Grab a Gala or Granny Smith and get your chompers ready to enjoy the last few bites of National Apple Month. Considering there's hardly anything more American than apple pie, this type of monthlong celebration is a pretty big deal. So what do apples stand for, other than shiny red gifts for the teachers?
A: Autumn. There's just something about apples and a slight chill in the air that pleasantly announces the beginning of fall. Plus, there are the craft and decorating possibilities. For example, do you remember bobbing for apples? Use that floating apple concept, carve out holes for votive candles and you have a floating apple candle centerpiece. You can even make your own dried apple wreath.
P: Pie. I'll add tarts and crisps to that. I adore making a good French apple tart with apples fanned out across the top. Apple crisp may be the lazy man's apple pie, but it's still a crowd-pleaser. And did you know that you can peel, slice and freeze apples in freezer bags to use later? For all these goodies, you'll want to use a firm and tangy baking apple, such as Granny Smith, Rome Beauty or Fuji.
P: Picking. Apple picking brings back memories of when I was a tiny tot and my family would go to a local orchard. If you missed apple-picking season this year, there are still plenty of apples for sale in the bins. Just take a short ride out to Adams County (aka our very own apple country), where there's practically an orchard at every turn. This year I went to Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. to get Honeycrisp apples, and while they were already sold out, they did sell me a grocery bag full of Honeycrisp "seconds" for just $10. These were plenty good for sauce and crisp.
L: Libations. Whether you're talking about fresh-pressed apple cider or hard cider, apple beverages sure go down smoothly. Apple cider, or fresh, unfiltered apple juice, can be found at every orchard and farm market this time of year. When that sweet cider ferments, voila, you have the adult version, which can still be sweet but with a little extra giddy up. I recommend trying Jack's Hard Cider, produced by Hauser Estate Winery in Biglerville using Adams County apples. Hauser Estate also makes two varieties of apple wine.
E: Eating. While there are tons of fancy things to do with apples, nothing beats eating one picked right from the tree or your local farmers market. Here's my confession: I hate Red Delicious apples. While it's the quintessential red apple, I'm not a fan of the mealy texture or bland flavor. Instead, my preferred eating apples include Fuji, Pink Lady (Cripps Pink) and Honeycrisp, all of which are crisp and sweet but also a little tart.
S: Sauce. What's the easiest thing you can do with extra apples? Make applesauce! I may be late to the game, but I've just discovered the ease of making applesauce in your slow cooker. Here's my recipe: Peel, core and slice eight to 10 apples (I used Honeycrisp and Gala, but McIntosh, Cortland and Jonagold also work well). Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 cup of water and just a tiny squirt of lemon juice. Turn the slow cooker to medium and let it bubble away for about four hours (or whenever you think the apples are soft enough). Leave it slightly chunky or give it a quick spin in the food processor. I've already made two batches in the past two weeks!
What's your favorite apple-related food or activity?
Erica Streisfeld is the editor for custom publishing at Journal Multimedia, parent company of the Central Penn Business Journal, but she moonlights as a foodie and wino. Many people also know her as founder of the Harrisburg Cupcake Cup, a community cupcake competition that benefits the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, and owner of Little Ditty Pops. Follow her at @HbgFoodandWine.