Apples have so much going on. First off, they’re the best put-it-in-your-lunchbox food, with no packaging or peeling required. An apple provides about 65 calories, no fat, no sodium and about 13 grams of natural sugar. The whole “keeps the doctor away” thing? Yep, it’s true.
So let’s get into apple mode — no, not a la mode! Not yet, anyway. We’ll check out the best orchards, the best apple dishes and even an apple beverage or two. According to the farmers I recently spoke to at Findlay Market, a surprise late frost unfortunately hit a lot of apple tree blossoms. The ones that were saved had a double whammy — the drought. But the survivors will be delicious; the intense heat this summer has made everything sweeter.
1: Nectar’s Apple Sorghum Cake
For her fall menu, Chef Julie Francis at Nectar is working on an apple cake sweetened with sorghum syrup. Sweet sorghum is a grain that thrives under hot, dry conditions — so expect to hear more about it. Always expect deliciousness at Nectar, and this cake promises Parmesan panna cotta, apple cider gelee and sweetened caramelized milk — Mexican cajeta. 1000 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout. 513-929-0525, dineatnectar.com.
2: Senate Pub’s Granny Smith and Pork Belly Sandwich
At Senate, Chef Daniel Wright currently serves a crunchy apple and celery root slaw on the pork belly sandwich using tart green Granny Smith apples. As his personal favorites, Wright loves Braeburn, Fuji and honey crisp. 1212 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 513-421-2020, senatepub.com.
3: Taste of Belgium’s Cinnamon Apple Waffles
At Taste of Belgium, Jean-Francois Flechet features a cinnamon apple waffle in the fall, starting around the first of October. 1135 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 513-381-4607, authenticwaffle.com.
4: Apple-Gorgonzola Tart at Virgil’s Café
Matt Buschle, chef/owner at Virgil’s Café in Bellevue, Ky., sources much of his produce from the Bellevue Farmer’s Market, where he often does cooking demos on Saturday mornings. Buschle loves using apples for their flavor and versatility, but also because they’re economical. He grew up picking apples and helping his mom preserve applesauce and freeze sliced apples for winter pies. It was “required work,” he says, as the second youngest of 13 kids. He’s waiting for the apple crop to roll in before committing them to his menu, but for now Buschle is planning to feature an apple, bacon or smoked pork belly and gorgonzola tart, rustic-style, and probably some pork chops roasted with apples and oranges, spiked with star anise. He’ll have an apple dessert on the menu, but confesses that his personal favorite sweet apple dish is a Caramel Apple from Schneider’s Sweet Shop, just down the street from Virgil’s.
710 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, Ky. 859-491-3287, virgilscafe.com.
5: Premium Caramel Apples from Schneider’s Sweet Shop
Chef Matt Buschle’s favorite is one you’ve got to try: Schneider’s Sweet Shop’s Caramel Apple. Owner Jack Schneider will only use fresh apples that have never been refrigerated to make these seasonal treats, and he’ll only use Jonathan apples — which are hard to come by this year, thanks to a late frost. He’s 99 percent sure that he’ll have some, though, in time to start dipping apples in his best homemade caramel — the same stuff he uses for his premium chocolates. When the apples first start coming in, Schneider does straight caramel dips. As they get a steadier source of apples, he’ll dip some in caramel and nuts, some in caramel, chocolate and nuts, and some in caramel with M&M’s. Could be gilding the lily! And by Halloween the apples are all gone, not to be seen again until next Labor Day. If you’re looking for old-fashioned red candy apples, Schneider’s makes some of those, too, but not as many as Jack’s dad did back when he ran the shop. Have tastes changed? “No, I don’t think they have,” Jack says, laughing. “But people have expensive dental work now. They invest a lot in their teeth. They don’t want to take a chance on busting a crown.” 420 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, Ky. 859-431-3545, schneiderscandies.com.
