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By Margaret McLeod Leef

Is there anything better to bring weekend hosts than fresh produce grown in West Virginia? I don’t think so, unless the fresh gift is paired with delicious recipes, too.

My husband and I visited friends in North Carolina recently, and before we headed that way, we couldn’t resist a quick stop at Capitol Market in Charleston. Any sadness over summer’s bounty coming to an end is tempered by the arrival of West Virginia apples.

The sweet smells and colors of Golden Supreme, Gala and Honey-crisp varieties fill the open-air stalls at Capitol Market, and soon they filled our car. As we drove south, I daydreamed about what kinds of baked goods I might whip up. Was it wrong, I wondered, to secretly hope for rain to keep me inside long enough to bake a cake or crisp?

I didn’t need the chance a rainy day might offer. I’m an early riser. As I sipped my coffee in the kitchen, nearby apples piled high in bowls were too enticing to resist. As I washed and diced, a plan formulated. I’d make an old-fashioned apple cake, the kind that can be enjoyed with coffee, as an afternoon pick me up or warmed with ice cream and caramel for dessert.

I craved something simple, easy, and more importantly, something I could put together without the noisy whirr of a mixer so early in the morning.

This old-fashioned apple cake is no-fuss. It’s moist and dense with a light “crust” on top and tastes better on day two or three — after the flavors have had a chance to truly meld. It has just the right amount of sweetness, provided by pockets of soft baked cinnamon apple chunks.

With the cake in the oven for just under an hour, the house filled with the aroma of apples and cinnamon. A warm, inviting scent that lingered well into the weekend. We enjoyed slices still warm from the oven and dispersed a few more to neighbors on a morning walk to justify cake for breakfast.

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The next day, I was back at it. This time, for dessert.

Growing up, a close friend’s mom made the best apple crisp I’d ever tasted. We enjoyed many evenings in her kitchen with bowls of warm apple crisp steaming the air between us. I worked quickly and efficiently in the kitchen, assembling my version of “Mom’s” apple crisp, soon to be enjoyed warm from the oven in front of a fire with vanilla ice cream.

As we drive back to West Virginia from North Carolina, I am already thinking of next weekend. There are a few more weeks of apples at the Capitol Market and other venues, and I want to take advantage of the season. I can buy apples year-round in grocery stores, but the ones grown right here in West Virginia are bursting with flavor in a way supermarket varieties never do.

It occurs to me that even better than a recipe I can make, is one that can be assembled by everyone in the family. Growing up in Alabama, the arrival of fall was heralded by large barrels of caramel candies in the produce section of the supermarket.

My family carefully peeled the wrappers from the sticky caramel candies into a bowl, melted them into soft, sweet submission and dipped our apples in. Have fun with this tradition and make an apple dipping bar with extra toppings!

As we cross the West Virginia border, I know my kids will want to take advantage of apple season, too, and if there is one thing my kids can get behind, it’s pancakes. A quick call to my mother-in-law and I have the recipe for a perfect weekend morning.

My father-in-law, a man not known for cooking unless it was on a grill, had one delicious trick up his sleeve. After spending a weekend at the Deer Park Inn in Buckhannon, he was delighted to return home with the Inn’s delicious recipe for apple cinnamon pancakes.

My father-in-law insisted on making the apple infused pancakes for us himself, shooing us out of the kitchen as he stirred, poured and flipped. He was a short order cook, calling his adult children and grandchildren into the kitchen, filling our plates one by one and showing us you are never too old to be doted on by your parents or enjoy the fresh tastes of the season.

Nearing home, I see the golden dome of West Virginia’s capitol shining in the distance off of I-77. I turn to my husband and ask, “Do you think Capitol Market is still open? I really want to pick up some more apples!” He rolls his eyes, but I see a smile slowly appear on his lips as he turns his blinker on to exit immediately.

Reach Margaret McLeod Leef at magpiemade@outlook.com.

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