A month after I moved to France to teach English, there was a two week school holiday, “la Toussaint.” Although I’m still not sure why schoolchildren get two weeks off classes one month into the school year, I think it’s a good model–one that Americans should adopt. It gives you a chance to enjoy the last bit of nice weather before winter, and more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to travel.
A group of fellow teachers and I decided to go to the south of France, and spend some time in Provence. One of my friends had family in France, and his uncle owned a house in a small town called Le Pradet. He was kind enough to let us borrow it for a few days, and so we took a bus from Aix to the village.
Located near Toulon on the Mediterranean Sea, Le Pradet is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The village is surrounded by white cliffs that seem to protect you from the outside world; you feel a sense of calmness and tranquility the minute you step onto the beach. Even at the end of October, the weather was still warm, and people were sunbathing. The leaves were turning red and gold, but the water was still bright blue, and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.
Our first night, we decided to hike from the beach house to the town square to pick up food for dinner. The tiny market was stocked with fresh vegetables, fruit, and spices. I spotted two giant, shiny green Granny Smith apples, and I tossed a few in a bag. I thought they would make a good snack when we went to the beach the next day.
When we got back to the house, a few of my friends started cooking dinner, and I rummaged through the refrigerator. It’s funny for me to remember how different I was then–I barely knew how to cut an onion, let alone cook. I was content scouring the kitchen for ingredients.
Luckily, when I looked in the freezer I found a big tub of creme brulee ice cream. But what could we serve with it? I asked myself. Then I spotted the apples, and I knew exactly what to make. My friend Phil helped me peel the apples, and cut them into small pieces. We tossed them with some butter and sugar, and sprinkled them with some cinnamon. It was my first time improvising dessert, but fortunately, the end product was delicious. I’ll never forget the way the apples fell apart under my fork, and how the sweet creme brulee ice cream tasted with the tart, juicy apples.
Over three years later, I still think about that first apple crisp. So today, I decided to make one. It was cold and rainy outside, and I had leftover Granny Smith apples in my refrigerator. It’s strange how cooking certain dishes brings back so many memories. Even though I’m thousands of miles away from Le Pradet, as I peeled the apples and sprinkled sugar onto the pan, I remembered the beach house kitchen: How we divided up the space, so each of us worked on a different part of the meal. How we drank glasses of red wine as a worked. And how for the first time, I had the satisfaction of knowing that something I made tasted delicious.
I used a recipe this time, but I also improvised a little: I added lemon juice to complement the flavor of the apples, and sprinkled brown sugar on the apples before I added the oat streusel topping. At one point, it started raining harder outside, and the smell of baked apples and buttery brown sugar kept me warm.
I didn’t have any creme brulee ice cream on hand, so I served the crisp with a dollop of creme fraiche. But I almost preferred the creme fraiche to ice cream–it was slightly tart, and balanced the sweetness of the apples and brown sugar.
As I finished eating, I realized that it had stopped raining. I looked out the window and my jaw dropped: A huge rainbow stretched across the sky.
Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Streusel (adapted from here)
- 2 1/2 pounds medium Granny Smith apples (about 5 or 6), peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 2 to 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt, divided
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup uncooked rolled oats
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into small pieces, plus more for coating the dish
- Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Lightly coat an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter.
- Combine the apples, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl and toss to coat. Place the apple mixture in the prepared baking dish and set aside.
- Using the same bowl as for mixing the apples, mix together the brown sugar, oats, flour, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt until evenly combined. With your fingertips, blend in the butter pieces until small clumps form and the butter is well incorporated, about 2 minutes.
- Sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples and bake until the streusel is crispy and the apples are tender, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack at least 30 minutes before serving.