This spring, while I was reaching with aching arms from the top rung of the ladder to prune the apple trees on our property, I dreamed about healthy, plentiful apples in the fall.

And for the first time, the pruning paid off. I was finally brave enough to clip and remove with what looks like a zealot’s craze in the spring and then looks just right when the trees begin to blossom.

The two new beehives tucked into the small orchard also may have helped, but the apples, which have historically been small and pitted with bug holes, are large, fully developed and have a healthy red glow.

Our girls are old enough now to be the ones to climb to the top of the old limbs and drop the apples down to me instead of vice versa.

We also tried a new technique, with the help of friends, that I call the “endurance method.”

Several people hold corners of a tarp under what looks to be the most rewarding portions of the tree. One person shakes the tree with a boat hook (or some other long instrument with some sort of rake or prong on the end), and everyone holding the tarp endures the rain of apples that inevitably hit a few chests and noggins.

Typically, the best eating apples are the best cooking apples too. Ones with a firm flesh, a tart, juicy tang and skin that is not too tough or bitter. MacIntosh or Red Delicious, two of the most insipid apples ever grown, are not two of them.

MacIntosh flesh turns to mush when it’s cooked, and Red Delicious skins are far too bitter and tough to make good baking apples.

There are apples that have characteristics that lend better to cooking, eating or storing. This time of year there is absolutely no excuse for not using at least a local Cortland, Spy, Honey Crisp or MacCoun apple.

Even if you aren’t graced with a few heirloom trees on your property, the apples abound at farmers’ markets, and failing that, non-local apples such as Gala or Braeburn can also be good choices.

I won’t mention the more heirloom varieties here, but if you are lucky enough to have a source for them, absolutely take advantage of it.

APPLE CRISP WITH PECAN TOPPING

Filling:

12 tart apples

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Topping:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel, core and slice the apples into ¼-inch wedges; toss them with the rest of the filling ingredients and spread evenly in an ungreased 9-by-13-inch pan.

In a separate bowl, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is coarsely blended. Mix the sugar, salt and pecans into the topping; mixture should be crumbly. Place the topping on top of the apple mixture and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is browned and the liquid in the apples is dark.

Makes 15 servings.

GERMAN APPLE PANCAKE

This is one big pancake. My kids love to have this any time of the day or night. In the winter we even have it for dinner, with cheddar cheese and a green salad with raisins, nuts and blue cheese. I’ve also served it with roasted sausage and wedges of cheese alongside a mixed-greens salad tossed with a simple lemon vinaigrette.

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

2/3 cup half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 3/4 pounds firm local apples or Granny Smith or Braeburn apples, peeled, quartered and cored

¼ cup packed brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Adjust your oven rack to a middle/upper position. Whisk the flour, white sugar and salt together in medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, half and half, and vanilla until combined. Whisk the wet and dry ingredients together until no lumps remain (about 20 seconds). Set the batter aside.

Heat the butter in a 10-inch ovenproof, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the apples, brown sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring frequently with a heat-proof rubber spatula, until the apples are golden brown (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Working quickly, pour the batter into the skillet around and over the apples.

Place the skillet in the oven and immediately reduce heat to 425. Bake until the pancake edges are brown and puffy, and have risen above edges of the skillet (about 18 minutes).

Using oven mitts, remove the skillet from the oven. Loosen the edges of the pancake with a heat-proof rubber spatula. REMEMBER, THE SKILLET HANDLE IS BURNING HOT. Don’t touch it without the oven mitts. Transfer the pancake onto a serving platter, dust with confectioner’s sugar, cut into wedges and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

MILLET VANILLA RAISIN MUFFINS

½ cup millet

¾ cup water

2/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup vanilla or bourbon

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch of salt for the millet

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground cardamom

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 small apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

Bring the water to a simmer in a small pan. Add the millet and a pinch of salt and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes and then remove from heat. Let rest 10 minutes. Soak the raisins in the vanilla for at least 1 hour, or as long as overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the oil, sugar, egg and vanilla. Mix until just incorporated into the dry ingredients. Stir in the apples and raisins. Fill muffin cups with the batter.

Bake about 25 to 35 minutes or until the muffins spring back when lightly pressed. Let rest in the tins for 5 minutes and remove to cool.

Makes 1 dozen.

HOMEMADE BOURBON VANILLA

Because I use so much vanilla when baking over the summer, I’ve found it easier and much more flavorful to make my own. I buy 1.75 liters of a decent, but not top-shelf, bourbon and make it in the spring to use all summer long.

It can get expensive if you can’t find a source for bulk vanilla beans, so it’s worth a search.

I split 6 beans lengthwise to expose the seeds and add them to the bourbon. It takes about 6 weeks for the vanilla to be ready to use. Once the vanilla is gone, I shake the beans out of the bottle and use the seeds or beans to flavor sugar, custards and desserts.

Decanted into smaller, pretty bottles, this vanilla also makes for good gifts at holiday time.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]