For transplants to the West Coast, fall can be a difficult season. The leaves don't change color and neither does the weather, really. In odd years like this, where summer seems to have waited until the end of September to arrive, faux fall can be downright depressing. Fortunately I've found a way to combat California's own "Seasonal Affective Discorder" -- apples.
Heirloom apple varieties like Mutsus, Spitzenbergs and, if you're really lucky, Gravensteins, start appearing at the farmers' markets this time of year, filling rustic wooden crates with crunchy treats that range from ochre to cherry red and every speckled shade in between. And while we generally think of apples as an afternoon snack or baked into a pie, they're actually remarkably at home in savory dishes, too. Take for example the Broiled Leek and Apple Vinaigrette recipe that Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple recently posted. The apples here act as a sweet-tangy foil to the spiciness of the broiled leeks, making for an earthy but balanced side or appetizer that's almost as autumnal as fall foliage.
Because vinaigrettes aren't the easiest thing to pair with (the acidity can pose a challenge), your best bet here is to try to match flavor profiles. And what better way than with hard cider? Far from froufrou-y, hard cider is like beer for wine lovers, with all of the complexity of intriguing characteristics of the different apple varieties and terroirs, but lighter in alcohol, like wine. Two of our staff favorites this fall come from Western Massachusetts, a locale that doesn't often end up getting featured here, and are made by West County Cider. The Roxbury Russet ($14.99) comes from an heirloom variety discovered just outside of Boston in the 1600s. Delicate, totally dry and with slight mineral undertones, this would go great with the leeks. Or try the "Baldwin" ($16.99), which is a classic, dry hard cider that will transport you back to childhood days apple picking, but has an adult twist.