Last night I went to an apple harvest party at an ancient orchard near Cortez, Colorado. Apple picking, cider pressing, fire, food, wine, beer, music and a clear, chilly night: what better way to celebrate the autumn equinox?
Apples, like tomatoes, taste better in season. When the days grow short, the nights become cold, and summer fruits are on their way out, apples ease the transition into fall. Quintessentially autumnal foods like apple pie and apple sauce serve as a consolation and a promise: although summer is gone, there are holiday feasts to look forward to, and the rich, comforting cold-weather dishes to which apples provide the perfect sweet-tart counterpoint.
Although they’re the ultimate pie fruit – firm, flavorful (if you get the right ones) and easy to come by – there are innumerable uses for apples. You can add them to stuffing, make them into chutney or apple butter, bake them with sugar and cinnamon, incorporate them into salads, ferment their juice into refreshing, earthy hard cider – or simply eat them sliced, with gobs of salty almond butter (my personal favorite). Apples keep very well, making them an ideal storage crop; with the right preparation, you can enjoy fresh apples all winter long.
Some of my favorite apple varieties are ones you won’t usually find at the store, like the sugary-sour Gold Rush and the spicy, floral Northern Spy.
What’s your favorite kind of apple? How do you like to eat them?
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 tbsp. shortening or lard
1/3 – 1/2 cup ice water
6 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 – 3/4 cups sugar (depending on the sweetness of your apples)
1 or 2 tbsp. lemon juice (depending on the tartness of your apples)
2 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. cinnamon or 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom and 1 tsp. ground ginger
2 tbsp. butter
Pinch of salt
Make the crust: blend flours and salt in a food processor. Cut butter into small cubes; add butter and shortening to the flour and pulse until the mixture reaches the consistency of course crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl and add ice water; mix with swift strokes until dough forms a ball (don’t over-mix!). Divide dough into two balls, flatten into disks, and wrap tightly in plastic; place them in the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes (or longer).
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees and make the filling: place sliced apples in a bowl and toss with sugar, flour, lemon juice, salt and spices. Roll out the dough, place one round in a 9″ pie plate and prick the bottom with a fork; add the apple mixture, dot with butter, and top with the remaining dough. Flute the edges of the crust (or simply trim away the excess and crimp with a fork) and cut four slits in the top. Bake until the crust is golden and juice is bubbling through the slits in the top, about 40 minutes.
Notes: a light hand is essential for good pastry. Handle the dough as little as possible. Always start from the center when rolling out pie crust; use short, decisive strokes and rotate the dough often to insure roundness. I like to use a pie crust shield to prevent the crust from scorching before the filling is cooked.
Granny Smiths are my go-to pie apple; they’re inexpensive and readily available, with firm flesh and good, bracing acidity.
There are many variations possible with apple pie; you can substitute a streusel topping for the top crust, add whiskey-soaked raisins or cherries to the filling, and play with the spicing.