Autumns of my childhood are inextricably linked to apples.
Every year, my father would run an apple picking trip for the kids in his urban high school; they'd drive their tricked-out cars to the northernmost points in New Jersey, where they parked them under the trees among the apples that had already fallen, now fermenting on the ground. And they'd do what most people do in an apple orchard: climb trees. It was the one time every year when I was given permission to climb trees, too, and I remember grabbing hold of the branches, finding a sturdy limb high in a tree heavy with fruit, and resting against the trunk, sinking my teeth into one I'd just picked. I learned early about varieties of apples: that they didn't just come in two colors, but in all shades of red and pink and yellow and green, some wish a base color and a blush, some with shiny skin. Some were round, and some were shaped like hearts, with bumps and ridges at the bottom. And the variety of tastes! To my undeveloped palate, the sweet crisp McIntosh were the perfect apples, but I learned to love Jonagold and Honeycrisp and Gala and Pink Lady, and as I got older, I discovered the Winesap.
We would pick bushels of apples--more fruit than I thought we could use--but my parents would store them int the stall shower of our basement, where it was dark and cool like a root cellar, and somehow they disappeared into my father's apple spiced apple compote, or into our lunchboxes, or--though more rarely--into a pie.
When I worked in the university, I took my students apple picking a few times, loading them onto a bus, and giving them photocopied sheets about apple varieties, encouraging them to taste them, to notice how amazing an apple could be. Now that I look back at it, those early days in the orchard were my first exposure to eating locally, knowing where your food comes from, and to the incredible range of varietals--and those bus trips were my attempt to pass on my love for fresh food.
On Wednesday the kids had off from school, and I suggested meeting some of I'.s friends at a local orchard. We went on a hayride, picked more apples than any of us think we could possibly use, and tasted the difference between Macoun and Cortland and Winesap. Because the signs are clearly posted telling us not to, we didn't exactly climb trees. But the kids climbed all over the playground afterwards, looking out across the valley onto the beautiful expanse of autumn in our county. And then we came home, and S. made pie for breakfast.
Grammy L's Apple Pie
S. loves this pie; it's his grandmother's recipe. I am a stubborn pie snob, and I prefer my pie, but this one is a lot faster, involves no rolling of crust, and I'm not going to turn down homemade pie, especially if I don't have to make it.
1 stick margarine
2 c. flour
6 T. sugar
7 medium apples, grated
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400F.
Crumble margarine, flour, and sugar together. Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of a pie pan. Set aside the other 1/3.
Combine the apples with sugar and cinnamon. Top with the remaining crumb crust and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake about 40 minutes, or until the filling bubbles.