A time for apples

  • Columnist Tinky Weisblat holding fresh apples. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

  • Columnist Tinky Weisblat with fresh apples. For the Recorder

  • A cupcake made by Tinky Weisblat. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

  • Sage and cheddar. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

For the Recorder
Published: 10/14/2020 2:16:17 PM

“But I am done with apple picking now.” This line from Robert Frost’s poem, “After Apple Picking,” always moves me. The poem speaks about the end of much more than apple picking — perhaps life, perhaps the creative process.

The speaker in the poem is weary of apple picking and, it seems, of existence. Yet he is haunted by the destiny of the apples that remain unpicked.

“After Apple Picking” embodies perfectly the bittersweet time we’re about to enter here in New England.

It’s true that, if they’re not picked, soon even the loveliest and most perfect of apples will be pressed into cider or left on the side of the road for wild creatures to enjoy. The animals will nibble and then move on, leaving the once glorious apples sad and half-eaten.

As our lives grow colder many of our relationships, hopes, dreams, projects and loves may suffer similar fates.

Fall is about making transitions; about taking stock. When the harvest moon rises, as it did earlier this month, we sum up and evaluate what we have reaped over the summer.

Have we put up enough food for winter? Have we shared enough meals, enough money, enough laughter? Have we stacked enough wood for the coming months? Are our bodies fit enough to make it through the coming darkness and ice?

We ask these questions not just as individuals but also as a community and a society. We donate more food, more clothes, more money for fuel and medicine as winter approaches.

That reaching out is perhaps more crucial than ever during this pandemic-laden autumn, when many of our neighbors are unemployed, short on food, isolated, or frustrated as they try to help their children through a year of unconventional schooling.

I appreciate this time of reflection and want to honor it and to honor Robert Frost’s wisdom. Nonetheless, I can’t join the poet in being done with apple picking.

I want to go on picking and eating apples, both literally and metaphorically. I want to make apple dishes and share them with friends and neighbors and readers.

I want to keep trying to improve my cooking, my writing, my relationships and my world.

I’m not ready to be “overtired of the great harvest I myself desired.” Maybe this means I’m immature. Maybe it means I’m not a true Yankee. Whatever it means, I’m stuck with it.

Join me in picking and celebrating apples. Let’s keep as many as we can from the cider press and the gutter. We can treasure them in our root cellars, our kitchens and our hearts.

One can do just about anything with apples or add them to just about any dish. The two recipes I share here are easy and satisfying.

The cheese spread (we don’t use apples nearly as much as we should in appetizers) includes another ideal fall flavor, sage. I have sage in my garden throughout the spring and summer, but I turn to it most often in autumn. It works well in soups and with winter squashes.

The cupcakes are based on a cake recipe I obtained long ago at the Shelburne Grange Fair. It originally got its moisture from zucchini, but I find that grated apple stands in very well for that vegetable.

Apple Sage Cheese Spread

½ small red onion, peeled and finely chopped

A small amount of butter for sautéing

One medium apple, cored and sliced thinly but not peeled

6 to 10 fresh sage leaves, depending on size and your taste, finely chopped (plus additional unchopped sage for garnish)

4 ounces (½ brick) cream cheese, softened

¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a small, nonstick frying pan, sauté the onion pieces in the butter until they start to soften.

Add the apple pieces. Cook and keep stirring until they are slightly soft as well. Stir in the chopped sage.

Beat the cheeses together with a mixer or a wooden spoon. Stir in the apples, the onion pieces, and the chopped sage. 

Place the mixture in a bowl. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend; then bring the spread to room temperature before serving it, garnished with a sage leaf or two.

Makes just under two cups, more or less, depending on the size of your apple.

Apple Chocolate Cupcakes

¼ cup (½ stick) sweet butter, at room

¼ cup canola oil

cup sugar (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups flour

¼ cup buttermilk

1 cup grated apple (about one medium apple)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, cream together the butter, the oil and the sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla. 

Beat in the cocoa, the baking soda and the salt. Next, gently stir in the flour alternately with the buttermilk, blending well after each addition. Stir in the apple pieces.

Pour the batter into 12 greased cupcake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for 20 minutes; then remove them from the pans, and let them cool completely before frosting with your favorite frosting. 

Topping the whole with seasonal sprinkles and/or candy corn is a plus.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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