Apple Picking Season is Finally Here!
I love fall - the gorgeous spectacle of colors displayed on trees creates the most stunning, picturesque views, cozy becomes the theme of every single moment, the holidays are on deck, and the foods with the most heart and soul are officially in season. I never realized how much I enjoyed celebrating these final months of the year until I went to college at Cornell and The Culinary Institute of America and was suddenly immersed in this charming scenery so much more than ever before. Upstate New York is a perfect place to be during autumn, and walking to and from class on a campus that is almost too pretty for words really makes you appreciate the beauty of nature at this time. And the weather is cool but oh so pleasant - I could just walk around outside all day long, feasting on hot apple cider and apple cider donuts to feed and warm my soul.
Ever since then, I have made it a tradition to return to either the Hudson Valley or the Finger Lakes to get my fill of fall and partake in all of the nostalgic activities - apple picking, eating, and cider drinking, getting lost in a corn maize, delighting in pumpkin patches, driving through a vibrant red/orange/yellow and all the colors in between leaf oasis, relaxing at a winery, and spending time with close friends. I look forward to these months all year long, and no matter how busy my schedule is, I always get in at least a day or two of physical enjoyment, then imagine myself there through festive home décor and cheesy but just-what-I-need Hallmark movies for the rest of the time.
This year is different though - and I am certain I will be able to truly experience fall many more times than usual. In fact, I already had the opportunity to go apple picking last weekend, and I already cannot wait to go again.
My parents and I went on a beautiful, winding drive to Clarke's Family Farm in Modena, New York where we were welcomed by the most gracious, friendly hosts. The trees have yet to change color, but the expansive views beneath the hills make for a lovely ride. It is nice and quiet there, with thousands of both organic and non-organic, low-spray apple trees to explore while looking for the perfect apple. There is an enormous corn maize and pumpkin patch as well, and of course, they had apple cider donuts and featured honey, jams, and applejack from nearby farms.
Planning to make apple butter, we took a large bag to collect up to 20lbs worth of apples, and we did just that. With a selection of organic Crimson Crisp, McIntosh, Cortland, and Liberty trees from which to choose, we had a great mix of dark and light red, large and small, crisp, juicy, sweet, and tart apples on which to snack and cook! And with very few people around, we could immerse ourselves in the quiet of the surrounding trees and escape from everything for a little while, only to be brought back to reality by the buzzing of a plane above transporting skydivers to their jumping point a few miles away. Unfortunately, we did not get to see anyone, but it would have been so exciting if we did!
With the apples at home now, it was time to make apple butter! The process is so simple, but it does require just a little bit of attention:
Wash, peel, and chop the apples. The smaller you cut them, the faster they will cook down, but the size does not really matter.
Place the apples in a wide pot over medium heat. Again, the larger the surface area, the more you can spread them out in one layer and the sooner the apples will caramelize and break down.
Place the cover on the pot and cook until the apples turn to a dark golden brown. Keeping the lid on prevents the apples from drying out and burning before they are fully cooked through, but you will still have to stir often so they do not stick too much - a little bit of fond is okay as it just adds more depth of flavor.
Once the apples have reached that wonderful golden brown color, season them with a little bit of salt and cinnamon to bring out their natural goodness. You can certainly add other spices - nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, ginger, star anise, or mace - as well as lemon if you desire your butter to be more tart or honey/maple syrup if it is not sweet enough for you. I prefer to keep it simple though and let the layers of flavors within the apples themselves really shine, which also means that each batch will be unique every time.
Blend the seasoned apples in a robot coupe - yes, a blender could work, but because the mixture is so thick, a machine with more space and a more substantial blade will help you to achieve the best texture in the quickest amount of time. You may have to scrape down the sides once or twice. The final mixture should be silky smooth, velvety, and voluptuous, just draping off the spatula as you stand and admire your hard (maybe not so hard in this case as the apples do most of the work themselves) work.
Serve warm or cold on/with the following recommendations or anything you choose: challah (fresh or toasted), cinnamon chocolate chip blondies (yes, this is very specific, but the different sweetness from the brown sugar and apples creates the most dreamy combination), apple cider donuts, oatmeal, yogurt, cheese plates/grilled cheese, potato pancakes, salad, roasted vegetables, and even meat if that is your preference.
If you made a large batch that will not be used up quickly, freeze it in small containers so you can thaw what you need without difficulty and not waste any that you do not eat in a timely manner. It will last in the fridge for a few weeks though, but I doubt you will be able to hold onto it for that many days anyway!
Apple butter can be made from other ingredients too - peach, plum, or pear if you are still in that summer mood, or pumpkin, butternut squash, or persimmon as we transition to fall. Whichever fruit or vegetable you choose, the process is the same, and you will end up with a luscious, mouthwatering condiment that will become your go-to component of every single meal, which I know will not disappoint you one bit.
I am so so excited to celebrate fall with you over the next several weeks, and I hope you get the chance to experience this season in person too! The fresh air and radiant landscapes will rejuvenate you with new life and optimism, and the apple butter reward will keep it going much longer, even when you are back inside your home and dreaming about your next autumnal adventure, however far away it may be.
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