On Sunday night as my mother and I stood outside and began the slow, sad process of dismantling our Sukkah, I started to think about autumn and more specifically, why it ranks as my favorite time of the year. The end of the fall holidays always hit me hard, perhaps even harder than the thought of returning to my daily routine. And yet there I was, shivering in my pajamas and thanking Hashem Almighty that it was fall in New York.
Considering my deep loathing of the snow and my firm belief that the winter should be spent hibernating (with only rare breaks for hot chocolate and cookies), I’m always surprised by my love of its seasonal predecessor. But then I remember that the fall is the start of a brand new year for us Jews. Everything is open before us, and we haven’t had much chance to mess up yet. My favorite flavors come into the Farmers’ Markets: apples, butternut squash, fresh figs, and best of all, pumpkins. And for me, the fall comes with a wonderful combination of those two notions.
Since the next day was Columbus Day (or as I like to call it, the most arbitrary day off of the year), my mother, two of my
close friends, their grandma and I decided to indulge in the autumnal wonders and leave the city for an afternoon of apple and pumpkin picking. Monday turned out bright and brisk and the leaves were colorful, as if all of New York State had decided to flaunt its fall-ness for our benefit. I couldn’t have been happier.
And the apples couldn’t have been bigger or juicier or more plentiful. We shivered in the cold, lugged the ever-heavier bags of produce and ate way more apples than should ever be allowed, but by the time we returned to our own Queens, we felt as though some of our end-of-holiday rut had been patched up with fine produce.
That’s the remarkable thing about the fall. It is essentially nature’s last hurrah before it goes to cold slumber for a few months. Poets have lamented its impermanence and schoolchildren dread its arrival (heck, us college kids do too). But to quote the amazing and genius Calvin and Hobbes, “It’s nature’s own fireworks display.” The colors, the feel of the air and the tastes of the fruit are incomparable. Even after our apple-induced sugar highs wore off, I was newly elated and ready to face the everyday routine to come, because I had something I hadn’t the day before: an unnecessary bushel-sized surplus of apples. And a surplus of apples could only mean one thing: pie.
Now my apple pie with its cheddar cheese crust is baking in the oven, filling the house with a warm, sweet-and-salty smell. The homemade crust for pumpkin pudding pie is settling in the fridge, waiting to be rolled and baked into my favorite of all desserts everywhere. All in all, not too bad. Bring it on, cold weather.
Here’s my recipe for apple-cheddar pie:
You can use a store bought crust if you wish, but I prefer to make it at home.
2 ½ cups white flour (or 1 ½ cup white flour & 1 cup whole-wheat flour)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
½ cup water
7 cups apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons corn or potato starch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
Cinnamon, nutmeg, powdered cloves to taste
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons finely grated cheddar cheese
For the crust:
Mix the dry ingredients, then put them into a food processor with the butter/margarine. (My food processor is too small to fit it all, so I do this in shifts. A little dry mix, a little butter, mix, then again). Pulse until the mixture is yellowish and crumbly.
Place mixture in a bowl. Add the cheese and mix well.
Use your fingers to sprinkle a little bit of the water at a time onto the dry ingredients, then knead them together. Continue until you have a thick (but not sticky) dough. Divide the dough in two, shape the halves into balls and flatten into disks. Then wrap them in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.
After the hour, on a well floured surface, use a heavy rolling pin to flatten one of the dough disks into a circle about a foot in diameter. Place this into a 9 ½ inch pie dish and sculpt the edges so that they are higher than the rim. Place this into the refrigerator.
For the filling:
Put the apples into a large bowl, add most of the sugar. Mix together, and then put it aside for ten minutes to juice.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Add lemon juice to the apples. Mix the remaining sugar, corn or potato starch and spices together and add to the apples. Mix well and pour into the prepared shell.
Drizzle honey on top of the apples and dot here and there with pieces of butter. Take the remaining half of the dough and roll into a circle about 11 inch circle. Place this on top of the apples. Moisten the edges and press the top and bottom pastries together at the edges.
Don’t forget to cut ventilation holes in the top crust! Very important! Poke several of them or slice a few longer slits, like I did. Then take remaining grated cheese and spread on top of the crust. Put in the oven! (Make sure there’s a pan or cookie sheet below the pie to catch drippings or you’ll have some real oven scrubbing to do).
Bake for 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake for 40 minutes.
Take it out, serve warm, and yum! Savor!