classic apple crisp

November 10, 2015
classic apple crisp

Driving home across rural Ontario last week, en route back from a visit to my mother, I drove past a picturesque, old-fashioned farm  nestled into the rolling hills. As I sailed on by, I noticed a sweet little shed at the side of the driveway with a crooked, hand-painted sign saying, “Apples for Sale.” Inside the shed were a few baskets of apples and a tin cash box. 

Five minutes down the road, I made a u-turn. The apples were calling me back. As was the whole set-up – the little wooden shed, the cash box (oh, the trust in humanity – so utterly heartwarming), and the beautiful old farm-house off in the distance – all just too irresistible to miss. Besides, it’s late autumn and the days of fruit and veggie stands at the side of the road are limited. Before long, it will be a snowy landscape and I’ll only be dreaming of just-picked apples.

The apples were small, a little bumpy, and a bit blemished. They didn’t look like much but they made me smile. I bought a basket and hopped back in my car. Life is short – eat more apples, I thought as I sped off rubbing one down on my sweater and then biting into it. I couldn’t believe how sweet it was. Or how white the flesh was. Or how delicious. It reminded me of the Snow apples I remember having when I was a child but haven’t seen since. By the time I was home, six long hours of driving later, I’d eaten two more.

When I looked more closely at the label on the basket which I’d thought said McIntosh – I realized it said “Macoun” – an apple variety I’d never even heard of. I wished I’d bought more.

Macoun apples

I’d seen a reference to the hugely diminishing number of apple varieties in  a recent copy of The Economist (“Banks for Bean Counters,” September 12-18, 2015). According to the article, in the 1800s there were 7,100 different varieties of apples grown in North America. Now there are just 300 varieties. That means that 6,800 apple varieties are NO longer grown. And further, 11 varieties account for more than 90% of all apples sold. Those 11 varieties dominate because the apples are more marketable – for example – “Red Delicious” have a thick skin that hides bruises well.

It’s pretty sad, really. And worse than sad – dangerous. Our dependence on so few varieties leads us closer and closer to the risk of a blight that wipes out the entire apple population – and that same logic applies to almost everything else we eat. Thank heavens for seed banks and for the huge upsurge in interest in heritage breeds and heirloom crops.

All of this makes me think about having a little farm, not far from town, with a quaint old farm-house or better yet, an old barn converted into a house, and split rail fences, perhaps a pond, and a garden full of wonderful things – snow apples, quince, raspberries, red currants, and of course, garlic, and arugula, and kale. And asparagus. And all manner of pumpkins and squash – especially long island cheese. And a mountain of herbs. And lavender and roses and great big hydrangeas. But that’s just a dream and it’s new to me, because really, I’m a city girl. So I don’t know what I’m thinking. And I’m sure that despite the picture I have in my head of pottering around in my gum boots with a basket of fresh produce in hand – the reality is that the mountain of work would quickly diminish my enthusiasm. So I’ll continue to visit fruit and veggie stands, and farmers’ markets, and grow what I can in my own tiny little patch of ground in town.

For this absolutely straightforward, classic apple crisp, you can use any good cooking apple. McIntosh will do just fine. Serve it for dessert with creme fraiche, thick greek yogurt, whipped cream, or iced cream  – add a swirl of honey if you like. That’s how I like it. Or eat it plain. It’s so good that you’ll want to have it again the next day for breakfast with a nice thick cup of serious coffee. The recipe is based on my memory of a similar recipe from the Toronto Star Cookbook. I no longer have a copy of that cookbook (left behind in one of many, many moves), so I have just ad-libbed merrily here.

Classic Apple Crisp

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 10 – 12 small to medium-sized cooking apples
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

topping:

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose (or gluten-free all-purpose) flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter

Syrup

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup boiling water

Butter a large glass lasagna pan. Peel and core apples and cut into chunks. Place in the bottom of the pan and toss with the cinnamon.

Mix together the syrup ingredients and pour a couple of tablespoons over the apples to keep them from browning too much. Then mix together the topping ingredients – cutting the butter into the flour and brown sugar til the mixture is crumbly. Spoon over the apples and drizzle the remaining syrup evenly (ish) over the top of the apple and topping mix.

