It's official: My mom's apple crisp is the best

Vindication is sweet. As sweet as my mom's apple crisp.

The background: In 1993, a wonderful writer and phone friend (we've never met) named Ann Hodgman penned a fabulous cookbook called "Beat This!" (Chapters Publishing). It was a quirky compendium of the best-of-the-best recipes for things like crab cakes, French toast and pot roast. It's funny, has reliable recipes, and is still in use at our house. Ann then solicited responses from her friends and readers, and followed up two years later with "Beat That!"

I proudly submitted my mom's apple crisp to "Beat That!" and was thrilled to learn it would be included. Imagine my chagrin when it appeared under the heading "Very Controversial Apple Crisp," with this explanation: "... people in my family prefer the apple crisp in 'Beat This!' to the one here," Ann wrote, adding (rather snarkily I thought), "If Marialisa says this recipe is better - well, at least SHE must think so ..." Ouch.

Fast-forward to now, and the publication of a new edition of "Beat This!" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). I opened it with great trepidation, only to find my mom's recipe, this time named "Not-Controversial-At-All-Apple-Crisp, It Turns Out." And then, Ann's words - music to my ears: "It turned out that EVERYONE prefers this recipe," Ann wrote. "My friend Denise made it for her husband, Peter, who took a bite and said, 'There's no controversy.' ... So thanks to Marialisa Calta for setting me straight."

I could, of course, have been humble and gracious, but instead I did my own version of the end-zone dance, called Ann and said the equivalent of "Phttttttt."

After gloating for way too long, I managed to ask a couple of questions on the new edition. It's got 50 new recipes. It's got - and this is really worth reading - a witty and yet sobering discussion of the evils of factory-farmed meat, coupled with a resounding call to readers to search their souls and pledge their mouths to eating humanely raised meat and poultry, and fish that is not endangered. Best of all, it has Ann's trademark humor: "There can't be any cookies more chocolate-y and creamy and adjective-y than these," she writes. Or "Immoderation in all things, as my father never says."

Here, I present, of course, my mom's apple-crisp recipe (the original; Ann changed it a bit) and her Sugar Hill Blueberry Muffins. I chose this recipe because Ann wrote: "That these are the best of their kind isn't a matter of opinion, but simple fact." And if Ann Hodgman says it, it must be true.


4 to 6 cups peeled, cored and sliced tart apples (about five apples; use enough to fill the pan)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

ground cinnamon, to taste

1⁄2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour

cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, toss the apples and lemon juice together. Sprinkle with cinnamon, to taste.

In a medium bowl, using your fingers, work the butter, sugar, salt and flour together until crumbly.

Put the apples in the prepared pan, and pat the crumbly topping evenly over all.

Bake until the apples are tender and the topping is dark brown and bubbly, about one hour. Serve warm or cold, with cream or ice cream, if using.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Recipe from my mom, Diana Calta, and from "Beat This!" by Ann Hodgman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup tightly packed light brown sugar

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries (if frozen, do not thaw)

about 2 tablespoons sugar, for topping

Center a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 F.

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with muffin-cup liners. (Do not skip this step.) Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sour cream until thoroughly combined.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar. Beat this mixture into the egg mixture. Stir in the oats.

Fold in the flour mixture and then the blueberries. Fill the muffin cups 2⁄3 full. Drop a generous pinch of sugar onto the top of each muffin.

Bake the muffins 25 to 28 minutes. Cool for five minutes, then remove the muffins (in their papers) and finish cooling on a rack.

Yield: 12 muffins

Recipe from "Beat This!" by Ann Hodgman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) attributed to Sugar Hill Inn, Sugar Hill, N.H.

• Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to


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