How You Like Them Apples?

Warm, thanks, with cinnamon and brown sugar and butter

I can’t think of a food that’s undergone more of a change in presentation in the past 40 years than the humble apple. Used to be you could buy two kinds: Red Delicious or Golden Delicious. They were pretty, and they tasted like cardboard, which was really weird, because you knew apples had to have tasted like something once upon a time, because how about Snow White and Atalanta and Adam and Eve, for cripe’s sake? Who would have gotten so worked up over something that tasted like cardboard, even if it was made of gold? (Some stuffy scholars say the “golden apple” of mythology was most likely a quince, but I have tasted quince, and I am here to tell you it was not.)

Then one day in 1972 a mysterious green apple known as Granny Smith arrived here from Australia, mouth-puckeringly tart and as crisp as those Deliciouses were mealy. Almost simultaneously, the heirloom fruit-and-veggie movement coalesced, and a flood of old-but-new apples began appearing at farm stands and, eventually, supermarkets, bearing enticing names like Cox’s Orange Pippin and Fuji and Brown Snout and Honeycrisp and Winesap and Jonagold. And I began to understand why gods and goddesses and fairy princesses and the Mother and Father of Us All would be obsessed with them.

I don’t eat that many apples in summer, when there are so many other fruits to entice me. But the moment frost hits the air, I warm up to them. Nothing says cozy like the smell of apples in the oven. Pie’s too damned much trouble, but oh, baked apples are easy and good, either alongside a pork roast or topped with ice cream for dessert.

Baked Apples
6 good-sized crisp, tart apples
3/4 c. brown sugar
½ c. chopped walnuts
½ c. raisins
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter
1 c. apple juice

Preheat the oven to 350?. Wash the apples, then peel, or don’t, depending on your druthers. You can also peel them but leave a strip of skin around the equator. Festive, eh? Then core them from the top down, but don’t go all the way through. You can use a paring knife or a special apple-corer for this. You want the hole to be about an inch in diameter, and you want to get out all the seeds, but you don’t want to poke through the bottoms or your apples will leak. Set the apples in a pie plate or baking dish, close together, and pour the apple juice into the dish.

Mix the brown sugar, walnuts and raisins in a small bowl, then fill the cavities in the apples with the mixture, mounding it up. Top each with a teaspoon of butter. Bake for 45 minutes, basting a couple of times with juices from the pan. Serves six.

SANDY HINGSTON is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.