Apple Season

Apple season, as I’ve mentioned numerous times before, is my favorite fall produce season. I dream year round of the moment when the morning air becomes crisp and steam dances from between my lips as I enter the world dressed in my fall layers. I love nothing more than starting my day before the sun rises during the fall, outdoors with a hot coffee in hand, just to admire the enchanting beauty. Apples are the perfect companion to fall weather — Mother Nature obviously knows what she’s doing — as they pair so wonderfully with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, which make them the best addition to a chilly Autumn morning. Regardless of the season we’re in, I eat an apple nearly everyday, but that number always multiplies during the fall months, not only due to their delicious flavor and the vast variety of apples grown in New York state, but also because of their versatility.

Of course, it’s no secret that I have the wildest sweet-tooth, so my favorite way to enjoy apples during the fall months is in baked goods… especially apple pie. Growing up in rural Minnesota, I had the sweetest elderly neighbor named Margie who would always bring my family baked goods, and when fall rolled around, Margie would bring us an apple pie at least once per week. Her apple pies were famous in my small hometown of 1,300 people, as Margie had the best apple blend, which of course she kept a secret, that made for the most amazing apple pie — which is not too sweet, not too tart, not too firm, nor too soft, blanketed in a rich, buttery, flaky crust, painted with an egg wash and dusted with demerara sugar… oh, and the filling also had a shot or two of rum which only added to the magic. I have never once baked a pie as good as Margie’s, nor do I know if I ever will, but each fall I make it my mission to create something as similar to her pie as I possibly can.

I am also a sucker for simplicity, so I adore a caramel apple. There is the cutest family run farm-stand along Highway 52, minutes outside of La Crescent, Minnesota, which is home to some of Minnesota’s best apple orchards. This farm stand sells well over a dozen varieties of apples, bagged for your convenience, as well as squash, pumpkins, gourds, and a lot of other fall produce. The best thing at the farm-stand, though, has to be their caramel apples. You can choose from a classic caramel apple, to a chopped nut coated caramel apple, to a candy speckled caramel apple, to a chocolate drizzled caramel apple… my favorite of which being the chopped peanut coated caramel apple. I used to beg my mom everyday during the fall to pick me up a caramel apple — or two — on her commute home from work. A few weeks back, I shared a delicious caramel recipe that will perfectly coat your favorite apple of choice, plus provided a few ideas for amazing toppings. Making caramel apples is a great activity to do with your kids, especially if you picked the apples yourself!

When it comes to savory dishes, apples can provide an amazing burst of sweetness without adding processed sugar to your meal. An apple inspired coleslaw pairs perfectly with grilled bratwursts, adding a kick of sweetness to create a rounder, more complex flavor profile, taking your bratwurst to the next level. For your next tailgate party, be sure to have apple coleslaw as one of your condiments… you certainly won’t be disappointed. Try adding shredded apples to a saute pan with onions, salt, and pepper, and caramelize low and slow to develop all of the natural sugars in the onions and the apple. Traditional caramelized onions are amazing on their own, but they are even more incredible when an apple is introduced into the mix, adding even more sweetness. Try this onion mixture on your burger to kick the flavor profile up a notch — or three — or in a smoked honey ham and cheese panini. Apples are also a great addition to your meat and cheese board, perfect for a holiday party or get-together. You could also impress your dinner guests by adding a layer of sliced apple and sliced fennel underneath and on top of bone-in chicken breasts with a mustard focused marinade before roasting. Really, you could try adding apples to any of your savory dishes to round out the flavor by adding a touch of natural sweetness.

There is really nothing I enjoy more on a cold Autumn evening than apple cider, especially if it’s heavily spiced with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and star anise, with a touch of citrus, and a shot or two of dark rum, whiskey, or brandy — the most amazing hot cocktail if the colder temperatures have you feeling ill… or if you’re simply wanting a yummy nightcap before bed. You can opt for store bought cider, or make your own by sauteing a mixture of gala apples, braeburn apples, honey crisp apples, and granny smith apples in a large stock pot with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, and nutmeg, then add filtered water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for at least an hour — the longer you cook, to more developed the flavor becomes. Then, remove the whole spices, blend in batches or with an immersion blender, strain, and enjoy! I love how apple cider showcases the magic of the fall months, as it’s sweet, warming, and so very cozy!

Lastly, apple picking is so much fun, and is easily enjoyed by people of all ages! I love going to family run apple orchards in the fall, surrounded by cascading leaves of crimson, scarlet, and gold, and being gently caressed by Autumn’s cool breeze. There are some incredible orchards not far from NYC, teeming with fall inspired activities like corn mazes and pumpkin patches, but more importantly, bake stands, which 9 times out of 10 will sell apple cider donuts — which may be one of the greatest types of donuts ever created! Please find time to visit an apple orchard this fall as it’s one of the best ways to spend a fall day.

Happy fall!

Payton

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