 Tablespoons Butter
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
Layer apples into the pan and cover with the topping. If you want, you can also add some additional pats of butter onto the top of the Crisp. Bake for an hour, serve with vanilla bean ice cream.