We used to go apple picking every fall. My mom packed us in the car, each of us donning a different color fleece and we would head an hour north to Warwick, NY. Unfortunately, we seemed to always time our trip so that it coincided with the annual New York Renaissance Fair in - wait for it - Sterling Forest. This means that for a portion of our journey, we shared the one lane road with hundreds of cars whose passengers were dressed in chain metal and tunics and long skirts and carrying bows and arrows.
As schedules got increasingly busy, and teenage years made us way too cool, our fall tradition gradually came to a halt. But, in times of stress, my inclination is to wrap myself in a cocoon of all that is familiar and comfortable and uncomplicated. So after a particularly trying couple of weeks, my mom and I were in the mood for fresh air, a bit of calm and a break from reality. We wanted to revisit our ritual and bask in all of the warm memories that come with it, so we headed upstate to pick our own. And as you kind of hope when returning to significant places and activities from your past, everything was the same - even ye olde traffic.
Actually, I take that back - not everything was the same. In the past, I remember chilly air and a need for a cup of warm apple cider as a reward for our hard day's labor. Since we typically used to wait until later in the season to get our apples, by the time we arrived, all of the late summer, warmer weather options like peaches and raspberries and tomatoes were no longer. We never even considered picking anything but apples. Not so on this trip.
It is true what they say - the early bird sure does catch the worm because as we pulled up on the first weekend of September we found trees laden with pears, multiple varieties of apples, peaches and nectarines. After we paid for our boxes and bags and were set free to gather at will, I got a closer look at those branches made heavy with juicy fruit and visions of fruit morphed into dreams of pies, cobblers, tarts and ice creams.
There is something kind of magical about wandering the lanes of a vast orchard. Getting lost amongst the trees - ducking under branches to reach the ripest fruit. Even though the parking lot and central walking paths showed evidence of other families out for their day of picking, once we meandered deep into the heart of the orchards, it felt as though we had it to ourselves - which made it easy to eat a sneaky apple or munch on a sweet peach.
We left with a half bushel of crisp apples and boxes filled to the brim with pears and peaches - more fruit than we could ever possibly eat. But that's ok, because one of the unspoken rules of picking your own is that much of what we pick is to be shared. The other is that you must always stop at the farm store on your way out for a bag of warm apple cider donuts. Check and check.
I made a peach tart tatin with some of my peaches, which I wanted to do while they were fresh off the tree and still firm enough to handle it. This is not the sort of thing I would make with overly ripe, very soft peaches, for fear of ending up with mush. A tart tatin is essentially three things - a deep caramel, wedges of fresh fruit and a flaky, buttery pastry baked to perfection. I added a bit of cardamom for added warmth and dimension and served it with freshly whipped cream, which I didn't sweeten because, between the ripe peaches and gooey caramel, this tart is sweet enough. What more could you want in a dessert?
For one 10' tart
What you'll need:
1 cup AP flour, plus more
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
8 Tbsp very cold unsalted butter, diced into cubes
2-3 Tbsp ice water
Peach Cardamom Filling
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 cup sugar
6 cardamom pods
4-5 large peaches, ripe but firm
Juice of 1/2 lemon
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar.
Using your hands, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until you achieve a sandy texture.
Gradually add the ice water until the dough forms a firm ball. Add more flour or water accordingly - the dough should not be too sticky. Wrap in plastic and place in the freezer to rest.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF
Remove the core from the peaches and slice into thick wedges. Toss the peach wedges with lemon juice in a bowl and set aside.
Line the bottom of a 10' cast iron skillet with the slices of butter and sugar.
Use the flat of your knife to press on the cardamom pods to break them open. Carefully remove the tiny round seeds from within the cardamom pods and sprinkle these seeds on top of the butter and sugar in the pan, discarding the outer pods.
Tightly nest the peach wedges in concentric circles into the butter and sugar.
Place the skillet over medium heat and cook for 20 minutes or so, until a deep brown caramel forms. The caramel will bubble up between the peach wedges.
As the peaches and caramel cook, remove the pastry from the freezer and turn onto a well floured board. Roll the pastry into an even circle until it is around 11-12 inches in diameter.
Once the caramel is nicely browned, remove the pan from the heat and carefully lay the pastry over the top of the skillet, pressing it into the sides.
Use a fork to pierce the pastry and place the whole skillet into the center of the oven.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Here's the tricky part - cover the cast iron skillet with a large plate or platter and, pressing the plate into the skillet, invert the pan, causing the tart tatin to drop onto the plate.
Serve with freshly whipped cream.