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Gathering Over Apples

Text by: Christine Pethel

September is kind of an odd month, wouldn't you agree? I'm not quite ever sure which season to mentally categorize it in because it falls at the end of summer, but is also ushering in the beginning of autumn. The weather is not quite hot enough for summer activities, but also not quite cool enough to consider wearing sweaters or making pumpkin "everything."

I would, however, consider September one of my favorite months. I am not fond of the heat of summer, and the change in weather reassures me that autumn (my favorite season) is just around the corner. Children are going back to school in their brightly colored school clothes, and most summer travels have come to an end. The cool breeze of the evenings makes me want to eat outdoors while the kids play in the garden, take bike rides just as the Sun is beginning to set, and build castles in the sky with my wild daydreaming. It's the type of weather when miracles are possible and fantasies are every day occurrences.

© Felicity Photography

But the best possible thing about September? Apples. It's the prime season for this mouth-watering fruit and I look forward to it every year.

For those of you who didn't know me 15 years ago probably have no idea that I used to have a love for everything apple, long before the trend of decorating and cooking with apples became highly popular (and then unpopular again). For my wedding in 1994, I registered my kitchen theme as "vintage apple décor," which turned out to be quite a convenience for my guests, as there wasn't a plethora of apple decorating items at most stores so it wouldn't have been their first choice to go looking for those things. And because there was not an overabundance of apple décor, my guests had to get creative. And for those of you know me now would already be aware that since forever, I have more appreciated gifts where a person had put some length of thought into them. So, you can imagine my elation when I received multitudes of handmade/handcrafted gifts for my special day. I can still remember how many people actually visited handcrafted boutique shows, estate sales and specialty stores just to find me apple designs. I had guests who had fashioned hand-carved/hand-shaped wooden and wrought iron wall hangings, a paper towel stand, a hand-painted apple crate portrait, and hand-embroidered tea towels. And one of my favorites? Handmade, vintage, apple stationery cards to use as thank you notes.

Yes, my love for apples goes quite a ways back. I have always had a special place in my heart for them, even though my love of decorating with them has waned. To this day, just the thought of plucking a fresh apple off a tree causes my heart to race and my stomach to flutter. It's no wonder I can't wait every year for September to appear.

What isn't there to love about apples? Their bright colors can bring a smile to anyone's face, and their succulent flavor can bring any dish to perfection. Driving next to an open field and then having sprawling apple trees bursting with dark red, light red, bright pink and lime green clusters rise into view would, I'm sure, make anyone want to pull over and take a crisp bite of this fresh delicious fruit. And what would be better than sitting under the trees with your best of friends, their bright-faced children, and your own close family to pick wheelbarrows of apples, shop at the local apple farm store to buy freshly squeezed apple juice and apple butter, and eat a picnic lunch while laughing and chatting about old times?

So, who wouldn't love the opportunity to throw a grand, yet casual, party amongst sprawling apple trees?

For the first Apple Orchard Party I planned, I invited ten giggling eight-year-olds and their moms to our local apple orchard. We dined on Apple Brie Crusty Bread Sandwiches, Spinach, Apple and Walnut Feta Salad, Apple Cranberry Muffins with Apple Butter Spread, Mini Apple Tarts, and cold bottles of Apple Cider. Did I mention that we purposely left out the ingredient for fresh apples on our sandwiches and salads? We added them after cutting slices fresh from the baskets of apples we'd picked that same day.

We also chose an orchard we could spend all day at. There were giant tractors that carried us in flatbeds to cut fresh pumpkins off the vine (with bolt cutters, nonetheless… how fun is that?), and we were also able to experience the fun of running through a giant, three-level corn maze, feeding the farm animals, and diving into huge vats of corn kernels to find hidden prizes.

Again, I beg the question, who wouldn't love an Apple Orchard Party?

Turkey, Green Apple, and Brie Sandwich

Yields: 6 sandwiches

Ingredients

3 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. honey
6 crusty bread sandwich rolls
12 oz. Brie, sliced into 4 equal parts
18 slices Deli turkey (about 1 lb)
1 green apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 small bag Arugula lettuce

Directions

In a small bowl combine mustard and honey, and mix until smooth. Cut rolls open horizontally, and spread bottom side with 1/6 of the mustard mixture. Layer 3 slices of turkey, 2 ounces of brie, 1/6 of apple slices, and a few Arugula leaves.

Side note: stir olive oil into extra honey mustard sauce to use as a spicy salad dressing, or make extra sauce to spread on sandwiches throughout the week.

Apple, Walnut, Feta, Spinach Salad

Yields: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

Dressing:
1 cup Balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups Olive oil
2 T. Sugar
1 t. Kosher salt
1/4 t. fresh Ground pepper
Salad:
12 cups fresh Baby spinach
1 cup chopped Walnuts
1 cup crumbled Feta
1 Green apple, cored and thinly sliced

Instructions

Pour vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper in a bottle, and shake well to combine.

Toss spinach with nuts, feta, and apples. Give dressing another shake, and drizzle over individual servings.

Apple Cranberry Muffins with Apple Butter Spread

Yields: 24 muffins

Ingredients

3 cups Flour
2 t. Baking soda
2 t. Cinnamon
½ t. Salt
4 Eggs
1 ½ cup Brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup Vegetable oil
1/2 cup Sour cream
2 t. Vanilla
1 ½ cup unpeeled Apples, diced
1 ½ cup Dried cranberries
Apple Butter Spread (see recipe below)

Directions

Line 24 muffin tins with paper or spray oil. Mix dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt) together in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, oil, sour cream, and vanilla until smooth. Add and stir in apple and cranberries. Fold into dry ingredients.

Spoon batter into muffin cups, about 2/3 full. Bake at 350° F 20 to 25 minutes.

Apple Butter Spread

Ingredients

1-8 oz. package cream cheese (softened for easier blending)
1 cup store-bought apple butter

Directions

Mix ingredients with a mixer. Add more apple butter to taste.

© Felicity Photography

Bite-Sized Apple Tarts

Yields: 36 Mini Tarts

Ingredients

6 cups thinly sliced Apples
1 T. Lemon juice
1 ½ cups White sugar
1/3 cup Cornstarch
1 t. ground Cinnamon
1/3 t. Salt
1/8 t. ground Nutmeg
3 ½ cups Water
Store bough freezer pie crust dough
Melted butter for brushing tops
2 cups crushed Pistachios

Directions

Grease muffin tin, and heat oven to 350° F. Cut freezer piecrust dough into 4-inch squares. Push down into each muffin cup leaving the tops open and ready to fill.

In large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice, and set aside. Pour water in a heavy pot over medium heat. Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Add to water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly.

Add apples, and return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until apples are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Spoon mixture into each mini tart crust. Fold crust corners over and pinch together. Brush tops of tarts with butter, and sprinkle with a pinch of pistachio nuts. Bake until crusts are golden and puffy, about 8 to 10 minutes, checking frequently.