Ah, autumn. So soft, so gray, so indistinguishable from what passes for summer here in Northern Humboldt. You southern Humboldters must feel so smug all wrapped in your golden layers of summer tan. Here in Arcata autumn is primarily evidenced not by weather changes but by fresh green produce and visitors. The highway exits are awash with aspiring trimmers in dingy neckerchiefs frantically flailing scissor-embossed cardboard signs.
I personally adore this season not least because my awesome brother Max makes his annual pilgrimage to New Moon Organics Farm up in the Lotus Land of Shively to join in the orgy of harvesting squash, tomatoes, beans and apples. Desperate to find some sun and strengthen the bonds of siblinghood, I took the summer bridge recently and picked alongside the New Moon residents, munching raw sweet corn and frying sausages throughout the gorgeous sunlit afternoon. I came home with bags o' bounty, and among the succulent highlights was a peck of wonderful juicy sweet King apples, fresh off the tree.
Crisp autumn apples are such a treat. I really developed an appreciation for them in my years living in the U.K., where the brief Cox's Orange Pippin season is heralded like the Nouveau Beaujolais, with much patriotic rhapsodizing and teary WWII stories. Admittedly those apples are worth it; crisp, firm, sweet, with icy white flesh and a lovely snap, they have such a short season they provoke almost hysterical over-consumption.
Here in the U.S. we have decent apples available most of the year but nothing beats picking ‘em fresh and free of charge. Max does an annual cider pressing that keeps us flooded in juice the rest of the year, and our friend Willoughby is an expert at dried apples. I prefer to eat my apples fresh -- I consume three or four a day this time of year -- and I just love cooking with crunchy, tart-sweet fresh apples. They actually make great savory dishes -- fruit and meat is a killer combination -- and the King holds up to cooking particularly well. Winter apples get less firm after months of storing and can cooking too quickly to mealy mush, but with fresh apples the home cook can achieve any number of consistencies while maintaining a vibrant appley flavor unmuddied by age.
Before we get to some recipes I offer some advice: If you don't have an apple peeler/corer thingee, get one. Not only are they amusingly old-timey, they are surprisingly effective. It's important to have your apple slices of even thickness for cooking, and the thingee really does the trick.
Quick-Star Savory Applesauce
This is a wonderful quick accompaniment to our local Alexander Kids' pork chops (worth the extra pennies, seriously), or a pork roast or lamb.
2 medium/large apples, peeled, cored, sliced into 1 cm slices (the thingee does all that) and quartered
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. cinnamon
1 whole star anise
1 grind fresh black pepper
Place all ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add water about 2/3 up to top of contents (about 3/4 to one cup). Bring to boil, then lower heat to medium, cover and simmer, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until apples are totally soft. Remove star anise. Break up apple pieces completely with fork and serve alongside meat, blintzes or latkes. Makes about four servings.
Almanzo Wilder-esque Apples and Onions
(Any other Little House on the Prairie fans out there? Laura Ingalls' husband Almanzo Wilder always ate apples and onions as a kid in upstate New York. There's no recipe in the book, but the idea inspired this totally rad breakfast dish.)
Estimate one apple and half a medium-size onion per person, more if it's a main dish. It's particularly well suited alongside salty brekkie meats: sausage et al. A fried egg on top doesn't go amiss either.
2 apples, peeled, cored, sliced into 1 cm slices and halved
1 med. yellow onion, peeled, thinly sliced and quartered
½ t. salt, more to taste
1 t. brown sugar
1 t. vinegar (apple cider or white)
fresh ground pepper
optional: 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 T. butter
Sploosh olive oil (1, 2 teaspoons)
Heat fats over medium high heat in cast-iron frying pan. Place apples flat side down to cover bottom. Cook undisturbed until bottoms are browning, 3-4 minutes. Turn heat to medium, turn apples over, dump onions on top. Let fry undisturbed two minutes before adding seasonings and mixing all. Cook until onions are soft, another 2-3 minutes, tossing mixture occasionally. Grub hot. Serves two.
Jada's Too Lazy To Make Pastry Dough Pie
For base, buy a graham cracker crumb crust in 9-inch pie pan or make this quick one:
1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup white sugar
Blend and press into pan to form crust. Chill for an hour, or prebake at 375 for 7 minutes.
Crumbly Toppin' (do last minute so butter doesn't get melty)
1 stick cold sweet butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup flour
1/2 t. salt
Blend all by pulsing in food processor until mixture reaches texture of very coarse sand.
5 med. large apples peeled, cored, sliced into 1 cm slices and quartered
1/2 cup cornstarch mixed with enough cream to make a paste -- work lumps out with fork.
Toss apples with paste. It will dissolve as it mixes with the juice of the fruit.
1/2 cup each brown and white sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon, more to taste
juice of one lemon
Toss all thoroughly.
Sift 1/4 cup flour over all. Toss again. Put evenly in crust and sprinkle, dot and press crust mixture thickly over all. It's a crumble-style, not a flat crust.
Bake 40 minutes in 375 oven (preheated). Turn up heat to 425 for another 10-15 minutes to ensure topping getting crisp. Cool at least an hour.
Enjoy the appley goodness.