Apples are everywhere at the farmers' markets right now. Along with pumpkins and Indian corn, this fruit symbolizes our romantic ideals of harvest season and reaping what we sow, with good reason. Apples can be stored through the winter in a cool, dry, dark place for as long as they last before you eat them. That's good news for those of us trying our best to eat local and do it with joy and flavor.
Let's assume we're lucky enough to have a couple of bushels in a dehumidified closet of a spare bedroom. What can you do with that many apples, without growing sick to death of them before spring brings us strawberries? Besides frying, stewing or baking apples to serve alongside pork, loading them into the cavity of a roasting chicken, simmering them into applesauce, dicing them into sage-and-cornbread stuffing for turkey, there's always dessert!
Who doesn't love apple pie? Your mother's or your lover's or bought from a favorite baker. Apple tart, double-crust American pie, apple crumble, crisp and cobbler. There are as many ways to love an apple-based sweet as there are names for it. The following dessert is a standby for me. Not too heavy, nor complicated, it's devoured warm from the oven and leftovers are eaten for breakfast (no more sugar than homemade granola). It has the added bonus of filling the house, as it bakes, with its comforting apple-cinnamon-oatmeal-cookie smell.
The topping for Apple Crisp might be called a "crumble" in some parts of the country. In the Amish cookbook from which I have adapted it, it's called "crunch topping" and recommended for use with one quart sweetened, slightly thickened fruit—most likely fruit that has been put up in quart canning or freezer jars (which might need thickening after unsealing or defrosting) or through drying. My husband Jim tells the story of his grandmother, born at the end of the 19th century, threading apple slices onto string as you would cranberries for yuletide, and hanging them to dry (as herbs do) in the attic bedrooms of the farmhouse she shared with his other grandmother. Grandmother would cut down slices as needed to make fried apple pies all the way into spring. These days, we're more likely to use a dehydrator and seal them into Ziplocs for the deep freeze, but the intention remains the same: to preserve what's in season for the off-season, and to make good on the fullness of harvest.