Ah, the crisp, heady scent of fall. It's firmly in the air now, even as we wait for summer to take its final bow on Friday. That's just one bit of the good news, though. Another is that a staple treat of the season is about to hit its delicious peak.
What's a tastier herald of autumn than an apple, after all? Not all of these revered fruits are created equal, of course, and they come in many shapes and sizes and can be used in a plethora of recipes. (Read on.)
Plus, not only are apples tasty, but they're also a healthy choice. Remember what's been said about an apple a day.
Paul Brace knows his apples. The eighth-generation operator of Brace's Orchard in Dallas is one of the few fruit growers left in the area, and the fleshy fruit is a specialty of his family. He gives us an inside look at the life of an apple grower, particularly this season.
Q: You've been a part of this business all your life. Has it changed much over the years?
A: One generation ago there were 80-some fruit growers in Luzerne County. Now there are only two: myself and Greg Heller.
Q: How is this year's growing season?
A: This year is a different year, really. Apples are very scarce. You won't see them at any small growers; you won't see them at stands along the road. They got lost with the frost for a lot of people. (That frost happened on May 1, according to the National Weather Service.)
Q: Are there any misconceptions about the fruit?
A: People seem to think a lot of the apples are ready as soon as September hits. We actually have about two more weeks until peak season. We carry some varieties now, like McIntosh, Gala and Honeycrisp, but come October we're going to have so many, many more.
Q: What's your favorite type of apple?
A: I'll only eat honeycrisp, me and pretty much everybody else in Pennsylvania. Anybody that buys a honeycrisp apple will never eat another type of apple again. They're delicious.
Q: What's your favorite thing to eat with apples in it?
A: Oh, apple dumplings. That's my diet right there.
Q: They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away …
A: I swear I never get a cold, from one season to the next, because I drink cider year-round. Maybe it's psychological; I don't know. But I just never get sick, and I probably drink more cider than anybody in the United States. There's a reason my grandmother lived to be 105.
Apple pie, candy apples, apple cider … all fine and well during the harvest season. But Mariann Newbury, 44, of Dallas, has found another way to use apples in a tasty dinner that adds sweetness to pork.
"It's almost like a taste of fall with a taste of summer," she said of her apple and pulled-pork sandwiches. For these purposes, she prefers Gala apples.
• 4 cups cooked shredded pork butt
• 1 cup smoky or mesquite bottled barbecue sauce
• 1/3 cup apple juice
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 2 medium apples, cored and sliced
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon-sugar
• 6 sandwich rolls, split in half
• Combine pork, barbecue sauce and apple-juice concentrate in large pan. Keep over medium heat until heated through, stirring frequently.
• Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add sliced apples and cinnamon-sugar. Stir and let cook 5 to 6 minutes or until apples are tender.
• Divide pork mixture evenly over bottom half of rolls. Spoon cooked apples over pork. Cover with tops of rolls and serve as a sandwich.