Pairing a crisp autumn day with the first crunch of a freshly-picked apple is my idea of perfection. During my teen years good times with friends might include a drive up from Van Nostrand’s Orchard in Mayfield (now Lake View Orchards, 518.661.5017), munching on crisp and sweet Macs while taking in the foliage.
While the rain of the past weekend dampened my enthusiasm to go out apple picking, I was invited to be a judge at the Cambridge Valley Apple Pie Bake-Off at the Cambridge Hotel, said to be the home of pie à la mode. The cast of judges included the hotel’s own Chef Rich, Sara Kelly as representative of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Sally King, a decades-long baker and former owner of the King Bakery in Cambridge, and Chloe, an 11 year-old pie aficionado.As judges, we were asked to evaluate the six semi-finalists from around the region. The pie makers’ interpretations of what made the perfect pie varied from sweet to tart, soft to firm, and decorative to rustic.
We discussed favorite varieties for baking, and while MacIntosh is certainly popular, Sally King guided us to the Northern Spy – a late ripening apple with a flavor, texture, and moisture content she believes provides the best balance. Sally also remarked that from fall to spring (those apples put in proper cold storage can last that long), apples transition in their crispness, becoming softer over time so that this time of year, your slices should be thinner than the apples you prepare for baking months from now.
The winning entry was baked by John Pelton, a resident of Rupert, Vermont, who prepared “John’s Best Apple Pie” – it was quite beautiful, with a flavorful mix of cinnamon and sugar on the flaky crust with a nicely textured filling.
There’s still time to pick – try places like Hick’s Orchard and Slyboro Cider House in Granville (one of New York State’s oldest u-pick orchards, 518.642.1788), Applejack’s Orchard in Peru (518.643.2268), Gunnison Lakeshore Orchards in Crown Point (518.597.3363), Rulf’s Orchard in Peru (518.643.8636) or call your local Cornell Cooperative Extension for a complete list of orchards, with or without the u-pick component. Remember to call ahead to find out about varieties, availability, and picking times.
For those who are not interested in preparing a crust, here’s an easy and expeditious way to enjoy the favorite fruit of the season.
Apple à la Mode
This is great as an after-school snack or for dessert. When coring the apple (variety of your choice), make sure to retain enough apple at the bottom to hold the filling ingredients.
Firm and slightly tart apples (one per serving)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash and core each apple. Fill each cavity with a couple of teaspoons of maple syrup, one teaspoon of butter and a light sprinkling of cinnamon.
Place the apples in a baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until the apples are tender (test by piercing gently with a fork.) Serve warm, with a scoop of ice cream.
Annette Nielsen is a food writer, editor, community organizer and activist on behalf of regional agriculture. She recently edited Northern Comfort and Northern Bounty, two seasonally-based cookbooks for Adirondack Life Magazine. A native of Northville, she lives in Salem, New York with her husband and son.