For me, fall means food fresh from the tree or field. In particular, it usually entails a visit the St. Lawrence Valley – the tiny village of Brinston an hour’s drive south of Ottawa, to be exact – to visit my nanny Evelyn Smail and to savour apple season at its peak.
This is rich farm country and Evelyn has lived here for all of her 80 years minus the 18 months as a teenager when she came to look after me as a baby in Montreal.
A widow now and sometimes in frail health, she relishes my visits and always has something or someone new to show me.
A few years ago it was the dilapidated home of John McIntosh, he of the original apple, in the hamlet of Dundela where we always make a pilgrimage to the nearby Smyth’s Apple Orchard.
This time, in late October, there were at least 2 dozen apple varieties freshly picked and stored in a cool room at the back of Smyth’s lovely store.
I got carried away and asked for 2 each of about 10 kinds. They included the divine Honey Crisp (a newish apple, I believe); the lusciously crisp red-skinned, white-fleshed Empire; Ida Red (my fave for baked apples); Northern Spy (a must for crumble); Paula Red (a delicious eating apple); Russet (green dappled with brown and wondrous to eat); Jonagold (delish for eating), and Royal Gala (excellent for eating, pie and other desserts).
I didn’t get to try a Lobo, Bancroft or Snow apple. They top the list for my next visit.
Here’s my version of apple crumble. You must use Northern Spy or an equally tart cooking apple.
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking (not instant) rolled oats
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup cold butter, cut in pieces
2 tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
4 to 5 tart apples, cored, peeled, sliced
1 to 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375F.
In large bowl, combine flour, rolled oats and brown sugar. Add butter. Using wire hand pastry blender or two knives, cut it in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With fingers, rub mixture to form crumbly dough.
In small bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon.
Lightly butter 8-inch/2 L glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange apple slices in dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice and sugar/cinnamon mixture. Spread evenly with topping mixture. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until browned on top and apples are soft.
Makes about 6 servings.