AND I’M SURE SHE’LL DROP BY!
As Summer swirls into Autumn, the golden days alternating with the gray, a ray of sunshine and the perfect blue sky peeking through the gloomy darkness when allowed, I dream of Florida winters. 9 months of unrelenting heat pounding down, the sharp light bouncing off of the cement burning my eyes, running barefoot into the chilly air-conditioned house, feeling the cool terrazzo floors underneath and heading straight for the kitchen, a cold drink or a popsicle, another Florida summer slowly coming to an end. Autumn, then Winter, all blended into one, would sneak up on us, air conditioner clicked off, sweaters dug out of drawers, the striped woolen blankets would finally be pulled out of the hall closet and Sunday mornings I’d wake up to the divine smell of oatmeal simmering on the stove. Hauntingly dark mornings, the moving clocks on tv, the camera slowly panning left to right, time, temperature, barometer, then right to left, back again. 29 degrees! Oooh, a cold bike ride to school, wind whipping my hair, turning cheeks and noses bright pink. The icy darkness morphing into cool, bright afternoons, high in the 50’s, sweaters tossed into bike bags and off we’d ride back home, another school day done and gone, the sunny, gloriously frosty afternoon stretched out before us to do with as we please.
Or weekend mornings, bundled up after the oatmeal reinforcement, huge steaming bowls with lots of brown sugar and raisins and a pat of butter melting into a deep yellow puddle, if you please, or toasted cherry Pop Tarts slathered with salted butter, Andrew and I would walk around the neighborhood looking at all the Christmas decorations slowly going up and laugh hysterically at the stalagmites formed on front lawns, beautiful sculptures of sprinkler systems forgotten, left on overnight. Excited preparations for Hanukkah and helping the neighbors decorate their Christmas tree when their kids got too old.
For most, the advent of Autumn meant chestnuts and pumpkin, apples and pears, poached, sautéed and pied. For this Florida girl, the cold weather meant citrus: oranges and grapefruit, tangerines by the bagful, pick your own or grab a couple of sacks at the roadside stand. We’ve said our sad good-byes to the watermelons of summer, peaches and plums have faded away, and we pack into the station wagon and head over the bridge to the citrus orchards. Grapefruit halves nestled into dessert bowls, each section carefully cut away from the tough membrane, sprinkled with just enough sugar to heighten the natural sweetness, a tiny jewel-like maraschino cherry for decoration. Or a lapful of tangerines, my favorite seasonal afternoon snack.
Pumpkin, like cherry and apple filling, came from a can and was reserved for Thanksgiving. Cranberries I discovered in 7th-grade Home Ec class when I learned to make Cranberry Muffins; if not, cranberry relish eaten at the holidays also came from a can. Michael made me my first homemade Cranberry Relish, but, again, that was during my college years. Once away from home, all grown up, a whole new world opened up before me as I left Florida and headed to colder climes. I began making sweet potato pies and pumpkin breads, true Autumn fare. But apples? My sister remembers an apple pie mom used to make but I swear I have no memory of it. Apples eaten in Autumn came with my husband. Sunday mornings find him lined up in front of the organic apple stand and walking home with a basketful of mixed: Boskoop and Reine de Reinettes, Golden and Gala. The sharp paring knife expertly flicking of the peel in cool ringlets, cored and sliced into chunks, eaten the French way with a slice of bread and a chunk of cheese. And, of course, Autumn has him asking for apple treats warm from the oven, apple pie and apple coffee cake or a moist cake, spiced with cinnamon and studded with meltingly tender chunks of apples. A pumpkin pie will certainly do, but if he has his druthers, an apple pie would be pulled steaming out of the oven once a week to be laid gingerly on the table in front of him.
