When you’re homeschooled, you have more friends who live far away than friends who live close by, so it did not feel strange to me that some of our closest friends lived hours away. We reunited quarterly or less, and were during our travels inseparable, then retreated back to our respective corners of the world. We rented three hotel rooms and divided them between sixteen of us at homeschooling conferences; we vacationed together at June Lake, where I got heatstroke and violently puked throughout most of the night; they came to our house for an event organized by me, “Camp Hearn,” planned to contain games, activities and sundry friendship-building games; instead, their whole family got a violent stomach flu and could not leave for long enough to drive home, so they stayed in our house – sprawled out in the living room, and in tents on the back lawn, and on couches – puking for the better part of 48 hours. As the ersatz hostess I stayed up the whole time, tending to the weak, and earned myself the nickname, which unfortunately followed me many years thereafter, “Clara Barfton.”
The mother of their family served foods that were healthy beyond description (whole-grain freshly-baked breads without salt, formidable piles of freshly-harvested vegetables which were gnawed on between meals by the children, lean turkey burgers cooked beyond well done, and giant skillets of scrambled eggs) which in addition to being healthy somehow all tasted just a bit too healthy. Half a lifetime afterwards, I am sure I would now appreciate the spread immensely, but then I was on vacation! And I just wanted Cheetos and pizza.
But then dessert arrived, and everything was right in the world. This crisp was warm, comforting, fragrant. We would take turns at the apple peeler, cranking the shaft and watching our little siblings gobble up the peels as fast as they could be unraveled; we’d mix up triple or quadruple recipes of the topping and the smell would carry me through the evening.
It mixes up in a few minutes; the proportions are more suggestions than anything else, and it’s almost impossible to ruin. Served hot from the oven, it is the best kind of rustic end to the day; served with ice-cream, it is luxurious and comforting. Double or triple or quadruple it for everyone you love.
Spread evenly in 8” square pan:
4 c. sliced, pared apples;
¼ c. water;
½ c. sugar.
With pastry blender (or two forks) mix until crumbly:
1 c. white sugar;
¾ c. flour;
1/3 c. soft butter;
1 tsp. cinnamon (or more);
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg (optional);
½ tsp. salt.
Spread crumb mixture over apples, gently.
Bake uncovered, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately.