In my house, Apple Picking Day is sacred. My husband and I have both spent most our our adult lives in the food service industry, and 10 years of that was owning our own small, family business. Holidays were always about work, and even if we managed to get them off, we were far too tired to do anything remotely enjoyable. They were never anything for us to celebrate—they were seasons that we wanted to survive. Apple Picking Day, though, is an entirely different story. It’s a holiday with no specific date, meaning we could work it in whenever our schedule allowed. It’s completely unstructured, and completely devoid of expectations.
There is only one element that has been a part of every single apple picking day: We come home with an entire trunk full of apples. Truthfully, I really don’t eat all that many apples. You get caught up in the spirit of Apple Picking Day, and next thing you know you’ve spent close to $100 on fruit. And it’s imperative to find a way to use up every single apple before they start to rot, otherwise it could potentially spoil all the good feelings that Apple Picking Day has brought upon our household.
I have learned that, despite efforts to convince myself otherwise, I cannot bake enough pies to make a meaningful dent in my apple stash. If you’re serious about using up every bit of your apple haul, you need to diversify your strategy. Make items can be frozen to extend apple season into the cold, cold winter. Bake desserts that require a fraction of the effort that pies do. Work them into savory menus. Here are my favorite ideas.
Applesauce is one of those things that I used to eat all the time when I was a kid, and pretty much forgot about as an adult. It was a very stupid thing of me to do, and I regret every applesauce-less year. The stuff you buy in the store has nothing on warm, homemade applesauce, which is incredibly easy to make— just follow my apple butter recipe, but only cook it for 20 minutes. Which brings us to...
This is a criminally underrated, and underused, condiment. You can mix it into oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies. You can spread it on graham crackers to make them taste like apple pie (especially when you top them with whipped cream). Put it on pork tenderloin or peanut butter sandwiches. Eat with fancy cheese. My recipe is easy, intensely flavorful, and freezes extremely well.
It’s surprisingly easy to make your own apple cider, and the way I like to do it is quite wonderful: Fill a slow cooker with quartered and cored apples, add a small nub of fresh ginger and some cinnamon sticks, cover with water, set on low before bedtime, wake up to a house that smells like hot mulled cider. Remove the ginger and cinnamon, mash the apples up good and well, and pour through a fine mesh strainer straight into a mug, or in a large pot to cool completely before bottling for the fridge.
I can’t personally attest to this one as I don’t drink alcohol, but I have a friend who makes a liqueur every fall by filling large canning jars with thinly sliced apples, then covering them in a mixture of brandy and vodka. After aging the mixture for a month, she strains everything through a cheesecloth, adds some simple syrup, pours it into bottles, and lets them mature until she gives them away as Christmas gifts.
There are so many ways to trick this basic “recipe” out. First, fry up a few thick slices of bacon in a non-stick or cast-iron skillet. Next, core and quarter the apples, the fry the cut sides in the bacon fat with a bit of salt. I’ve drizzled these with maple syrup and pecans, covered them with cheeses like crumbled Cashel Blue, or shaved, aged Gouda. You can eat them on a salad; you can eat them as a side dish; you can eat them on their own. It’s pretty easy to knock back a half a dozen apples on your own when they’re covered in bacon and cheese.