Ode to a Gravenstein

Henri welcomes the season with a couple of autumn apple recipes

PHOTO by SeÁn A. O’Hara (via flickr)

The apples, coming off the peeler, are winding staircases, little accordions, slinky toys … Soon they will be married to butter and live with cinnamon and sugar, happily ever after—Joyce Sutphen (from “Apple Season”)

One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl. Oh … —The Osmonds

One of the many things that Henri loves about early fall is how all the fruits come out, especially apples. From the farmers’ markets to S & S Organic Produce and Chico Natural Foods to the chain grocery stores, the gorgeous orbs—galas, honeycrisps, Fujis, Gravensteins—sparkle in rows and pyramids of spectacular light-reflecting beauty.

And biting into one is like biting into fall itself, the crisp juiciness suggesting the cooler days ahead, firewood stacked by the back door, The Esplanade a ribbon of golden gingkos.

And what of the apple, long associated with man’s fall from grace in the Garden? Thanks largely to Milton’s Paradise Lost, where the fruit that “brought death into the world, and all our woe” is referred to as a “love apple,” many people assume that the “forbidden fruit” was in fact an apple (which, according to legend, gets lodged in Adam’s throat—hence “Adam’s apple”). Actually, apples are never mentioned in Genesis. Rather, it is the fruit from one specific but unnamed tree “in the midst of the garden” from which God forbids them to eat.

According to In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food, by Stewart Lee Allen, it was the smug Roman Catholics who identified the forbidden fruit as an apple, while the Celts, those lusty pagans, held the apple sacred, and their priests, the Druids, used them to make a ceremonial alcohol.

Which, alas, Henri has never endeavored to concoct—although mon père would sometimes intentionally let apple juice go “bad,” or ferment, thus producing one of his favorite beverages: Apple Jacques.

On the other main, however, Henri has several apple dishes that he loves preparing in the fall, including one for a delicious apple cake and one for a crumble-crust apple pie that I inherited from ma mère. Maybe the best apple pie ever. Seulement sayin’.

Henri’s apple crumb pie


5-7 large tart apples (Gravensteins if you can find them)

1 pastry crust (unbaked)

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/3 cup flour

1/4 cup butter (firm)

Peel and slice the apples. In a large bowl, mix the apples, the cinnamon, and half the sugar, and pour into unbaked crust. Combine the rest of the sugar, the flour and the butter in another large bowl, cutting the mixture with a pastry cutter. Sprinkle the topping over the sliced apples. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until apples are soft. Let cool for one half hour and serve. Note: A wedge of apple pie is never compromised by a scoop of ice cream, particularly Shubert’s country vanilla.

Chunky apple cake (adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)


1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground mace

1 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

1 cup whole-wheat flour

3 1/2 cups course chunks of Rome beauty, or similar red baking apple

3 tbsp. brandy

Apple cider glaze (below)

For glaze:

1/2 cube butter

6 tbsp. sugar

2 tbsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. brandy

4 tbsp. sweet cider

2 tbsp. orange juice

2 tbsp. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, combine oil and sugar. Add eggs, one at time, beating well. Sift together flour, cloves, cinnamon, mace, baking soda and salt. Add whole-wheat flour, and blend into egg mixture. Stir in apples and brandy. Pour into greased 10-inch cake pan, and bake for about 75 minutes (or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean).

While cake bakes, melt butter in saucepan over medium and stir in white and brown sugars. Stir in remaining ingredients, bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook for 4 or 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Let cake cool for 10 minutes, then turn over onto plate, remove pan, and pour glaze on top.