Fall is prime season for apples, and those chestnut crab­apples are stealing the show.

This pingpong-ball-sized fruit packs a lot of flavor into just a few crunchy bites. Sweet as a Honeycrisp, sharp as a Harlason, its flavors are reminiscent of chestnuts, raspberries and rose. When cooked, its notes become more subtle, almost buttery, brown-sugary and lush.

The fist-sized fruit (2 to 4 inches in diameter) fits nicely into a lunchbox, makes a pretty stuffed sweet or savory baked apple and serves as a lovely edible centerpiece when piled into a glass bowl. The chestnut crabapple, indeed, strikes a happy mix of flavor, versatility and beauty.

The apple, bred by the University of Minnesota in the 1940s, is a cross between a crabapple and the Vermont Malinda, an heirloom apple that dates back to the early 1800s and is an ancestor of the Honeycrisp.

You can find these apples at farmers markets and local food co-ops through Thanksgiving. Look for chestnut crabs (or any apples) that are plump and firm, not at all shriveled or soft, or with dents. Store them in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. This allows the air to circulate so that the apples don’t become too moist, which will make them soften. Keep apples away from carrots (apples release a natural ethylene gas that expedites the carrots’ spoilage).

Chestnut crabapples’ small size makes them perfect for coring and slicing into wheels: arrange them in patterns on top of a pound cake or bar cookies. Toss them into a pan of roasting chicken or pork with a few sprigs of rosemary; roast a few slices with Brussels sprouts; slice and layer into grilled cheese.

They are also delicious halved, cored and then grilled or broiled, cut-side down, to garnish a dessert plate or main dish. Because they oxidize quickly, dip apple slices in acidified water (1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup water).

Baked apples are often served in Northern kitchens. As perfectly proportioned containers, their chiseled hollows may be stuffed with crushed oats and maple syrup or breadcrumbs and soft cheese. Wrapped in pastry, they’re called dumplings.

Savory baked apples make a fine accompaniment to pork, lamb or beef roast. Sweet baked apples make a fine finish to a light meal of a hearty white bean or curried pumpkin soup, served in the fading light of a frosty, blustery autumn day.

Baked Apples, Sweet or Savory

Serves 4 or 8.

Note: Your choice of sweet or savory, or both. Stuffed with sharp cheese and hazelnuts, these make a wonderful side dish to roast meats or a simple bowl of hearty soup. Or fill them with granola or oatmeal, a few nuts and a little maple syrup. To make the acidified water for the apples, combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup water. From Beth Dooley.

• 8 Chestnut crabs (or any small apple)

Savory filling:

• 2 to 3 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese

• 1/4 c. whole toasted hazelnuts

Sweet filling:

• 1/2 c. uncooked oatmeal

• 2 tbsp. pumpkin or sunflower seeds

• 1 tbsp. maple syrup

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare the apples: Using a paring knife, cut 1/2-inch from the top of the apple. Then core the apple to create a hollow. Brush the cut apple with a little acidified water (see Note).

Savory filling: Cut the cheese into small cubes and stuff into the apple hollows. Add the nuts. Place the apples in a baking dish or on a baking sheet and bake until the apples are soft and the cheese is melted, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Sweet filling: In a small bowl, stir together the oatmeal, pumpkin or sunflower seeds and maple syrup. Stuff into apple hollows. Place the apples in a baking dish or on a baking sheet and bake until the apples are soft and the filling is hot, about 20 to 25 minutes.

 

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.