And I wish my sister were here to share. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” says the old adage, yet doesn’t hold true here. The apples are turned into pie and Sue is the one doctor that I love to see! Of course, no poking or prodding only eating and laughing! Truly the best medicine! And her and JP get along like a house on fire! She first came to visit us about 23 years ago, before we were married, just about this time of year, the air chilly yet the sky clear and bright. We made Chocolate Tartlets together and would sit outside in the garden sipping homemade citron pressées. JP drove us out to the coast, to Dieppe, where we, all bundled up in jackets, ran the dog along the seaside, pounding through the wet sand, the wind whipping us all around, blowing our laughter through the air and carrying it away like dancing ghosts. Then we went for steaming, fragrant bowls of Moules, the specialty of Dieppe, served with heaping piles of frites. We visited Rouen, painted by Monet and the site where Jeanne d’Arc burned. I’d love for her to join us digging in to warm apple pie served, of course, with a scoop of chocolate ice cream or mounds of freshly whipped cream.
One, two, three, four apple recipes, a new one to try each week of the season. Autumn, my favorite season, leaves turning golden and deep red and purple, wet walks through the forest hoping to stumble upon mushrooms nestled amongst the moss and tree roots, coming home to a cozy living room, rugby on tv, plate of apple pie in hand and a warm dog. JP on the sofa and Sue on Skype, giggling like two school girls, she and I, still amazed at the Jetson-style conversation we are having across continents, and the smell of fresh-out-of-the-oven apple pie like an ode to the best of times, a song to Autumn memories.
APPLE PIE WITH CRÈME FRAICHE
Apples chunked and stirred into a sour cream/crème fraîche custard-type filling in a pie crust with an Autumn-y hint of apple cider.
For the crust:
2 ½ cups (375 g) flour
5 Tbs (75 g) sugar
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
12 Tbs (175 g) unsalted butter, cubed
12 – 15 Tbs apple juice or cider
Stir the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together into a large mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal or sand.
Moisten with just enough of the apple juice or cider, adding a few tablespoons at a time and tossing with a fork, until all the dry ingredients are moistened and can be gathered into a ball of dough.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead quickly, adding a bit more flour if needed to form a workable homogenous dough, not sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
For the filling:
6 or 7 apples, sweet, slightly tart and perfect for baking (I used half Reine de Reinettes and half Tentation which are like Golden just a bit sweeter)
2/3 cup (175 ml) sour cream, crème fraîche, fromage frais or quark
1/3 cup (75 g) sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbs (30 g) flour
2 Tbs (30 g) packed dark brown sugar
Either 1 cup walnut of pecan pieces, coarsely chopped or ½ cup (50 g) ground almonds
Peel and core the apples. Slice then chunk coarsely. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, sour cream, sugar, salt, cinnamon, vanilla and flour. Add the apple chunks to the sour cream mixture and toss until all of the apple chunks are coated with the liquid.
Prepare the pie:
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Remove the crust dough from the refrigerator and cut off 2/3 of the dough for the bottom crust. Roll out this larger quantity of dough into a circle that will fit and line a 9” (23 cm) pie dish. Butter the bottom of the pie dish and, after making sure the circle of dough will fit the pie plate, roll it over your rolling pin and drape it evenly on top of the pie dish.
Carefully lift the edges of the dough up and down into the pie dish, gently pressing the bottom down and into the inside edge of the plate before pressing the dough around the edges. Once the plate is well-lined with dough, use your rolling pin to cut off the excess dough/overhang. Crimp.
Pour the apples in the sour cream filling into the prepare pie dough and push them around until they are evenly distributed and all the gaps are filled with apples.
Blend the dark brown sugar and either the chopped or ground nuts and stir together. Sprinkle this liberally and evenly all over the apples in the pie dish.
Adding the excess dough to the remaining 1/3 of the dough, roll out into a circle the diameter of the pie dish or slightly larger. Using a pizza slicer or sharp knife, cut the dough into even strips. Form a lattice over the apple filling in the dish.
Bake the pie for 50 – 60 minutes (it depends on your oven) until apple filling is bubbly and the crust is evenly browned. The bottom of the crust should be evenly browned (golden) all over. If the top crust/lattice is browned you want to check the bottom of the pie: very carefully lift out the pie from the oven and check bottom of the pie. If it isn’t browned, place the pie back in the oven and cover the top of the pie with foil so it doesn’t over-brown.