Fun fact! Careful examination of the historical record reveals that, whatever the goddamn Starbucks menu may suggest to the contrary, the consumption of non-pumpkin-flavored foodstuffs between Sept. 15 and Dec. 20 is not a capital crime. Whether the consumption of non-pumpkin-flavored foodstuffs in that time period is actually possible, on the other hand, is a matter of some controversy, in the sense that, no, it is not possible, because every goddamn food on Earth is pumpkin-flavored right now.
With all apologies to the estimable pumpkin—may its mutilated, burning remains light our Halloween doorsteps forevermore—its flavor is no more essential to the season than that of the apple. We tend to forget this, because they're available year-round (in mealy, flavorless, out-of-season form), but apples reach peak deliciousness in autumn, when, speaking in mathematical terms, a ripe apple tastes precisely 9.7 times better than the square of the combined deliciousness of all other foods, forever. And yet, we insist on cramming the dour, boring "pumpkin-spice" flavor combination into everything we eat in autumn, and leave the apples for kids' school lunches. Why? Why, goddammit, why?
Actually, not why. Who cares. People go pumpkin crazy in autumn and that's dumb, but instead of ruminating on the phenomenon's causes, let's just fucking fix it. Make apple crumble! Apple crumble is wonderful. It tastes like apples—vividly, stunningly, orgasmically of apples—and doesn't require you to make pie crust, which is a big ol' pain in the ass. It's not so different from cobbler, but where cobbler has a slightly salty biscuit topping perfectly suited to the sweetness of peaches, apple crumble has a crispy, sugary topping that pairs better with the tartness of fall apples. It's delicious. It's amazing.
Don't take my word for it. Let's make some!
To begin, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. This is a step you will be completing many times between now and the return of warmth to our planet's Northern Hemisphere.
Now, while your oven is heating itself, grab a big bowl and make your apple crumble's topping in it. Dump, oh, a cup or a cup and a half of dark brown sugar into that bowl, plus maybe a cup or so of flour, two cups of dry old-fashioned oats, and a big hearty pinch of kosher salt; then, working with your disgusting grubby fingers, knead and pinch and squeeze two sticks' worth of tablespoon-sized hunks of cold, unsalted butter into the dry stuff until the bowl's contents are sticky and fairly well integrated. You don't need dough here; just the sense that stuff is pretty well mushed together, and not that you just have a big bowl of dry ingredients with a bunch of soot-coated lumps of butter lost somewhere in it. Close enough? Good. Set this bowl aside.
Set your jaw and work up your flintiest, most gimlet-eyed stare, because it is time to peel, core, and slice a buncha goddamn apples. Four pounds of them, or so. This is tremendously annoying, but it must be done, unless you are thinking you might like to just dump that crumble shit onto a bunch of whole apples and chow down, which might be tasty but will not be apple crumble, and also if anyone sees you doing that it might be your last meal as a free person. A potato peeler works nicely on apples; if you don't have one of those, a paring knife or even a steak knife will be a slower but perfectly effective alternative; if you don't have one of those, I mean, for chrissakes, what is your deal. Please do not go get a bunch of Happy Meals and use the apple slices from those, you absolute wreck of a person.
Now, a note on those apples. You are of course free to use the apple variety of your choice here, unless the apple variety of your choice is the Red Delicious, in which case you are free to stick your tongue out as far as it will go and slap the fucking daylights out of it for being a dipshit. Be aware, though, that not all apples stand up equally well to cooking—some retain their firmness for a long time; others turn to mush as soon as you touch them; and some, like, say, the Red Delicious, are red-wrapped garbage—and that they don't all taste the same.
Here's how that works out in this preparation. Below you're going to be adding both lemon juice and brown sugar to your apples; if you use, say, Granny Smith apples (these are probably the most popular baking apples, because of their firmness and tartness), you'll want to pair them with less lemon juice, and maybe a tad more brown sugar, than if you use, say, Golden Delicious apples, which have very little tartness of their own and are very sweet. Get it? No? Maybe if you'd get your finger out of your nose and listen for once in your goddamn life.
So, anyway, use whatever apples you want. I'm going to recommend the Honeycrisp, for four reasons. Firstly, the Honeycrisp apple is incredibly firm, which means that it can be baked for a while without turning into applesauce. Secondly, it is nearly as tart as a Granny Smith apple, but also a lot sweeter, so it gives you wide latitude to fuck around with the lemon-juice and brown-sugar proportions without ruining your apple crumble. Thirdly, Honeycrisp apples are generally very large, which means that you'll only have to peel and slice maybe six or so of them to get enough apple slices. Fourthly, the Honeycrisp apple originated in Minnesota and is something of a point of pride for that place, and I could use some goodwill from the Midwest.
So. Peel and core and slice them apples! Dump the slices into a big bowl, and then toss the apple slices with some stuff. The juice and zest of one big lemon, maybe a tablespoon or so of grated or powdered cinnamon, and another big, honking fistful or two of brown sugar. Use your hands for this. Toss and toss to get everything fairly well distributed. Just a few big tosses and tumbles with your hands. There. Wipe your hands on your unfashionable shirt.
And now, assemble apple crumble! Rub a stick of cold unsalted butter on the inside of a deep-sided baking dish or casserole pan or one of those disposable aluminum-foil lasagna-pan dealies or whatever, then dump your apple slices into it. Spread the crumbly topping across the surface of those sunzabitches, then cram that sucker into the preheated oven. Set a timer for, oh, 50 minutes. Clamp a clothespin over your nose to control your evolutionary diving-into-the-oven reflex. Wait.
An hour has passed; your home is filled with the aroma of baked apples and cinnamon and caramelized sugar, and you have chewed your fingers down to stumps. Remove the apple crumble from the oven, remove a fist-sized portion of it to a bowl, top it with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, and then absolutely bury your entire fucking face in it.
So, that's pretty much perfect, isn't it? Sweet and tart, slightly pungent from the cinnamon, indulgently gooey and engagingly crispy, with the cool, creamy richness of the ice cream melting down into it ... perfect. It tastes perfect. And, it tastes like autumn, unmistakably and undeniably and shockingly like autumn, despite containing no trace of goddamn pumpkin. You can sate your autumnal gourd-lust some other time, but there's a fair chance that, after this, it's not coming back. Eat up.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com, or publicly and succinctly on Twitter @albertburneko. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
Image by Sam Woolley.