6: Gourmet to the Soul’s Fried Apple Pies
Forget about those vending machine pies with their bad high-fructose corn syrup and mushy old apples. Gourmet to the Soul, a local gem, is selling handmade Fried Apple Pies at three local farmer’s markets. Lovel Bruce, who also bakes my favorite peanut butter cookies and a great selection of decorated cake pops, is starting the pies on a trial basis until she sees how customers like them. From the taste I had last weekend, I don’t think they’ll like them — I think they’ll love them! She’ll be using local apples from her fellow market vendors. Get your pie from Lovel herself or her son, Gabriel, at Covington’s Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, Erlanger on Thursdays or in Fort Thomas on Wednesday or Friday. Go local, and support Lovel’s entrepreneurship!
7: Lebanon Applefest
Did somebody say Apple Bake-Off? I have a mental picture of rows of perfect pies, hot cobblers and delicious dumplings — ahhh! If that sounds like your idea of heaven, head to Applefest.
It’s the 30th anniversary for the annual Country Applefest in historic downtown Lebanon on Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. They’ll have plenty of apple treats to eat, including apple fritters, apple pies, caramel apples and fudge-covered apples. There are hearty dishes, too, like barbecue, pork chops, ham sandwiches, brats, metts, hot dogs, burgers and ribs. Crafts, like pottery, jewelry, wreaths, wooden toys and quilts will all be available for purchase. As a special musical treat, the Applefest features Maestro DeLeone and the Middletown Symphony Orchestra performing at noon by the train tracks on South Broadway. Admission to the Applefest is free, rain or shine, with a free shuttle from the parking area at Sweeney Chrysler Dodge Jeep on West Main Street. Mulberry, Broadway and Mechanic streets, Lebanon. 513-320-2775, countryapplefest.com
8: Iron’s Fruit Farm
Apple orchard, hayrides for pumpkins, corn maze, fall mums and special events on weekends, including farm animals. 1640 Stubbs Mill Road, Lebanon. 513-932-2853, ironsfruitfarm.com.
9: Black Barn
Country store in an old Shaker barn on a working farm. Dip your own caramel apples, hayrides on weekends. 1161 W. Main St., Lebanon. 513-932-2093.
10: Ayres Family Orchard
No pesticides. Orchard on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Kentucky River Valley. Also berries, jams and sorghum. 525 Wilson Lane, Owenton, Ky. 502-514-1594, ayresapples.com.
11: A+M Orchard
Pick-your-own, many varieties, including Jonathan, Melrose, Winesap. Fresh pressed cider. 22141 S.R. 251, Midland. 513-875-250, aandmfarm.blogspot.com.
12: Hollmeyer’s Orchard
Forty varieties of apples and fresh cider; also sold at Findlay Market. 3241 Fiddlers Green Road, Mack North. 513-574-0663.
The Rookwood’s Jack Rose Cocktail
Rommel Wells, bar manager at the Rookwood Bar and Restaurant in Mount Adams (1077 Celestial St., 513-421-5555), isn’t really an antiquated guy, but he does believe in classic cocktails. So that’s why I’m pleased when I ask Wells about an apple cocktail for autumn. He doesn’t come up with some sort of “Appletini” abomination, he says exactly what I had hoped he’d say: “The Jack Rose. It’s simple, straightforward, good and really tastes like fall.”
According to Cocktailians.com, the Jack Rose is one of the two classic cocktails made with applejack, a spirit that my late daddy used to distill in our cellar when I was a little girl. You don’t have to bootleg it, though, as Laird’s Applejack can be found on the liquor store shelf. Wells prefers Laird’s 7 1/2 Year Old Apple Brandy and insists on using his own house-made grenadine.
“It’s just reduced pomegranate juice, sweetened just a little, but it makes a huge difference in the quality of the drink,” says Wells, and I believe him. His recipe:
The Jack Rose
2 oz. applejack
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. grenadine
Shake the ingredients well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled coupe cocktail glass.