October 8, 2014
The Fall apple orchard is such a great equalizer. Who doesn’t love an apple picking trip? My recent orchard excursion with my little family brought out the eavesdropper in me, I’ll admit. As my husband, daughter, and I entered the vast field of trees, bespeckled with its ruby colored fruit, I couldn’t help but notice the impressive diversity of apple pickers all around us, and I may or may not have listened in on a few conversations. I lingered around a little longer than usual as I perused the selection of fruit, playing it off like I just couldn’t decide which apples were destined for my little brown basket, and I gained a real appreciation for the overwhelming adoration that is generated by a simple, unassuming apple orchard. Everyone was happy; clearly enthusiastic about their choice of Sunday afternoon activities, as was I. From vintage-clad hipsters clamoring for the best apples with which to infuse their homemade gin and tonics to large families who had made the trip from afar to enjoy the scenery, sunshine, and festivities – people all around me were singing the same song, just with slightly different tunes. My favorite orchard observation of the day, however, goes to the lovely elderly woman who was meticulously combing through bushels of pre-picked apples to determine which ones would make the best contribution to her soon-to-be apple pie.
“It’s a county fair prize-winning recipe!” She told me, pride escaping from her kind eyes. This was a non-eavesdropped deduction, as I actually did engage in a small conversation with her. She had slightly weathered hands that undoubtedly had crafted many a pie and while I did not ask, I’m going to entertain the notion that most of them had taken up residence on a windowsill in her kitchen. Because in my humble pie opinion, a windowsill is the best place for one. People just don’t do that enough anymore, do they? You’d better believe that the mile-high pie I plan to make with my apples will reside on my windowsill during the entirety of its short existence. A windowsill pie carries with it a little something special, almost like it’s on stage. Cakes can have their stands and fancy plates. But I’ll take a no fuss, no frills windowsill pie any day.
October 8, 2015
I wove our car in and out of the sizable crowd of patrons waiting to purchase their tickets to the “Pumpkin Days” event at our favorite local orchard. People short and tall, large and small were all decked out in their finest flannel and denim autumnal garb – cheeks obligatorily painted with bright orange pumpkins – and everyone seemed to share the same sense of excitement over the festivities that lay just beyond the (creepy) grin of the scarecrows that stood at the entrance. Admittedly, the trio of straw-built gentlemen gave me the same genre of creeps that I also seem to get from clowns and large black birds. As I strolled by the ones awaiting our arrival at the orchard yesterday, I casually averted my gaze, trying instead to focus on the best route to the apple orchard. This, after all, was why we were there today. The face-painting, pumpkin rolling contest, and corn maze would wait for another time when the crowds wouldn’t be so thick and (if we were lucky) the scarecrows not so plentiful.
As Easton, Elle and I began our stroll through the vast apple orchard, nary another apple-picking soul in sight, I recalled what I felt like the last time I was there, in the same place doing the same thing – hoping to score some perfect apples with which to create the perfect pie to grace our kitchen windowsill. Exactly one year ago, I ventured into the same field of fruitful trees with Elle and her Dad, trying my best to keep up with them, as I was 38 weeks pregnant and feeling every bit of it. As my mind wandered back to that sunny, pregnant October day, I fumbled through my bag to locate the box of apple juice that I’d brought for Elle, whose eager excitement over the stuff – her favorite – reminded me of the cider that I’d purchased inside the orchard’s small market one year ago, and the lasting impression that it left on me …
October 8, 2014 (continued …)
Bean finds the best apple in our tree and hands it up to me. “You know what this tastes like when you first bite into it?” she asks.
“You ever eat blue sky?”
“No,” I admit.
“Try it sometime,” she says. “It’s apple-flavored.”
― Rodman Philbrick, The Last Book in the Universe
I have a feeling, even though there is quite a bit more Fall left to enjoy this year, I’ve probably already experienced what will live on to be one of my favorite Fall moments. The fact that I’m having a baby in a few weeks, as well as celebrating my first baby’s second birthday soon are obvious Fall memory winners, so I’m not counting them. In this case I’m referring to the types of experiences that would most likely be insignificant or totally forgettable 99% of the time, but for some reason, just happen to stand out every once in a blue moon, imprinting themselves on your memory with zero intentions of going anywhere any time soon.
After watching my little one delight in the apple-picking festivities today, I ducked in the orchard’s small market to grab some of their cider to take home with us. Waiting in line and growing more pregnant by the minute, I confess to having taken a quick, “I’m-pregnant-and-thirsty-so-I’ll-drink-it-in-the-store sip” of this really, really delicious cider.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. I literally exclaimed out loud, to no one in particular in the store. It was just so, so good. It was one split second of pure refreshing Fall flavor and I think I was actually caught off guard by how good it was. Maybe I had forgotten how nice cider can be in all of its icy cold and satisfying simplicity. As I stood there in this adorably charming country market, watching people pick and choose their autumnally inspired purchases, I couldn’t help but smile. This time of year consistently, reliably, and predictably does that to me.
We take plenty of sips of all kinds of things every day, most of them understandably forgettable. Maybe it was the setting, the gorgeous Fall day, or the pregnant that did it. But I will remember that particular sip of cider and how easily and effortlessly it managed to win me over. To reference the quote above, I will admit to having never tasted blue sky before, nor have I ever tasted sunshine. But I will wager a guess that at least one of those two things tastes a little something like this cider.
I think for the most part, gratins are typically thought of as savory creations – oozing from their pores with vegetables, cheeses, herbs, and creamy sauces. This is a sweet, fruity take on the gratin and it’s very similar to a clafoutis. The sliced apples and blackberries are scattered about on a buttered gratin dish and baked along with a sweetened egg custard that is topped with some smooth mascarpone cheese. Finish the whole lot off with some of your favorite granola, and you’ve got a nearly perfect breakfast dish. As for the granola, I highly recommend Emilie’s (The Clever Carrot) Pumpkin Spice Granola. It’s what I used in mine and the fall flavors go so well with the apples that frankly, it was difficult for me to put the pan down long enough to actually do this photo shoot. That’s a good sign though, for a food blog at least. Thanks for such a great go-to granola recipe, Emilie!
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus a little extra for greasing the dish)
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 apples, sliced (sometimes one really big apple will work fine here)
1 cup fresh blackberries (or raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
3 – 4 oz. mascarpone, softened (cream cheese works fine as well, and for a little extra tang, goat cheese is great)
1.5 cups of your favorite granola
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
3/4 cup honey
several sprigs of fresh rosemary
for the gratin: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Butter or spray a 2-quart gratin dish.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and mil together until smooth. Next, whisk in the flour, melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Whisk until smooth and well-combined.
Scatter the sliced apples and the berries in the bottom of the gratin dish and pour the egg mixture over top. Scatter dollops of the mascarpone over the gratin. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter the granola on top. Bake for 5 minutes more. Cool for 20 minutes before serving. Serve with some of the rosemary-honeyed yogurt on top.
for the honeyed yogurt: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the honey and the rosemary. Add a tablespoon of water to thin slightly. Let this simmer gently for about 30 minutes, to allow the flavor of the rosemary to really scent the honey. Remove from the heat, take out the rosemary, and cool to room temp. When cooled, stir 3 tablespoons (give or take) of this rosemary honey into the cup of vanilla Greek yogurt, saving the remainder for another use.