Everywhere I go, I see them: the apples of autumn. Three of my neighbors have trees, loaded with ripe and ripening apples, many already falling to the ground, to the delight of the ever-present deer. And along the drive I take from our end of the island to anywhere else, apple trees dot the wayside, all currently heavy with fruit.
This year, unlike our reluctant tomatoes, apples seem to be thriving, obviously soaking up the sun and making the most of our unusually long, warm, dry spell. I’ve spotted everything from crab apples to Granny Smiths to Golden Delicious, as well as some unknowns, all plentiful, and either ready or close to ready to harvest.
The one apple tree I’ve not yet found anywhere on our island, however, is a Gravenstein, still and forever my favorite apple for all-‘round use. One of my beloved grandmothers had a Gravenstein apple tree in her yard, and every year about this time my aunt Betty and I gorged ourselves on those apples, filling our pockets before we went off to play make-believe in the woods behind Grandma’s house. No other apple tastes quite the same.
My grandmother never wasted food of any kind, and she was not about to let any of those apples lie on the ground to rot. It was up to Betty and me to pick up any fallen apples, every day after school, always with the provision that we could eat as many as we wished. And, because we were smaller, lighter and more agile, we were also recruited to pick the apples at the very top of the tree, where the step ladder didn’t quite reach. It amazes me, now, to recall how easily and nonchalantly we shinnied up that tree, perched in the uppermost branches, giggling all the while, and plucked those jewels.
The apple pies, applesauce, cobblers and meltingly delicious apple butter my grandmother made from our gleanings were beyond anything I’ve yet to concoct in my kitchen, no matter which apple variety I’m using, and I’m not exactly a green hand at all of that. I still say, there’s no apple quite like those.
When I inquired of apple growers, some years ago, as to why I could no longer find Gravensteins, I was told that they fell from favor because they were more susceptible to various apple plagues and were replaced, over the years, by more resistant varieties. I understand, and yes, there are so many gorgeous apples on the market and on the trees now, I shouldn’t complain. All I can say is, I miss the unmistakable crispness, juiciness, and especially the unique flavor of my childhood apple.
“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples….” (Song of Solomon 2:5); make that a chilled bottle of Greek Retsina and a plate of freshly picked Gravensteins, if you please.
I have so many apple recipes, as I’m sure many of you have, as well; for crisp, cobbler, pie, cake, dumplings, apple butter, applesauce, etc., so I dug deep into my too fat apple file to come up with two or three a bit different, perhaps something you’ve not tried to do with apples. Here are some possibilities.
There’s nothing that goes quite so well with apples as cheddar cheese (especially on pie), so maybe you’ll find this apple/cheddar salad tempting. It’s certainly a change from Waldorf salad.
APPLE CHEDDAR SALAD
1 T. unsalted butter
1 cup pecan halves or pieces
1 T. sugar
Pinch of salt
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 t. chopped fresh chives
1 T. sugar
1 t. kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne (about 1/8 t.)
½ cup heavy cream
1 crisp sweet apple, such as Braeburn, cored and sliced
1 bag salad mix of your choice
Sharp white cheddar cheese, shaved, in an amount to your preference (don’t be stingy)
1. Melt butter along with sugar and salt in a small sauté pan over med. heat; add pecans and toast about 3-4 min. Set aside.
2. To make the vinaigrette, in a bowl, combine the vinegar, olive oil, chives, sugar, salt and cayenne. Whisk in the cream (do not whip).
3. In a salad bowl, toss together the apple, salad mix; add the sugared pecans and about 1/3 cup of the vinaigrette, reserving the rest
for another use or to add if the salad seems to need more.
4. Garnish the salad generously with the shaved cheddar and serve, or chill until ready to serve. Makes about 10 cups salad.
Is there any better combination than apple and caramel? I doubt it; this recipe is one I adapted from one of my grandmother’s (she didn’t have access to ready made caramel and made her own; I use Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel topping, to which I am addicted). If you have kids, these will be gone within 24 hours.
CARAMEL APPLE SQUARES
¼ cup butter, softened
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 ¼ cups flour, divided (see instructions)
1 cup old-fashioned oats (don’t use instant)
1 t. cinnamon
½ t baking soda
½ cup finely chopped pecans
3 cups chopped unpeeled apples
¾ cup caramel topping (see comment above)
Vanilla ice cream (or your preference), for topping, along with additional caramel topping, if desired
1. Grease bottom and sides of a 9×13 baking pan. Beat butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer on med. speed until well mixed. Beat in 1 cup of flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda and pecans until well blended and mixture is crumbly. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan; reserve remaining mixture for topping.
2. Spread apples over the mixture in the pan. Heat the ¾ cup caramel topping and ¼ cup flour to boiling in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Boil about 1 min., stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Drizzle over the apples, sprinkle with remaining crumbly mixture.
3. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 35 to 45 min., or until top is golden brown. Cool 30 min. before serving. Top with ice cream and additional caramel topping. Makes 16 squares.
For years, I made Waldorf salad every Thanksgiving, because it was expected. Then I discovered what apples mixed with Gorgonzola cheese could do for my life.
GORGONZOLA APPLE SALAD
4 cups unpeeled, diced red apples
2 cups cantaloupe balls (yes, I know it sounds an odd combination; just try it)
2 cups sliced celery
½ cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 oz. (more, if desired) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled, (or use blue cheese, if preferred)
1. Combine apples, cantaloupe and celery in a large bowl.
2. Combine sour cream, mayonnaise and Gorgonzola cheese in a small bowl; add to apple mixture and toss lightly. Serve on lettuce leaves on individual salad plates or on a platter lined with lettuce leaves. Makes 8 to 10 servings.