Bake at 350 deg F for about 30 minutes or until the apples are soft and the topping is browned. Let stand for at least ten minutes before serving. 


wild apples

 

 

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20 Comments

  • Reply Lynz Real Cooking November 10, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Looks very nice!

  • Reply Anonymous November 10, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    mmm, I can smell it from here.

  • Reply David More November 10, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Lovely writing as always. Apple crisp has always been my absolute favourite dessert.

  • Reply Johanne Lamarche November 10, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Interesting facts. What is so amazing to me is almost everything that is being resurrected in our seed lineage taste so much better!!! The macouns look delicious! Did you ever read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?

  • Reply Johnny Hepburn November 10, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    I doubt if I could let that stand for ten minutes! Crumble, as I’m sure you know of them as well, has to be one of my favourites, served with a thin – just made – custard. Why haven’t I made one in ages. Actually, it’s like early summer over here right now. Kind of scary.

    • Reply Lindy Mechefske November 11, 2015 at 9:50 am

      Custard would actually be perfect. Good idea. So very British of you Johnny! 😉
      It’s been unseasonably warm here too. Beautiful in fact. But winter is definitely coming… 🙁

  • Reply Baking With Gab November 10, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Those apples look stunning!

    • Reply Lindy Mechefske November 11, 2015 at 9:51 am

      Nice to see you here!! Thank you! And you’re right – those apples were so unbelievably delicious. There were only a few baskets and now I wish I’d bought them all!

  • Reply Elly November 10, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    Oh my gosh this looks so delicious!! <3

    So sad to read about the state of apple farming, its always scary reading stats like that! Makes me wish I had a green thumb to grow my own little garden like yours!

    • Reply Lindy Mechefske November 11, 2015 at 9:52 am

      Elly! Love you to the moon and back a few times over. (And will make you an apple crisp this weekend.) xoxoxo

      • Reply Elly November 12, 2015 at 10:17 am

        Yay!! Thank you mumma! <3

  • Reply Laura mechefske November 11, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Beautiful pics!! Making me hungry!!!

    • Reply Lindy Mechefske November 11, 2015 at 9:53 am

      Will send you the other half of Elly’s apple crisp this weekend. love love love…

  • Reply chef mimi November 15, 2015 at 9:34 am

    A very interesting post about apples. I’ve never heard of these either, but then, I also don’t live in apple country. A beautiful crisp.

  • Reply Anonymous November 16, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Sounds delicious!!! I bet it smells incredible! Does darling Lola get some??

  • Reply Karen December 10, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Your story gave me a real smile as the life you dream about is one I just gave up. We’ve moved from our New Hampshire farm with 300 apple trees with almost a hundred different antique varieties of apples to escape the brutal winters. We had snow apples and yes, the Macoun that you bought at the roadside stand. We had one of those too! It was a wonderful life but there there was lots of very hard work involved.

    • Reply Lindy Mechefske December 10, 2015 at 9:04 am

      Oh Karen – how bittersweet. But what a wonderful rich, fulfilling life you have. I am always so happy to hear from you. And just a little envious of those lovely sunny winters you will be enjoying from here on in.

  • Reply Cynthia Reyes December 15, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    I wonder if it has to be as onerous as you fear. If you’re in deep country on wells, septic, with many acres and many trees/animals to look after, I can see the difficulty. But if you could get just an acre or two, with a farmhouse already on it, and close to ‘civilization’, you might find that you can have most of what you describe and manage it quite well. Been in both situations. Thanks, Lindy for the apple crisp recipe. I found our Wolf River apples to be the best for pies, jellies, etc. A rare heritage breed, originally from Quebec, then wolf River, Wisconsin. (Hence the name.) Great post!

    • Reply Lindy Mechefske December 16, 2015 at 10:49 am

      Thanks so much Cynthia. And you are right – a couple of acres, an old farmhouse, perhaps a pond or stream, a few apple trees, all close to civilization…I think that is a dream worth dreaming. Interesting about the Wolf River apples. Lovely to hear from you!

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