Thursday, October 10, 2013

My crisp

Four years ago we celebrated our last Canadian Thanksgiving in Vancouver. It was bittersweet. Cedar was three months old, we were about to move, and some friends of ours invited us last minute to come to their Thanksgiving feast. We were broke, and my sister was visiting from California. I needed something soothing but unusual, so I brought this.

Apple crisp.

I think it was my first apple anything, ever. My family is gung-ho on classic apple pie, but I have never shared their enthusiasm. The apple pie is always classic. It's always perfect, but it is also always never quite me.

And apples--really? They keep so well and there is such a glut of them that we hardly remember they are great only one time a year.

Then enter the budget of soon-to-move broke new parents, and suddenly affordable apples--in season or out of season--take on the glow of possibility. They are cheap. They can be stretched. And what they lack in appearance they make up with in soul. As for the Thanksgiving meal and the crisp, I had some ideas. Keep the apples homey and unassuming and then slip in the unexpected: pecans and pepitas in the streusel topping, lime zest and juice in the filling, and a little perfume of vanilla. Voila! Someone had done it, somewhere, but it was a little revelation to me.

Mara held Cedar while I peeled and sliced and got giddy about the Thanksgiving party, and we brought the crisp uncooked to our friends' house to bake while we chatted and compared parental war stories and watched the babies blow spit bubbles on the floor. Good move. While we ate dinner the apple crisp bubbled away in the oven like a champ and emitted an aroma delightful enough to tempt even this apple ambivalent baker.

But now, I know what you're thinking. It's just crisp, right? Maybe. Maybe I just like the idea of it--that it felt so much like a mosaic of myself: California and America and Canada all at once. The pepitas. The lime. The apples that I grew to appreciate in the country I now miss. It is just apple crisp. But it's more than that too. It's my crisp.

Happy Thanksgiving Canada! I'll be thinking of you come Monday.

Apple Crisp

There is much contention as to what kind of apple to use in baking. The apple farmer last week to use two kinds of apples, so I did: Gravenstein and Golden Delicious. Though the Gravenstein had fabulous flavor, I used the smaller amount of sugar and it was too tart for me. I was not nearly as fancy in Vancouver. I think I used Fuji, of all things, and it was perfect. I suggest you taste an apple slice after all the ingredients are mixed. If it is a little tart, add a couple tablespoons of sugar at a time and mix and taste until it is only slightly too tart. If you serve the crisp warm (which I recommend), it will seem a little sweeter anyway.

It also just occurred to me that this crisp would be equally amazing as a pie. If you are inclined to such things, just use half of your favorite pie crust recipe to line a 9 or 10-inch pie plate, flute the edge (or something), refrigerate until needed, and proceed as usual for the crisp.

1/3 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup brown sugar (the darker the better)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raw pecans, crushed or roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw pepitas

Mix all but the nuts together with your fingers until no more chunks of butter show and the topping is clumpy. Add the nuts and seeds and mix to combine.
8 cups apples, about 9
juice and rind of 2 limes
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar (the darker the better)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
a little butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 2 quart baking dish and set aside. Put the lime zest and juice in a large bowl, and as you peel, core, and slice the apples, slip them into the lime juice, tossing periodically to coat. Add vanilla, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt and stir well. Pour the filling into the prepared pan and spread the topping over them. (This can be covered and refrigerated for up to a day, if desired.)

Slide the crisp into the oven and bake for about an hour, or until the topping is toasty and the apples are fork tender. If the topping gets too dark for your liking, cover it loosely with a bit of foil. Let cool for a half an hour or more. Serve at room temperature or warm or hot, alone, with ice cream, or vanilla yogurt. Enjoy!


  1. "California and America and Canada all at once." I feel like this too sometimes - the conglomeration of all the disparate bits that make me who I am. Your apple crisp with its economy and opportunity for surprise flavors centers on what Thanksgiving is all about: giving what you have and being grateful for what you've got. I hope your Canadian Thanksgiving was a good one, even in California.