Apples have long been associated with education, beginning their peak season in September just when students are settling into their school year, and available for harvest into early November. A shiny apple for the teacher is seen as a way to garner favor in the classroom, but the tradition has roots in much older customs when townspeople were responsible for housing and feeding teachers as part of their salary. Apples were a precious commodity and handled with care, and so a fitting foodstuff for the teachers who were entrusted to instruct the town’s children in their reading, writing, and arithmetic.
If you’re heading out to your local orchard soon, take time to learn a bit about the local crop, including the history and growing techniques. There are an estimated 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, though about 15 kinds make up the majority of the fruit’s national production. And getting the same favorite variety is not as simple as planting a seed. Since each seed-grown apple tree is unique, popular varietals have to be grafted onto existing rootstock to produce the desired fruit. Favorite kinds include McIntosh, Fuji, Cortland, Gala, Macoun, Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious, and Honeycrisp.
Whatever your favorites, here are a few apple snacks to make good use of your apple harvest:
Apple Crisp Breakfast Parfait
For a healthy breakfast that seems like an indulgence, try this simple layering of vanilla yogurt, sautéed apples, and your favorite crunchy granola. For the fruit, just melt a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet; add one large apple, peeled, cored, and sliced; and sauté until softened. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of raw sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Continue to cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the apple slices have released their juice. Divide the apple into two servings of yogurt sprinkled with granola. Whether you serve it up in a fancy parfait or a pint jar, it’s a healthy breakfast that tastes like dessert.
Here’s a great way to scent your home with sweet apples and spice all day long—and create some rich, appley flavor you’ll savor all year: homemade apple butter! This slow cooker version is a great way to get that long-simmered taste with minimal stirring. Feel free to adjust the amount of sugar and spice to your liking. If the apples are already sweet, and you’re planning to freeze your apple butter, you can cut way back on the sugar. If you like more exotic spices, try adding a pinch of ginger or cardamom. Home-canned jars of apple butter make a wonderful gift for teachers or anyone special on your list. Just make sure to follow a recipe specifically for canning apple butter to ensure a long shelf life.
If you’re enchanted with the story of the little red house with no windows and doors, make a batch of apple chips for your story-time snack! Simply slice an apple crosswise as thinly as possible, by hand or using a mandolin (adults only!), and marvel at the star inside! The five seed pockets, or carpels, inside the apple form a distinctive pattern that never fails to delight. To bake apple slices into chips, simply spread them out onto parchment-lined baking sheets, removing the seeds, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, if desired. Bake in a 225-degree oven until fully dried, about two hours, turning after the first hour. They will continue to crisp some as they cool.
Apple Snack Cake
This apple snack cake is sure to be a hit, whether an after school treat or bake sale offering. What’s more, it’s teacher-approved, having been passed down for three generations from a former one-room country school teacher! You can portion it out as cupcakes as this version suggests, or simply bake it all in a greased 9×13-inch pan for 40 minutes. You can also forgo the frosting and instead, as pictured, sprinkle the unbaked cake with a cup of chopped walnuts and an additional 1/2 cup brown sugar. Then you can enjoy it warm from the oven—no need to wait!
Everyone loves apple pie, but miniature pies are simply irresistible! And pint-size pies are easily done, quite literally, in pint-jar lids. Just use metal canning jar bands and flats as tiny pie tins, putting the metal flat upside down in the band, so that the crust will rest on the plain metal side. Perfect for parties or for offering different dessert choices, a pint-sized pie would also put a smile on someone’s face when placed as a special treat inside a lunchbox. What better way of sending along a small comfort of home.
What are your favorite ways to appreciate the fall apple harvest? Share your ideas or things you’ve learned about your local crop in the comments below!
All photos courtesy of Patrick Stigeler, Artisanal Imaging, LLC, all rights reserved.