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ONE COOK'S BEST DISH

She turns out crisps and more in apple-pie order

At Dowse Orchards, Pam Dowse cooks up an apple crisp with her children, Jesse and William (above). Below, Jesse Dowse takes care of the peelings, with some help from the farm's chickens. At Dowse Orchards, Pam Dowse cooks up an apple crisp with her children, Jesse and William (above). Below, Jesse Dowse takes care of the peelings, with some help from the farm's chickens. (Photos by Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe)
By Jane Dornbusch
Globe Correspondent / November 24, 2008
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SHERBORN - A visit to Pam Dowse's farmhouse kitchen brings to mind the Dr. Seuss classic "Ten Apples up on Top." But Dowse is juggling considerably more than 10 apples (albeit not on her head). As a member, by marriage, of the eighth generation of Dowses to farm this land, she is surrounded by acres of apples. Jon and Alex Dowse, husband and brother-in-law, respectively, oversee the operations of Dowse Orchards - running the farm stand, pressing cider, and inviting locals to pick their own apples from the orchard's approximately 35 acres and 20 apple varieties. Dowse Orchards' motto is "America's Best Crunchin' Apples Since 1778," and Pam Dowse's annual challenge is to use up apples in any way she can while they're in season.

Not that she has any shortage of ideas. "We do apple crisp, apple knobby cake, applesauce jumbles. We put them in tuna and in salads," she says. You get the sense she could go on and on. She is the keeper of the traditional family recipes, and the card that contains the apple crisp recipe, written in her mother-in-law's hand, is stained and yellow from years of use. On a recent Saturday, in her homey, spacious kitchen, Dowse prepares the crisp and another family favorite, known as Mrs. Cheney's apple knobby cake. Daughter, Jesse, 9, and son, William, 6, helps out.

Dowse peels, cuts, and cores apples with a practiced hand; after 16 years on the farm, she looks as if she could do it in her sleep. But the Millis native, who has a master's degree in accounting and still works in that field, never envisioned herself as an apple farmer's wife. She met Jon while working a high-school summer job at C&L Frosty, a restaurant and ice cream shop just up the road.

Moving here was an adjustment, not least because she needed to learn to cook Dowse-style. Pam Dowse grew up around good food - her mother, she says, was an excellent cook - but her background is Greek, a far cry from the "Yankee and plain" fare of the recipes from her mother-in-law, who lives with the family. Dowse gradually learned to appreciate this basic food, though, and today, when she eats apple crisp, she says, "I do something I swore I'd never do, and this is such a Dowse thing: I put milk on it." Whole milk on the warm crisp adds a bit of smooth dairy richness, much as ice cream would, but without the sugar or extra fat.

Jesse runs out to the barn while her mother finishes the crisp, and returns cradling a fluffy, fragile treasure: a tiny two-day-old chick, lightly dotted with grease because its birthplace was Jon Dowse's tool bench. Hatchlings are rare here, says Pam, because eggs are in demand. "That's the key to all baking here," she says, mixing the apple cake. "Dowse apples and J&W eggs." (The farm stand sells the eggs under that label, named for Jesse and William.)

"I hate grocery store eggs," interjects Jesse. "What's the difference?" she's asked. She can't quite put it into words, but her mom supplies the answer: "Ours are just so much fresher."

As for apples, Pam feels she has an unfair advantage when it comes to baking. "People ask me what kind I like to bake with. Well, I could use one of every variety." She recommends Spartan as a particular favorite, but tries to mix it up and use more than one type in a dish. Even using just two varieties lends an extra dimension of taste. Today, she's using Cortland and Macoun for both desserts. "Everyone likes Macouns," she notes, "but we try to turn their attention to other types, too."

The household certainly has more apples now than most. But when apple season is over, that's it. Ironically, while many New Englanders are content to munch storage apples or those imported from overseas, the Dowses go without; they remain a seasonal food here, available only from August through November or so.

Maybe that's why Jesse is able to declare, with an enthusiasm no child could feign, that she never gets tired of apples. And why, when the crisp emerges from the oven, she can barely wait to get a spoon into it - even though this homey staple appears once a week on the family table throughout the season.

And why, once the warm crisp is served, drizzled with cold milk, Jesse digs in and pronounces it "yummy."

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