North America’s only native apple trees are the tiny, jewel-like crabapples. Other varieties didn’t arrive on these shores until the 17th century. America’s first apple orchard was planted in Boston in 1625, but the tart, bitter apples grown back then weren’t for eating. They were for drinking in the form of hard cider, beer’s fruitier cousin.
Tastier varieties were eventually developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when John Chapman — that’s Johnny Appleseed to you — went on his apple-planting spree. In 1826, Vancouver got its first apple tree, aka the Old Apple Tree, which earlier this year passed into the Great Tree Beyond (yet another reason 2020 can kiss my grits).
Currently, there are about 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States. Apples were ascendant in America’s fruit bowls for decades, although now they’ve been surpassed by bananas, those starchy yellow usurpers. Nevertheless, we still cherish the apple as a symbol of wholesome American values, especially when enveloped in two layers of flaky pie crust.
I will never argue with apple pie’s supremacy, but there are many other delightful ways to love apples without the bother of pastry or dough. Here are a few delicious dishes that are, well, easier than pie.
You can simply bake a plain cored apple for an hour at 350 degrees, but I like apples baked this way because they’re far more caloric.
Carve the cores out of four unpeeled apples while leaving the bottoms mostly intact. (This is tricky, but if I can do it, then you can do it more competently.) Stuff with a mixture of 1/3 cup rolled oats, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/3 cup any combination of raisins, walnuts or pecans. Pack the filling tightly into each of the apples and bake for 11/2 half hours at 300 degrees. Serve whole or halved with a drizzle of honey or syrup.
These are really more like sauteed apples, but who’s quibbling? Your mouth will be full of sweet, buttery, cinnamony apples, so you can’t argue about technicalities.
Melt 1 stick of butter in a pan with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, and 6 sliced apples, skin on or off. Each element can be adjusted depending on how buttery, sweet or spicy you want your sauce (very, of course). Stir the apples until they are soft but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or spooned over pancakes, waffles, crepes or blintzes also with ice cream. At this point, why not?
Fun fact: This Colonial-era recipe was originally made with rosewater, which was then far more common than vanilla.
Core and thinly slice 3 apples. Melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large, oven-safe skillet. Spread the apples evenly across the pan and allow the bottom to caramelize while whisking together four eggs, 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Pour the egg mixture over the apples and cook until the edges set, then transfer skillet to the oven and broil for five minutes or until completely set. Invert onto large plate and slice into wedges.
Do not broil on high on the top rack without a timer while browsing on your cellphone, only to be roused by the ear-searing whistle of the smoke alarm. Avoid opening the oven to release roiling clouds of smoke, which clear to reveal a charred pan full of what looks like old tire treads. It’s also best not to grab the skillet handle without an oven mitt, in your eagerness to get the danged thing out of the kitchen.
Do look on the bright side: with the blackened, ashy top layer removed, it’s actually quite yummy. Props to the Colonial ladies.
This Jewish dish is traditionally eaten at Passover, but delicious is delicious, no matter what time of year or from whence cometh thy divine inspiration. Core, peel and dice 3 large, crisp apples and toss with 1 cup chopped and lightly toasted walnuts, 3 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 cup sweet red wine like ruby port, black muscat or Manischewitz Concord grape or blackberry wine. You can also substitute grape juice for the wine. Cover and let the apples marinate for a bit at room temperature before serving.
Boozy Braised Apples
Core, peel and halve 4 apples. Put them flat side down in a well-buttered glass baking dish.
Create your own original sauce, starting with 1/2 cup of whatever spirit is at hand: muscat or port, bourbon, whiskey, amaretto, Gran Marnier or a fruity brandy. Depending on the alcohol’s sweetness, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, plus any combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves or cardamom. Pour the sauce over the apples and bake at 350 for an hour, pulling the apples out every 15 minutes to braise.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, drizzling some of the sauce over the ice cream, pumpkin pie, turkey, stuffing or Brussels sprouts, but not the green bean casserole, because that would be disgusting.