At the last Wednesday market of the season, I questioned the young farmer from Finn River Farm while I labeled his interesting apples with their names. I wanted to keep them straight while painting.
I’ve been wondering about the columnar apples, so I asked how to tell if an apple is ripe, and he said several ways: when the apples start to fall from the tree, when the seeds inside are a glossy brown, and when the apples taste ripe. When I inquired about the best apples for crisp, he grinned: “Oh I’m spoiled, I use a combination!”
I love apple crisp. Steeped in too much British literature from novel to memoir to Virginia Woolf’s diary, I associate apple crisp with a return to plenty after the war – the pleasure of butter and sugar after rationing. You can make a crisp formally by following a recipe, but they usually call for lots of the rich ingredients, and it’s really the cooked apples I’m after.
Pie’s a possibility, but apple crisp is easier by far – quick to put together, and smells so good cooking. If it’s slipped in the oven before dinner with company, vanilla ice cream on top will melt on the crisp’s sweet heat.
For quick crisp I core and wash the apples, and cut them roughly (leaving the skins on), and fill a favorite baking dish. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top of the apples. Oatmeal gets rubbed together with butter and sugar or maple syrup for the crumbly topping.
In a variation, Deborah Madison suggests canola oil or “a rich-flavored nut oil, such as walnut or hazelnut” as an alternative to the butter – and nuts for the rolled oats. She adds a little flour, dash of salt, grated nutmeg and cinnamon to make a “coarse, crumbly” mixture. She adds a little lemon and lemon zest to the fruit in a shallow gratin dish, and covers with the topping mixture. (I’m going to try this soon.)
For an even easier but somehow festive treat – simple baked apples are great: wash flavorful fall apples, dig out the cores, set in a pan with a little water, pour a little maple syrup in the indent along with a sliver of butter. Chop some pecans to sprinkle on top. Bake till soft – and very fragrant.
It’s hard to go wrong – the magic is in the apples of autumn.