It finally feels like fall. There’s a subtle chill in the air, shorts and t-shirts have been traded in for pants and long-sleeves, and U-PICK signs are dotted alongside many of the farms throughout the small towns of Long Island. This year, apple picking took on a different meaning for me. In addition to creating a wonderful family activity and an effortless science lesson, I was also searching for those perfect ripe apples to help recreate some of Mom’s recipes from her collection. I’ve definitely got food on the brain. Like any city folk escaping their concrete jungle, we drove out to the beach last weekend with a desperate mission: to celebrate as many fall harvest activities as we could cram in the mere 36 hours we had at our disposal. We accomplished everything on our list!
We love supporting the local Mecox area farmers and enjoy talking to them as we venture out into their orchards. This year’s experience was a bit disappointing as many of the apples fell to the ground during Hurricane Irene. It seems the farmers lost about 25% of their apple yield. But, that didn’t stop us. We grabbed our bags and set out in different directions down the orchard rows, everyone seeking their own favorite. I’m a Gala girl, my son claims he’s Golden Delicious (and he is by the way), my daughter likes Honey Crisp and my husband’s just along for the ride and prime photo opps too.
I love the random teachable moments that can spawn from these activities. This year, our apple picking adventure surprisingly turned into a freckle adventure. Prior to venturing down the rows, my freckle-faced daughter happened to discover a Mecox Freckles sign. The sign alerts pickers that although the Mutsu apples are covered in brown spots, the apples aren’t tarnished, they’re yummy and delicious. How appropriate for us. We’ve had this discussion numerous times at home, encouraging our daughter to love the skin she’s in. Luckily at 9, she happens to adore the freckles that completely cover her face. However, I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll be referencing this particular sign and its metaphorical message when she (gulp) reaches adolescence and starts getting really critical.
After the apple picking came Hank’s Pumpkintown. Imagine every type of activity you can possibly eek out of the fall harvest, organize these activities in one place, advertise to lots of people looking for something to do, and you’ve got our annual stop at Hank’s. After the corn mazes, roasted-corn-on-a-stick, hay rides, pumpkin picking, we managed to leave with our car only full with over-sized pumpkins and liters of fresh apple cider- we passed on the baked candy apples and made-to-order hand cut french fries .
So, what do you do when you get back to the city, open the doors to your apartment and realize that between the pounds of apples picked and sheer girth of the pumpkins, you’ve got no counter space left in your kitchen? Sure, you get a rush when you’re actually selecting and picking the apples in the orchard. However, when you’ve got the filled bags sitting in your kitchen, it’s a little overwhelming. I immediately went searching for a recipe, the MyJudytheFoodie binder. Hoping to put a serious dent in my apple quantity, I needed to find a recipe that’s quick and easy to make AND requires more than just a handful of apples – Mom’s Apple Crisp. Feeling motivated, I went out on a limb and decided to make another childhood favorite: Apple Butter. This recipe even required a trip to the store to purchase my very first slow cooker!
The mixture of smells wafting from the oven as the fresh apple slices baked underneath the oat and brown sugar topping was mouth-watering. Combine those with the incense-like aroma from the slow cooking apples/sugar/cloves/cinnamon (yes folks that’s all apple butter contains) and you’ve got one heavenly smelling apartment/house. Can you imagine my sheer pleasure as I programmed the cooker to slow cook for 10 more hours? There’s nothing more exciting than knowing that while you’re sleeping, something is still cooking, stewing, forming. I felt like a kid at Christmas time (or I imagined what it must feel like since I’m Jewish) when I entered the kitchen early morning to find the final apple butter product in the cooker. Within minutes my son was requesting some “butter” on his challah at breakfast. I love that he felt so invested in this project. To think that he picked these apples with his bare hands from the trees just the day before must have been so cool for him.
I must admit that spending over three hours peeling, cutting and coring apples has left me not wanting to look at another apple for a long time. Now, what to do with the entire bag full of apples still sitting on my kitchen floor?
Apple-slice eye masks anyone?
Judy’s Apple Crisp
- 4 cups cored, peeled, sliced tart apples
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup oats
- 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Grease 8x8x2 square baking pan.
- Line bottom of pan with sliced apples.
- In medium bowl mix remaining ingredients thoroughly.
- Sprinkle mixture over apples to completely cover.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until top is golden brown.
- Best served warm, in a bowl, with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream.
All Day Apple Butter (adapted from allrecipes.com)
- 4-5 pounds of apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped
- 2-3 cups of white sugar (depending on amount of apples used)
- 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- Place apples in a slow cooker.
- In a medium bowl, mix the sugar*, cinnamon, cloves and salt.
- Pour mixture over the apples in the slow cooker and mix well.
- Cover and cook on high 1 hour.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook an additional 10-11 hours. Stir occasionally until the mixture is thickened and brown.
- Uncover and continue cooking an extra 1.5 hours (or until consistency is much thicker).
- Spoon the mixture into jars or containers, cover, refrigerate or freeze.
* I would recommend cutting the sugar quantity in half. The apples alone have a lot of sugar and you don’t want to make the butter so sweet you can’t enjoy it!
Have any favorite fall harvest activities? What are your favorite apple-based dishes?