Saturday, September 17

Picking Apples

Is it too early to start writing about fall?  I think this is the season I most look forward to.  I can't say that it's my favorite season - I really love them all - but this is the season I find myself waiting for with eager anticipation come the middle of July or early August.  And it just can't seem to come fast enough. 

I truly love everything there is about fall. I relish the cooler temperatures - especially this year after a hot, dry summer that seemed never ending. I savor the hearty, slow-cook meals of autumn - foods that, since I eat everything seasonally, I haven't eaten in a year. I love the aromas of fall - cinnamon and cardamom, moss and damp leaves, woodsmoke, thyme, and vanilla. And there is that indescribable sweet, crisp scent that is carried on the wind early in the morning. As if the earth itself is eagerly awaiting the end of the deadening heat. I love to sip a steaming cup of earl grey, letting the essence of bergamot orange warm my soul. But most of all in the fall I love to pack my kids up for a day trip to an apple orchard. Since I have small children, and cannot travel as much as I used to, a day trip is the next best thing. And to little ones, anywhere that is over an hour away is a looong way away! So to them this was a vacation.

We picked apples and pumpkins.  The weather is warm and clear, and the apples are cool from hanging in the shade.  Crisp and hard; I can't help but bite into one right there. The skin snaps between my teeth.  Sweet and tart.  And they are so petite - small enough that my little ones can each have their very own!  Sticky juice running between their fingers and down their arms, dripping off at their elbows.  The little apples fill their tiny hands.  These apples are as far away from the gigantic, tasteless specimens you find waxed and gleaming in the produce section of American grocery stores.  It's almost another species.

And the taste!  How do I describe the taste?  It tastes like . . . well, an apple.  A real live apple.  I can taste the sap of the tree - lifeblood flowing from roots to leaves.  I can feel the sunshine as I break through the skin.  The rain drops that fell on the blossom last spring, which were absorbed by the roots now burst in my mouth.  The skin is scarred by a hail storm and there are scratches from rubbing against a branch on those windy summer afternoons.  Yet the shriveled blossom still clings to the base of the apple.  A portrait of life.  Faded beauty, scars and trials, and at the end of it all, the summery sweetness of a life well lived . . .

A life well lived.  It makes me think of my grandmother.  She certainly lived well, and she'd been through more than her fair share of trials and ordeals.  She had a love of cooking and of food, which she passed to me.  When she passed away, I inherited all of her recipes.  What a treasure!  Three battered card boxes stuffed full of tattered, oil stained cards, newspaper clippings, and jagged recipes cut from the sides of butter boxes and flour bags.  This one I found filed near the front of one of the boxes.  And the scent of it bubbling away in my oven took me right back to my grandmother's kitchen.  These are the kinds of desserts she loved.  Rustic and natural; she used whatever was ripe on the fruit trees out back.  She called this Apple Crispie; I, however, think it's more like a cobbler with a shortbread crust.  As always, I've changed it a little, adding a little lemon (which certainly wasn't growing on her fruit trees in Colorado!)  I hope you enjoy!

Apple Shortbread

3 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 lemon
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup flour
1 egg at room temp, slightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter a 9 inch pie plate.  Zest 1-2 teaspoons of lemon zest.  Mix the cinnamon with 1 Tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl.  Arrange the apples in the pie plate.  Sprinkle with a little lemon juice and the cinnamon-sugar.  Pour the butter into a bowl and add the flour, 3/4 cup sugar, the egg, and the lemon zest.  Mix until combined.  Spread the batter over the apples.  Top with the remaining Tablespoon of sugar.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until crispy and golden.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.