Autumn is just about gone here in New England. The mums have all faded away, the trees are left with just a few splashes of color and the mornings are glistening with a thin film of crystalline frost. I managed to get one trip to the apple orchard in before pick-your-own ceased for the year. To be honest, I made several trips to my favorite orchard, but didn’t pick any apples myself until the final weekend of the season. There are still plenty of locally grown apples to be had and some of my favorites, such as Mutzu and Idared, are late season varieties. But I can’t pick them myself past the end of October and for some reason they seem to taste better when I know that I plucked them from their mother branches myself.
I picked about eight pounds of golden delicious and Idared and I’ve had them sitting in my garage for the past few weeks. They’ll keep pretty well for about a month in a cool dark place. And they’ll keep even longer in the refrigerator. I’ve been thinking about those apples and mulling over what to make with them. Many close friends and family will be expecting apple butter in their holiday packages this year. But it takes many pounds of apples to yield enough apple butter for canning and after eating quite a few there really aren’t that many left. I’m always surprised at how quickly we go through apples in the fall.
I had an entire Sunday with nothing to do but hang around the house and watch football. I mentioned to my husband Jason that I was thinking about making apple sauce with the apples we had left in the garage. He suggested a pie and that sounded pretty good. But then he said “Hey, how about an apple crisp. It’s like a pie but without all the crust”. I’ve only made apple crisp once before and I was disappointed with the results. I’d made it in a shallow baking dish with a thin layer of apples that cooked down to almost nothing. My topping was also too thin and it never got crispy like it was supposed to. I immediately started doing an inventory of the pantry in my head. I had the right ingredients, why the hell not! Apple crisp it is.
I picked eight of the largest apples of mixed varieties, peeled them, cut them in half and removed the core with a melon baller. This is by far the easiest method I’ve found for cleaning apples. I sliced them about a quarter of an inch, not too thin and not too thick, so they’d hold some of their shape when cooked. I put the sliced apples in a big mixing bowl and sprinkled them with about half a cup of dark brown sugar, a healthy tablespoon of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, the zest of one lemon and the juice from half the lemon and a couple tablespoons of flour. I also grated a little nub of ginger in as I really love that apple/ginger combination and I mixed everything up really well so that every slice of apple was coated with sugar. I wanted a deeper vessel for the apples, one that would allow them to bake in their own juices without reducing down to mush. I picked a casserole dish with relatively high sides. When I started pouring the apples in, I realized that this was going to be tricky. My apples created an enormous mound in the dish! I thought, how the hell am I going to get the topping to stay on this mountain of apples? I thought about transferring the apples to a bigger baking dish, but managed to quiet the doubtful voice in my head. I pressed on.
For the topping, I combined half a cup of flour, half a cup of granulated sugar, six tablespoons of cool butter cut into cubes, a quarter cup of oats and a quarter cup of chopped pecans. To combine the topping ingredients, I found that my hands were the most effective tool. I mashed everything together until it had the consistency of slightly dry modeling clay. I could make balls out of it, but they crumbled easily. This was just the right consistency for pressing into the top of my apple mountain. Working carefully, I covered the entire mound with the topping mixture, pressing slightly to compact everything down. I had to cup one hand along the side of the casserole dish while covering the sides of the apple mountain. But I managed to get the whole thing covered and it was exactly the right amount of topping for the size of the dish. As a final touch, I sprinkle the top with a dusting of cinnamon. Before applying the topping, I’d transferred the dish filled with apples to a baking sheet in case the whole thing bubbled over in the oven. I slid it into a 375 degree oven and walked away. After 30 minutes, I checked it. The top was still soft and I could see that the apples had not yet rendered any of their juices, so I walked away again. After an hour, the topping had browned beautifully and I could see a little juice bubbling at the edges of the casserole dish. I turned off the oven and left it in there to cool off on its own.
By the time my apple crisp was done baking, it was about 2:30 in the afternoon. I considered making that my dinner, adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream and calling that a dose of calcium to make it seem more healthy and well rounded. But I talked myself out of it and we had a normal dinner of protein and vegetables, all the while fantasizing about that warm mile high apple crisp with vanilla ice cream melting into the juices of the apples, mingling together to drive me mad with sweet desire. Finally, the moment had come. Dinner had been consumed, the kitchen was clean and we were ready for the big unveiling. I broke through the thick crispy topping and it made a pleasant crackling sound. The apples had a lovely caramel color and aroma and the bottom of the dish was filled with luscious juice, which I spooned over the top. It tasted divine, the apples soft yet not overcooked, the hint of ginger, cinnamon and lemon blending together to compliment the apples, the crunch of the pecans and cooked oats in the topping adding a textural burst to every bite and the ice cream mellowing the whole thing out. It was sweet yet savory, crispy yet soft, warm yet cold. I will be making this again….exactly the same way. Until then, I’ll have mile high apple crisp on my mind.