I’m sure this is true of any area of the country that grows apples, but I feel like apple picking is an annual ritual here in Virginia that officially marks the end of warm weather. It confirms that we are in the middle of autumn and the quick slide into winter has already begun. When I was a kid, we went apple picking every year. My mom would prepare a picnic the night before, and we’d wake up early the next day and drive west towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’d stop at a Cracker Barrel on the way to fuel ourselves for some apple picking and it was really exciting because it was only once a year, like Christmas. We would end up at some orchard my dad read about the in the Washington Post and pick apples. I’m pretty sure I’d get bored of this after about ten minutes but it was okay because there was always warm apple cider. We’d pick enough to fill a few brown paper grocery bags and we’d hit the road again. Next, we would cruise on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and take in the changing leaves.
Perhaps I’m idealizing the whole experience in my mind. I was probably grumpy from waking up early and getting hot from picking apples in the full sun (I get hot really easily…). By lunchtime I was probably hungry, tired of the drive and most likely had a backseat argument with my little brother as siblings often do. My dad would be frustrated by all the slow drivers on Skyline, distracted by the foliage and beautiful views. Expletives yelled every quarter of a mile. But no matter, there was always that wonderful picnic my mom packed, complete with Korean barbecue ribs (kalbi), steamed rice, kimchi and of course, sliced apples for dessert. A picnic area along Skyline drive lined with yellow, orange and red trees, the smells of bbq in the air, snuggling up to my grandma to fight off the chilly air while waiting for the grilled meat to be brought to the table- those are the memories that stand out in my mind.
Now that apples are in season here I’m trying to sneak them into everything. They’re great in sandwiches, especially with a nice sharp cheese like a dry cheddar. With the chilly weather I wanted a nice hot sandwich (my building hasn’t switched over to heating, yet!) and this grilled cheese features sautéed apples slightly sweetened with honey and seasoned with thyme, and melty, oozy cheddar. I love it between two slices of sourdough but you can choose whatever bread you like. I strongly believe that freshly grated cheese and butter are key factors in the successful execution of a grilled cheese sandwich. The cheese melts better and nothing beats butter when it comes to creating that golden crust and delicious flavor. Savor the sweet and savory combination in this sandwich, the crunch you hear when you bite into it and all that melted cheese.