The east side of the Sierra reliably displays an explosion of color during the first two weeks of October. After moving to Los Angeles from Vermont, and New York before that, each October I’d be filled with a deep seeded longing for the cool weather, vibrant leaves, clouds and winds of an east coast autumn. I’d visit Vermont when I could, until Steve and I discovered the mountains above Bishop, California. At first our hiking trips were all during the warm summers, but after a few years, I decided we needed to at least experience the cooler temperatures of October in the nearby mountains. I wasn’t expecting the grand show of yellows, golds and oranges the aspen trees put on.
Our autumnal stays grew from four days to a full, glorious two weeks this year, and had work demands not pressured us to return to city life, there would have been another full week of vividly hued adventures. The color display starts at the higher elevations, prompted by dropping temperatures and fading hours of sunlight. When we arrived, the aspen trees around our cabin, at 8,500’, were still green, but the hillsides around South Lake, at almost 10,000’, were aflame. We hiked high for the first few days, discovering trails disappearing into golden tunnels, and before we left we found a heart of brilliant aspens growing above Lake Sabrina.
The cool nights that lead to the multi tinted array call for warming foods at the cabin. I replace tomato salads and light sautés with bean stews and home-made breads. Because we are out hiking and exploring all day, any breads need to be quick and easy to make, and what could be simpler than cornbread? The inspirations for the recipe here were the box full of apples I’d picked at Apple Hill Ranch and the last-minute dinner invitation to our neighbors Katharine and Tony, who had taken us on all day back country excursions. The tantalizing aroma of the baking bread created an inviting welcome as our guests walked in the door. Cooking it in an iron skillet not only helped develop a delightfully crusty bottom, but also kept the cornbread warm for at least an hour after removing it from the oven. Although it’s almost as scrumptious at room temperature, it’s hard to beat the comfort of sweet butter melting into a crumbly, hot wedge.
Apple Cornbread with Walnut-Brown Sugar Topping
Walnut-Brown Sugar Topping
- ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup finely chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (such as King Arthur Measure for Measure Flour or Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour)
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at cool room temperature
- 1 cup medium grind, whole grain cornmeal (I like Bob's Red Mill)
- 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (such as King Arthur Measure for Measure Flour or Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour)
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder (2¼ teaspoons at 8,000')
- ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 cup milk or milk substitute (I use soy milk) (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons at 8,000')
- ¼ cup Greek yogurt
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 medium or 3 small apples, peeled, seeded finely chopped (about 1½ cups chopped)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Position a rack in the center of the oven, then place a 10-inch iron skillet or other 10-inch oven-proof skillet in the oven, and preheat to 425°F.
- Meanwhile, prepare the topping: Combine the brown sugar, walnuts, flour, cinnamon and salt and a small bowl and whisk to blend. Add the butter and press the flour mixture and butter together between fingertips until mixture resembles a very coarse meal.
- Prepare the cornbread: Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to blend. Combine the milk, yogurt, egg and brown sugar in another medium bowl and whisk to blend.
- Using 2 potholders, remove the skillet from the oven and place on the stovetop or other heatproof surface. Immediately add the butter and stir until melted. Add the apples and stir for about a minute to coat and warm through. Using 2 potholders, pour the apples and melted butter into the bowl with the liquid ingredients, leaving enough butter in the skillet to coat. Mix apples and butter into the liquid ingredients and then pour the mixture into the dry ingredients. Fold together just until blended. Immediately pour the mixture into the hot skillet, using a rubber spatula to help. The mixture will start to rise. Sprinkle the topping over.
- Using 2 potholders, place the skillet in the oven. Bake until the top of the cornbread is brown and feels firm to the touch and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Using 2 potholders, transfer the skillet to a cooling rack. Let the cornbread cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, with butter if desired.