Thursday, November 21, 2013

Apple Crisp

Windfall apples from our tree gathered on the railing outside our front door

Branches weighted down with fruit

This year the old apple tree in front of our house produced a bumper crop of big, green apples. The branches were loaded and heavy with the weight of fragrant, ripe fruit. Shaking the tree produced a shower of runaway apples splattering on our heads and rolling down the stairway to our front door. At night I could hear distinct thuds as apples took the steps one at a time and rolled to the hillside below. 

Sun- burnished apples on a hazy day

Never had this tree offered so much fruit, and never had I been tempted to bake with its bounty. This was the year! Even though the apples were bright green, they were tart-sweet and firm-fleshed, not sour or hard as I had expected. They had never been this sweet and crisp and thoroughly delicious. I am not sure of the variety, but they resembled Granny Smiths, and Granny Smiths make wonderful baking apples. So, I went to work on an apple crisp

Our own apples, ripe and ready to fall

I gathered eight or nine unblemished apples,and prepared to peel them. But first I made the topping. I dug out my Aunt Haiya's faded recipe from my file, double checked with Deborah Madison's instructions in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and mixed the  ingredients in the food processor. I always add a cup of oats to the original topping to create a more textured and healthy dessert. 

Unfortunately, baking with apples usually requires peeling them, and this tedious process must be done by hand. At least Green Bin gets the leftover peels and cores.  I filled my baking pan with sliced, peeled apples, sugared them lightly, covered them with the topping and baked them in a 375 degree oven.

Baked apple crisp cooling in an Emile Henri oval baker from France

I could hardly wait to try my home-grown dessert. After it browned and bubbled I removed it from the oven and let it cool a bit. Then I sampled. Here's the verdict: The crisp was great, but  I was disappointed with the baked apples. They were monotonous and bland and lacked the creamy texture I prefer. Maybe they aren't Granny Smiths after all. Still, I wanted to try another dessert with apples from our tree.

Yellow leaves from our apple tree on the stairway

For the past several weeks I've been sweeping yellow leaves from the steps going down to our apartment. They were dropping steadily from the apple tree, along with the ripe apples which clunked down the stairs. I'd often eat the apples or set them on the railing ready to be hurled at raccoons bold enough to come near the house at night. Most were already half eaten by pesky squirrels. I haven't noticed deer devouring them, which is odd since they walk up and down the steep stairway regularly, searching for appetizing vegetation. Today, searching for apples, I looked up into the tree and to my surprise and shock, it was completely bare. Not one apple remained. I have no idea when or how all the apples disappeared, but I know they weren't blown down, since there are none on the ground or on the stairs. I rescued a few from inside pots or hiding under plants, but that's it! My personal supply is gone.

 Suddenly the apples are gone and the bare branches permit a clearer view of Euclid Ave below

Was it a hungry forager? If so he would have had to bring a ladder to get to most of the apples. I did notice someone in Tilden Park gathering all the blackberries this year, which has not occurred in the past. I  couldn't enjoy a blackberry treat while on my bike, because all the berries were picked over. From my observations, squirrels only nibble and then leave most of the apples on the ground. They aren't greedy. So who could clean up the tree so completely?

For my next crisp I had to visit the Monterey Market and buy apples.I chose winesaps and braeburns which I have enjoyed before. Now it would be fun to compare these with my own fruit. My favorite variety is actually Jonathon for both eating and baking, but they weren't available this season. Jonathons have an intoxicating fragrance and flavor that I can't resist— the very essence of autumn. But I was curious to see how the braeburn/winesap combo would fare.

Winesaps and Braeburns from the Monterey Market

 Luckily I still had some topping in the fridge, left over from the first batch, so all I had to do was peel, core and slice the apples, share with my Green Bin and wait about 40 minutes for the crisp to bake. After barely letting it cool I dove in. The result was sublime! This combination of apples definitely produced a superior crisp: flavorful, complex and balanced, not bland and lackluster like the apples from my tree. But I enjoyed harvesting and baking with my own apples and would have continued using them if my supply had not been so suddenly cut off. I'll have to wait until next year to try again. And I'll have a year to solve the mystery of the missing apples.