Apples – the jewels of fall

The most popular of the autumn fruits, apples are wonderful cooked or eaten out of hand.

We enjoy our Saturday morning trips to the local farmers' market all summer, but, oh, the delicious treats that await us on the dry, crisp Saturdays in the fall. The stalls are overflowing with apples; winter squashes; pumpkins; gourds; root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and beets; bags of corn for popping; and jars of jams and jellies. But what I relish the most are apples – sweet, juicy, tart, and crisp, ranging in color from green to gold and from pink to deep red.

Apples have been grown since the dawn of history and are often mentioned in early legends, poems, and religious works. Hundreds of varieties of apples are now grown all over the world – except in the very coldest or hottest regions.

Early settlers brought this fruit to the US. In the first half of the 1800s, John Chapman became known as Johnny Appleseed when he traveled throughout Ohio and surrounding states giving away and planting apple seeds and establishing apple nurseries. He knew that apples were a good source of nutrition for the settlers and were easily stored.

Now apple growing has spread to nearly all of the 50 states, and the US has become one of the world's leading apple producers.

What a versatile fruit! Most people probably eat apples raw, in the hand. But they're also good in salads and when sliced and eaten with cheese or spread with peanut butter.

Cider and vinegar are made from raw apples. But I really appreciate the delicious things that come from cooked apples – pies, tarts, cakes, crisps, cobblers, puddings, applesauce, apple butter, jellies, and so forth.

In September and October, my kitchen is often filled with the aroma of pots of applesauce simmering on the stove; apple pies baking in the oven, or freshly sliced apples being prepared for the freezer.

When freezing apples for pies, I slice and mix them with the sugar, flour, and cinnamon called for in my recipe. Then I place sheets of plastic wrap in a pie pan, put the apple mixture over it, and close the plastic wrap over the apples. I then place the pan in the freezer. When they're frozen, I remove the wrapped apples from the pan, put them into a plastic freezer bag, and pop them back into the freezer.

When I want to make a pie, I remove a packet from the freezer just before I prepare the crust. I line the pie pan with the bottom crust, place the apples (still partly frozen, which makes them easier to handle) on the crust, put the top crust on the pie, poke the crust with a fork to create holes for the steam to escape, and bake it. (I could cut fancy designs in the crust, but the fork method is quick and easy.)

Cortland and Macintosh apples are my favorites, but most cooks have varieties they favor. Many different kinds of apples are good for cooking.

Our family has been baking this apple crisp (see recipe below) for more than 50 years – perhaps longer. My mother-in-law gave the recipe to me 45 years ago. I don't know its history beyond that. I do know that it has always been a family favorite.

The recipe instructs the baker to "partly fill the pan with thinly sliced tart apples." That means a good 10 cups in my 9-by-13-inch pan, which is 2-5/8 inches deep. It also means it serves a good-sized crowd.

And now, how about having a well-deserved break with some apple cider and a doughnut? That is about "as American as apple pie."

Apple Crisp

10 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced cooking apples (about 10 medium apples)

Topping:

3/4 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup light brown sugar, well packed

1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 stick regular butter or margarine, cold

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place apple slices in a buttered 9-by-13-inch pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Using two forks or a pastry blender, cut in butter until just blended.

Sprinkle oat mixture over apples and bake for about 45 minutes or until apples are soft and crust is browned. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Apple-coconut bars

2 cups water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 cups peeled, cored, and chopped tart baking apples (about 2 large apples)

2 cups quick-cooking oats

1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

1 stick regular butter, softened

1-1/2 pecans, coarsely chopped

1 cup flaked sweetened coconut

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Pour water into a mixing bowl and stir in lemon juice. Add each cup of apples as they're chopped and measured. Stir well with each addition so all sides of apples are thoroughly wet. (This is to keep the apples from turning brown.)

In a large bowl, use a fork to mix the oats, graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter until well blended. Press firmly into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan that's been sprayed with nonstick spray.

Drain apples thoroughly and place on top of crumb layer. Sprinkle pecans over apples and then scatter coconut on top. Carefully pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over everything.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until light brown. Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Makes 24 to 36 bars, depending on size.

– Adapted from 'The Complete Baking Book,' by George Geary; Robert Rose publisher

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