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The apples of autumn: Crisp or soft, tart or sweet, enjoy this favorite fruit of the season

Growing up in Floodwood, Minn., on a farm, we did not have apple trees. Johnny Appleseed must have missed our corner of the world. I think some of our peers might have had crab apples, but not us. I remember eating a delicious apple when they were sold at Halloween — they were big, shiny, sweet, juicy and crunchy Washington apples — a special treat. They came in a crate, each apple carefully wrapped in a square of tissue paper.

I don’t know if it is just me, but Red Delicious apples just don’t have the flavor today that they had back then. I was somewhat vindicated when I read this: “After generations of breeding for longer shelf life and cosmetic stability — call it vanity ripeness — the flavor has largely been cultivated out of the Red Delicious — originally known as the Hawkeye, and now has thick skin, a one-note sweet flavor, and an often crumbly texture.”

At a class reunion recently, we started talking about favorite summertime memories. Two of my classmates, farm kids, had decided they would take off after graduation (the end of May) and drive to the state of Washington, where they grow the big, Red Delicious apples, and get a job picking them. They had heard you could earn lots of money. They managed to get an old jalopy and drive west. To pick apples. In June. They laugh about it now — but the apples weren’t ready for picking for another two or three months! They did find jobs, though, picking green beans.

Today, locally grown apples show up in late summer and early fall. They vary from small, tart varieties to sweet and juicy. Since the apple breeding program began at the University of Minnesota in 1888, nearly 30 apple varieties have been released. One of the recent favorites is the flavorful Honeycrisp. You can find them in local supermarkets, usually in brown bags.

The local Lions Club offers Bayfield Cortlands in October for their autumn fundraiser, and you can buy them by the 40-pound bushel or 10-pound bag. Cortlands are a slightly tart, all-purpose apple. Check them out — they’ll be at the coppertop church Oct. 15-16. The proceeds benefit many local service projects. It’s a good thing!

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth, Minn., food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.

Country Apple Pie

When we lived in the country, we tried to plant apple trees for a few years. The bears usually got the best of us. One year, we were baffled by a twiggy, two-branched tree that produced one huge apple. My husband was as proud of that apple as if he had given birth to it himself. He wouldn’t let anybody touch it! I think in the end, a bear got it. I was into baking apple pies that year from locally produced apples, and this turned out to be our all-time favorite.

5 to 6 large Cortland or McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and sliced

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Crumb topping

1/4 cup each flour, brown sugar and butter

Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut up

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons lemon juice or cider vinegar

Ice water

1 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss apples with the sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon until apples are evenly coated. In a small bowl, blend the flour, brown sugar and butter to make a crumbly mixture.

For the crust, measure the flour and salt into a large bowl or into the work bowl of a food processor with the steel blade in place. Add the butter and process on/off 5 or 6 times or cut butter into the flour with a fork until butter is in pea-sized pieces. Mix the egg yolk, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon ice water together and toss into the flour mixture. Toss with a fork until dough comes together, adding more ice water a tablespoon at a time if needed. Turn dough out onto a floured board and gather the dough into a ball. Place between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Flatten and roll dough out to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Transfer into the pan and trim the edges. Turn the apple mixture into the pastry-lined pan. Pour the whipping cream over the apples and sprinkle with the crumbly mixture. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until crust is golden, topping light brown. Cool on a rack. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Norwegian Apple Pie

You might argue that this is an apple cake, not pie. But it is so simple to mix up, kind of a last-minute dessert. Bake it in a pie pan. Cut it into wedges to serve it. Try topping it with cinnamon ice cream!

1 egg

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup chopped almonds

3 medium sized tart apples, peeled, cored and diced

Whipped cream or ice cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9-inch pie pan. Stir all of the ingredients together and spread the mixture into the pie pan. Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and cut into wedges to serve. Top each wedge with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes about 6 servings.

Inside-out Caramel Apples

This is so easy! Just cut the core out of apples and stuff them with caramel candies. Bake for 45 minutes or so — if overbaked, the apples collapse. They’re still great-tasting, but the looks leave something to be desired. A scoop of ice cream will finish off this dessert!

1 apple, washed and cored

2 or 3 caramel candies

1/2 cup apple juice, white wine or water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Stuff one apple per person with the caramel candies and place into a baking dish. Pour the apple juice, wine or water into the pan around the apples. Roast, uncovered, for 35 to 45 minutes or just until the apples are softened. Time will vary with the size of the apples. Cool and serve with a scoop of ice cream. This is another one I love served with cinnamon ice cream!

Danish Apple Cake

This is basically a butter kuchen dough with raw apple slices pressed into it before baking. The cake rises to frame the apples as it bakes.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter softened

3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

5 Cortland, McIntosh, or another tart apples, about 2 pounds, peeled, cored and quartered

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons additional sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 11-inch pan with a removable bottom or a 9-inch, square cake pan.

In a large bowl, cream the 3/4 cup butter with the 3/4 cup sugar; beat in the eggs and vanilla until light. Stir in the flour and baking powder until smooth. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Press the apple quarters into the dough. Brush the apples with the melted butter and sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until cake is golden and apples are tender when pierced with a pick. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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