The advent of cool fall weather brings with it rich outdoor colors and earthy aromas. It is both a season of abundance and a slightly bittersweet time of bidding the freedom of summer farewell. For me, autumn has its own pleasures, and I really look forward to the season’s new harvests of red-cheeked, crispy apples. Their sweet fruity scent and flavor is one of the hallmarks of the year’s end.
Compared to even five years ago, there are more apple varieties to choose from in today’s supermarkets, but for those lucky enough to have their own apple trees or to have farm stands or farmers’ markets close at hand, many old-fashioned varieties are also available.
Expand your apple-eating horizons by trying different kinds of apples, especially if you are thinking of planting your own trees. Many apples can be eaten fresh or cooked, such as Golden Delicious, Jon-A-Red, Gala, or Granny Smith, but some, like Red Delicious, Fuji, Mutsu and Grimes Golden are best for fresh eating out of hand. Varieties like Cortland and Rome Beauty are meant to be baked or made into sauce. It’s a treat to explore all of these different apple flavors and textures. Fall is the best time to taste test varieties because new crop apples are at their peak, while later in winter and spring domestic apples are marketed from cold storage, which inevitably affects their eating quality.
Baked apples are a favorite childhood dessert of mine which I still make often. Core big baking apples and stuff them with a mixture of chopped currants and brown sugar, or use cinnamon hearts candy to fill the core holes. Place in a baking dish, add about 1/2 inch of apple juice, and bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour, or until the apples are soft and succulent and the juices slightly caramelized. This is a truly sumptuous dessert when topped with vanilla ice cream or yogurt.
Of course, nothing pleases everyone everywhere more than a freshly baked apple pie. Make them this season with fresh apples, and see which variety you like best for pie. If you are leery of making your own crust, try apple crisp with a crunchy topping of brown sugar, a little cinnamon, butter, flour, and chopped nuts, or buy and bake your apples in the new pre-made, uncooked, chilled pie crust dough circles available in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.
If you have a bumper crop of apples, or find an especially good buy on them, make some dried apples slices for nutritious, naturally sweet snacks. Just slice up the apples into 1/4-inch slices, dip in a lemon juice and water solution, and dry them in single layers on screens in the oven at 140 to 160 degrees F until the slices are leathery, but not crispy.
To make apple butter, combine applesauce with undiluted (defrosted) apple juice, cinnamon and a little ground clove, ginger or lemon zest, then bake the sauce down in a preheated, slow, 250-degree F oven until it is the consistency of creamy peanut butter (which it is heavenly with, on whole wheat toast!). Fill jelly jars with apple butter and freeze or water bath can the filled jars.