Fall always makes me think of apples, and remember wistfully the apple cider pressing parties we used to have every year when I was growing up. All the neighborhood families brought boxes of freshly picked (or salvaged from the ground) apples from Oregon orchards (the best apples, in my humble, Oregonian opinion) and one Saturday afternoon we would gather to make fresh cider on a decades-old cider press a friend’s father had made in college and used every year since. Each year some different part would break and he would run home to grab a spare bit of wire or carve something up on the band saw in his basement wood shop. The older kids knew the tricks of getting the press to work the best, where the one loose slat was in the barrel, from whence all the juice poured as you cranked the platen down by turning the large wooden handle on top, might slip out of place if you didn’t keep an eye on it and how to tip the whole press off the edge of the top garden step to pour out ever last bit of hard earned cider. Each year the same contenders would jockey for the prime positions, no body wanted to be on apple quality control, or chopping the apples that were too large to fit into the grinder whole. But everyone wanted to get to chuck apples with the just-so-flick-of-the-wrist into the whirring blades that turned each apple into a messy, juicy dice before getting tossed into the press barrel.
Every year our apple haul surpassed all years before and eventually we would bring in more apples than we could possibly press in a single day. So the apple recipe supplements began. Apple sauce, apple doughnuts, caramel apples and, of course, apple pie and apple crisp.
Now, living fall in LA, I’m lucky to get so much as a crunchy leaf on a crisp morning before it reaches an “unseasonably cool low seventies at the beaches” but apples will always mean fall for me and in a further attempt to overcome my hesitation with baking (especially mom-famous classics) I decided last weekend’s BBQ would be incomplete without a classic apple crisp.
I didn’t really realize how simple apple crisp is. I’ll admit, I was one split second decision away from making a French apple tart, dainty, beautiful, and finicky. But the rustically messy-chic, and likely much tastier, crisp that arrived instead took me back to many memorable autumns past. I read several recipes before whipping this up and in the end combined a few and (obviously) added some cardamom, but the most inspirational photos I came across are from Bitten to a Crisp, by Some Kitchen Stories.
4-5 apples, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks (I used Granny Smith)
splash of apple cider vinegar
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cardamom
½ cup old fashioned oats
½ cup butter, cool and cut into small chunks
Preheat the Oven to 375° and grease the sides of an an 8 inch square or similar baking dish. I can’t imagine greasing the pan is necessary, considering the amount of butter in this dish, and lack of crust, but it’s one of those things I’m not going to risk. So grease away.
Peel and chop up your apples into a mixing bowl. Try to keep the chucks similar sizes, but awkward shapes make the crisp taste better. I promise this is correct. Splash the apples with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice if you don’t have it, just a tablespoon or so, to make sure they’re a bit moist and mix the sugar, flour and spices in another bowl.
This is where the recipes differ, and what I did is unconventional, but I think it worked splendidly. When the dry ingredients are mixed pour just about a 1/3-1/2 of a cup over the moist apples and toss them around until they’re well coated.
Next add the oats and butter to the remaining dry ingredients and combine. I was converted to the belief here that the best way to do this is with your fingers. Yeah, it’s messy, but we’re getting back to our rustic-chic, classic kitchen baking roots! Plus, your fingers taste great afterwards.
Pour the apples into your greased pan. Spread the clumpy, sandy, oaty mixture over the top and bake for 30-35 minutes until the topping is golden and the apples are soft and sizzly.
If I have to tell you how to serve apple crisp I don’t think you’re real American, but the generally accepted and never challenged way is warm, with a scoop of ice cream. Vanilla if you’re a purist, Tillamook if you want the real Oregonian experience.