Fall is for Apples

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As I harvest the last of my tomatoes--the recent waves of heat forcing a barage of juicy red fruit--I can't help but let my thoughts drift elsewhere. Summer is gone, despite the still-warm days. The summer squash is withering and the leaves are falling, signalling a new harvest of fall fruits and vegetables. With one last nod to the season of sun, I'll make a pot of marina, with a final pepper, my tomatoes and the leafy basil that threatens daily to go to seed.

But it's the first bags of crisp apples perfuming my kitchen that really has my attention. On the counter are Galas, Jonathans, Pink Pearls and Gravensteins that I've already hoarded in bags like a squirrel preparing for winter. Late September and October are the peak of season for apples in Northern California. Though orchards once dominated the landscape throughout Wine Country, they've been pushed to the far corners of the counties by vineyards, tracts of housing and mini-malls. In Anderson Valley, however, where I spent a day last week, apple orchards with heirloom varieties like Black Twig and Pippin continue to thrive.

I've eaten a few, outright, savoring the sweet unadulterated snap and crunch. A few have gone in lunchboxes and the majority have been placed into the refrigerator for later debuts. The remainder get sliced, cored and mixed with sugar, cinnamon, butter and flour for a warm apple crisp...one of my favorite dishes of the season.

I can hardly make it fast enough. The first bite out of the oven is so hot it blisters. Setting the bubbling, browned pan on the windowsill to cool, the house fills with the scent of leaves, cinammon, butter and...apples. Finally, I think, it is fall.

Apple Crisp

3 1/2 pounds apples, cored, peeled and sliced (tart variety is best)
1 cup brown sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon cinammon
1/2 tsp. ginger

2 sticks unsalted butter (chilled and cut into pieces)
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. cardamom (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and butter a 13x9x2 inch pan. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Add apples and lemon juice. Mix to coat apples. Pour into pan.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, lemon zest and cardamom. Add chilled butter and use a pastry cutter or hand to incorporate into a coarse meal. It is okay to have a few lumps of butter, but try to get the flour well mixed. Spread evenly over the top of the apples.

Cook for 20 minutes at 450 degrees. Turn down to 350 and cook an additional 30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Let cool at least 10 minutes. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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