It must've been eight years ago when the box came. Tall, slender, from Fedco Trees. Inside were two twigs, their bases wrapped in shredded newspaper. Along with them, a piece of paper explaining that these were, in fact, apple trees. Cox's Orange Pippin and Black Oxford. A gift from my brother.
We dutifully chose some spots on the west side of the field, pretending we really believed these little twigs would survive and grow to become anything in either of our lifetimes. They survived the first year. The next year, just as they were sprouting leaves, deer came overnight and stripped the twigs of their tops.
Any ambivalence I'd had about those twigs was gone. I became fiercely protective, setting up little fences of deer mesh around each twig. The years passed, the deer mesh expanded, and these improbable little twigs began leafing out. Ever so slowly they got taller, from two feet to three feet, but never losing their Charlie Brown slouch.
Besides tending to their little fences once or twice a year, I confess I've pretty much forgotten about these guys. But lo, I recently had an urge to wander down past the struggling cherry tree and through the blueberries to check on my little twig prison.
And what did I see?
The Black Oxford twig, the one that had been most damaged by deer so long ago? It was bearing fruit. Like, real, true, three-dimensional apples. Not huge, but who are we kidding? I tugged one off, wiped it on my sleeve, and took a bite, pre-puckering in anticipation of crabapple tang. But no tang came forth, just a symphony of sweetness and flavor. Clouds parted, the angels sang, a worm poked out his angry head and yelled, "Hey, watch it!" (At least it was a whole worm, am I right?)
Fast-forward to this afternoon, one of those perfect Maine fall days where the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the crickets are cricketing, the leaves are turning colors, and you realize that the house needs to smell like apples and maple and cinnamon and fall. Time to try that recipe I just clipped out of the newspaper.
I'd like to say that today's custard was made with these same Black Oxford apples, but there weren't enough yet. I used Honeycrisps after Googling "best apples for baking" in the produce aisle of my grocery store.
The recipe was in this week's Ellsworth American, credited to Super Chilly Farm, which happens to be one of the folks helping out with the Out on a Limb apple CSA I've talked about here before.
It couldn't be simpler.
Preheat your oven to 375 and grease a nice deep pie plate.
In a bowl, mix together:
3/4 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, please, don't even mention Aunt Jemima)
1 cup yogurt (I used full-fat yogurt because, hell, it's the weekend)
1 tsp vanilla (or if you're me, a generous slosh)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (pausing to sniff the open jar and marvel at how much you love cinnamon)
Peel, core, and slice 2 cups of apples. (Years ago, my sister-in-law got me this contraption which makes tasks such as this a breeze. You'll want to double the recipe just to continue playing with your toy.)
Evenly distribute the apples along the bottom of the pie plate and pour the custard mix over. I chopped about 1/2 cup of pecans and sprinkled them over the top.
Slide it into the oven for about 45 minutes, until it's nice and puffy and the edges barely begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. It'll continue to cook a while longer.
Wait as long as you can before giving up and cutting yourself a slice--which will slither and jiggle and tumble in that custardy way that inspires you to go back and get a little more, then a little more, "just to tidy up that edge," you say.
-- Update! First, I'd probably not use Honeycrisps again. This dish benefits from an apple that's willing to go soggy faster. And second, in comparing this recipe to the golden standard from Moosewood, the Apple Honey Custard Pie, I discovered that this is that recipe, only minus the pie crust and substituting maple for honey. Once again proving that there are no new recipes in this world.