Autumn is my season and I lament its departure. Especially sad is the loss of really fresh apples.

The joy and satisfaction of picking a fresh apple from a tree in a vast orchard on a crisp, clear day is inadequately expressed through words. The flavor — like you’re tasting an apple for the very first time, again. For these thoughts, I have my sister to thank.

As her friend had done for her years earlier, she drove us to the country, introducing me to the rolling, tree-dotted hills of The Little Farmer Orchard and Farm Market Rows and rows of apple trees as far as the eye could see. Twisted branches stretching skyward like gnarly fingers, each bursting forth with juicy, white-fleshed Cortlands. A dazzling display of Autumnal beauty.

At the time I was a college junior sharing an apartment with two girls familiar with my predilection for baked goods, eager to share anything and everything I created with the apple bounty. And to commence the kitchen frenzy, three pounds of Cortlands became a crisp. My first ever.

Can you believe it? The whole genre of desserts with silly names — crisp, crumble, slump, grunt, boy bait, pandowdy — were generally overlooked by my family in favor of cake, cookies, kringle or monkey bread. If a crumble or crisp snuck into our kitchen once or twice, I don’t recall.

Memories of the afternoon’s orchard adventure fresh in my mind, and the taste of cider still on my tongue, the desire for an apple-y sweet drew me to this gorgeous crisp from Cooking Light Not only did it disappear at our three hands that night, but it was also the beginning of a roommate tradition.

Each year when Autumn rolls around, I get an email from one of my former roommates (still living in Wisconsin and enviably close to a couple different apple orchards). She tells me it’s time to bake “the crisp” — her family, now after five years of baking, expects it. The note always brings a smile to my face.

Although this recipe comes post apple-picking season, I want you to tuck it away for next. It’s quick. It’s low-maintenance. It’s overflowing with apples, and flavored with walnuts, warm spices and a kiss of vanilla. For a real treat, top warm crisp with cinnamon or vanilla bean ice cream.

It’ll bring a smile to your face, too.

Spiced Maple Apple Walnut Crisp [makes 6-8 ramekins or one 8″ square]

Printable recipe

For the Crisp Topping:

1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour

3 T packed light brown sugar

1/3 c rolled oats (not quick oats)

1/4 c finely ground walnuts

1/4 t ground cinnamon

3 T chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 t pure vanilla extract

+ + +

For the Apple Filling:

2 1/2 to 3 lbs Cortland apples, peeled and either sliced or chunked; to yield about 7 c total (substitute Braeburn, Gala or Empire apples if you can’t find Cortland)

2 T maple syrup

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/4 t ground cardamom

1/2 t pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, walnut meal and cinnamon in a food processor. Add chilled butter chunks and pulse until mixture is crumbly. Add vanilla, and pulse again. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Combine apple slices (or chunks) and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; toss well. Divide apple mixture evenly into several ramekins or an 8″ square baking dish (ungreased). Sprinkle with crumb mixture. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until the tops are golden brown (mine took about 35 minutes). Serve warm.

Adapted from Cooking Light