There’s a hint of crispness in the air, and that’s all the impetus I need to usher in my favorite fall produce, starting with apples. Last week, the market tables were laden with myriad varieties, from thin-skinned and juicy Honey Crisps to tart Mutsu and Jonagolds. Buy them by the pound to eat out of hand or throw into a crisp or a pie; purchase by the crate to lay in some apple butter and applesauce for canning. A bonus: they keep well if stored correctly in the refrigerator. Apples are supremely versatile and can go from sweet to savory with equal aplomb. Throw some chopped apples in your next butternut squash risotto, make cider cocktails, add them to your morning steel-cut oats, stuff and bake them or roast them alongside your poultry. If an apple a day does keep the doctor away, we’ll be in pretty good shape come spring.

Want to pick your own? Check out this great list of nearby orchards from Chicago Parent here.

Farmer’s Market apples (Photo by Julie Chernoff)

Puree them in a smoothie.

This smoothie screams fall to me and makes a great quick breakfast before work or school — and it’s vegan! In a blender, combine 1 cup almond milk (I prefer the Calafia unsweetened vanilla), 2 stemmed and cored medium apples cut into chunks, 3 tablespoons of almond butter, 1 banana cut into chunks (and preferably frozen), a scant teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon and a generous tablespoon of ground flax seeds. Blend until smooth, scraping sides down if needed. If you need to add a little more liquid, do so. If you like it slushy, throw in a cup of ice and blend again. Serve immediately, garnished with an apple ring.

Make an autumn salad.

This makes for a quick and glorious start to a roast chicken dinner. In a large salad bowl, throw in a bag of your favorite lettuce mix (I like the bibb lettuce and radicchio combo from Trader Joe’s), crumble in some goat cheese, some chopped toasted walnuts, a handful of pomegranate seeds, and a thinly sliced sweet-tart apple with peel intact. Make a vinaigrette with olive oil, sherry vinegar, a little grainy Dijon mustard and a chopped shallot. Toss and enjoy.

Layer some in a grilled cheese.

Melted cheese and apples are one of life’s great joys, especially surrounded by crunchy, high-quality bread. Take two slices of whole-wheat bread and spread them on one side with soft butter and grainy mustard on the other. Heat a skillet over medium heat and place one piece of bread, butter-side down, in the hot pan. Immediately top with grated sharp cheddar, then a few thin slices of Honey Crisp apple. Throw some thinly sliced ham or prosciutto on top of the apple if you’d like and top with more grated cheddar. Place the second piece of bread, mustard-side down, on top of the cheese. Press down with your spatula. When the bottom bread is nicely browned, flip sandwich and press down again. You can take a pan lid and put it on top to help melt the cheese. When the second side is browned, your grilled cheese is good to go. Repeat as necessary.

Sauté them for a perfect pancake topping.

Farmer’s Market apples (Photo by Julie Chernoff)

Or – stay with me here – put them in a bowl and top them with crème fraîche or make an ice cream parfait layered with sauteed apples and chopped pecans. Your choice. Core 3 big apples and slice them into ¼”-thick slices, no need to peel. Toss them with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, ½ tablespoon of cinnamon, and a ½ teaspoon each of ground ginger and cardamom. Heat a few tablespoons of unsalted butter in a skillet until butter just starts to brown, then add apples and sauté until tender with a little bite. Squeeze a little lemon over the apples and stir. Want to add a splash of apple brandy? Do it, but watch the flame. Cook for another 15 seconds or so, then you’re ready to go. Lavish them on top of pancakes and bacon, waffles, a roast pork tenderloin, what have you.

Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.

The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that showcase fall apples at their best.

Barbara Kafka’s Pork Tenderloin with Apples

Smitten Kitchen’s Apple Slab Pie

apple slab pie

Nourished’s Curried Squash and Apple Soup

Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

The Pioneer Woman’s 35 Best Apple Cider Cocktails

Julie Chernoff

Julie Chernoff is a freelance food and culture writer and the longtime Dining Editor of Make It Better Media. She loves all things Evanston and has lived here since 1989.