Regardless of age, fall isn’t complete without an afternoon at a local orchard. “Apple picking” has come to mean more than just picking apples straight from the tree. Apple picking encompasses a whole afternoon of fall activities, such as climbing into the back of a tractor-hitched wagon for an orchard hay ride, filling baskets with pumpkins and gourds, sipping on steaming apple cider, soaking in the surrounding foliage in its colorful prime, and getting lost in a massive corn maze.
I still enjoy these activities and fall afternoons in my thirties as much as I did when I was a kid. There’s a sense of timelessness about apple picking with friends and family, laughing on hay rides, melting over the scent of freshly baked cider donuts lingering in the air, and helping each other pick “the really good apple” just out of reach towards to the top of the tree.
Apple picking in the fall is really the only time 20+ pounds of apples doesn’t seem completely ludicrous. In fact, it’s expected.
Some people go home and bake up a storm with their haul of freshly picked apples. Slow cooker applesauce, apple pies, apple crisp, apple muffins – a real apple baking palooza. I’m much more of a cook than a baker, preferring to work with savory textures and flavors.
CJ cored and sliced one of the Cortland apples from our 20-pound bag of glory when we returned home, and I was in awe.
Pale white inside, ruby red outside, juicy, light, refreshing, and crisp. While Cortlands are wonderful baking apples, I just couldn’t bring myself to cover up that beautiful color and raw texture in a baked good. They needed to be admired and enjoyed in their natural, raw state – in a crunchy, fresh slaw with flavors of fall.
Initially, I planned to spiralize the apples into a refreshing salad along with a shaved bulb of fennel from that week’s Community Supported Agriculture farm share. The idea was simply lovely in my head, twirling around the raw apple noodles with a fork, picking up thinly sliced bits of licorice-laden fennel and crunchy pecans along the way. Well, then this happened. Womp Womp.
A broken Spiralizer led to a quick modification of my vision, and I reached for my favorite hand mandoline slicer to thinly slice the apples into matchsticks instead. I used two apples and one medium bulb of fennel to keep the flavors balanced. This 2:1 ratio helps keep the strong fennel licorice flavor in check, dancing in the background like a wallflower instead of overwhelming the palate center stage.
Cortlands work particularly well in this slaw because the flesh doesn’t brown when sliced and exposed to air. It maintains a stunning white color that keeps this slaw bright. Gala apples are also sweet, crisp, and juicy and don’t brown quickly when sliced, so they could be used in this recipe as well. (FYI, here are 8 more examples of apples that don’t brown easily).
The dressing for this slaw is equally light and refreshing. Creamy, but not indulgent. Tangy and subtly sweet just like the fresh apples.
A dash of honey and non-fat Greek yogurt are whisked together and poured over the shaved apples and fennel just enough to coat the slaw completely.
Because I love a bit of crunch – and can’t seem to get enough of pecans these days – a handful of chopped pecans over the slaw is the final touch.
This slaw has different degrees of crunch from the chopped pecans and ripe apples. It’s tart-sweet flavor profile is as refreshing as biting into a juicy, crisp apple.
The tartness of the Greek yogurt is softened by the touch of local honey, and the tartness of the apple is balanced with its natural sweetness and the savory anise of fennel.
It’s a slaw for fall – bright, refreshing, and healthy. A lovely way to embrace all those freshly picked apples in a raw, colorful, simple way.
I would love to hear from you. What’s your favorite way to enjoy apples in the fall? What’s your favorite part about apple picking?
- 2 large Cortland (or Gala) apples, ends trimmed, halved, then sliced into matchsticks
- 1 bulb fennel, ends trimmed, halved, cored, then sliced into matchsticks
- ¼ cup non-fat Greek yogurt
- ½ tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp chopped pecans
- Wash apples and trim off both ends. Slice in half and run each apple smooth side down along a mandoline to slice into matchsticks. The seeds will fall out in the process. Alternatively, you can slice into matchsticks with a julienne peeler.
- Trim both ends of the fennel bulb and discard. Slice in half and remove the tough inner core, which looks like a white triangle starting from the base and extending up to the center of the bulb. Run each fennel half smooth side down on a mandoline to thinly slice (it is okay if they don't come out equal size like the apples).
- Combine the apple and fennel slices together in a medium-size mixing bowl along with half the chopped pecans.
- In a small separate bowl, whisk the Greek yogurt and honey together. Pour over the apple and fennel and toss to coat.
- Garnish with remaining pecans and serve immediately. Or, cover and chill, garnishing with pecans prior to serving.