OK, not that we’ve all had our fears allayed about the bacon shortage (there’s no need to go out and stockpile the freezer), let’s talk about the much more real apple deficit that you may find yourself experiencing this fall.
And I admit that, if you’re finding a dearth of those shiny, doctor-dodging gems at your local orchard, it may be because my daughter Linnea and I picked so many of them. I mean, of course that’s not true. We didn’t pick enough to really deprive you of any bushels you might want to haul home. But we picked a lot of apples. We filled most of our recyclable shopping bags with apples. We spent $80 picking apples.
And then Linnea, visiting from New York for the week, proceeded to make apple butter and apple sauce and apple jelly and caramelized peels and apple cupcakes. We ate a lot of apples. We drank a lot of cider. Some with rum, some not.
I can’t remember the first time I went apple picking, but I think it was before my father died, so I was under 9-years-old. But I do remember early excursions into orchards where it seemed the most magical thing to actually be able to pick something off of a tree and eat it right then and there. (I’d be too full for the ham-and-cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate my mother would make for our post-picking tail-gating.)
I don’t remember the first time I took my daughters apple-picking, either, but I remember they both took to it more readily than they did peach-picking (too hot!) or raspberry picking (too bramble-y!) Even when their dad and I were married, I think it was always just we girls who went into the orchard, channeling our inner Eves.
And over the years some of my best memories are of being out in the slightly nippy air, fingers sticky, sacks heavy, trudging (why is it always muddy in orchards?) among the rows of Macouns and Cortlands, Ambrosias and Galas, Winesaps, Empires, McIntosh and Delicious.
One year, on a whim, with Madeleine on a school trip and Linnea out of school early, we met the late, beloved former Metroland writer, Margaret Black—her own children grown and her grandchildren out of town, my own mother recently dead—at Indian Ladder Farms for an afternoon of picking. She was a beautiful woman always, but she sparkled in the bright autumn air.
Years later, when a blizzard hit Buffalo in September and Madeleine made it home for the weekend from her first and last semester at the university there, she was so charmed to be in sunshine and warm weather that we picked bushel after bushel of apples and stocked up on a shameless number of squash and gourds. We had to give most of it away—I couldn’t bake and can fast enough and it was just Linnea and I at home, anyway. How many apple crisps can a mother and a daughter eat in a week?
(Well, it turns out, a lot. But still. . . .)
The last two times I’ve gone apple-picking, it’s just been Linnea and me, Madeleine living in New York or away on travels. We sample each kind before picking. We seek out the Honey Crisps (and always end up having to buy, not pick, them). We visit the pigs, the goats, and the sheep. We take pictures of each other, pictures I hope we will post or print out someday, an homage to autumn and apples.
Here’s how to make an apple crisp:
Wash, peel, and cut some apples into chunks. Put the chunks in a well-buttered dish (preferably some nice Bennington pottery). Using clean fingers, crumble together 6 tablespoons of butter, cut into ½ inch bits, ¾ cup brown sugar, 2/3 cup flour, 1/2 cup rolled oats, some chopped nuts, if you want, a little salt, a little nutmeg and a little more cinnamon. Put the topping on the apple chunks and bake in a 375-degree oven for over an hour or till nice and juicy and browned. (Put the baking dish on a sheet pan to catch the drips.)
While it bakes, whip up some cream—don’t use the aerosol kind!—into which you pour a couple of teaspoons of real maple syrup (grade B, if you can find it).
Then get out napkins, plates and forks.
Dinner is served.