Summers as kids, my sister and I would head to Algonquin Park, Ontario. Without electricity or running water, we spent a month in the woods and on the docks, canoeing from lake to lake in the same muddy t-shirt and shorts day after day.
There were only 50 girls, total, and no sissies allowed. Girls had been coming to Camp Northway Lodge and leaving young women for as long as the peninsula could remember, and it wasn't about to change the rules.
But the one thing the land had allowed to change over the years was the food. Early accounts of the camp describe after dinner pies, brimming with wild picked blueberries from the shores of Louisa, a few lakes over, or plates of fresh caught trout crisped on the wood stove for Sunday dinner.
These days, Sunday afternoon brought plenty of rest and a good deal of song, but it was hard to say where the roast beef and carrots had been shipped in from. Dessert meant over- or under-baked brownies from a box—depending on how many logs the kitchen boy had cranked into the wood stove—or a pan of marshmallow-sticky Rice Krispy treats cut into squares.
But one treat lingered on from fresher days: caramel apples. One evening a week, the cook would slice up a box of firm, tart, fruit, and arrange it on plates around a dipping well of sticky caramel. We'd scoop up sweet and crunch down, hard, on the just ripe fruit. By the end of the meal, hands, plates, and table were a mess, looking for a good, hard scrub from the dish crew that evening.
Last night, I recreated the treat at home. With friends for supper and nothing to offer for dessert, I heated up a pot of sugar and butter, and let it simmer until the edges began to burn. The warm, rainy evening smell of butterscotch began to rise from the kitchen, and I added a dash of vanilla and a pinch of salt. With a plate of fresh, sliced apples from the Provincetown farmers' market, we dug in to enjoy the most old-fashioned of treats.
BUTTERSCOTCH FOR DIPPING
Melt 1 stick butter over medium heat. When butter is melted, add 1 cup sugar; stir well. Swirl using the handle of the pan for 3-5 minutes while the mixture goes from grainy to molten. When the color begins to darken around the edges, stand back and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup whole milk. Lower heat and whisk in well. Continue cooking over low heat and whisking every few minutes for several more minutes, or until it begins to smell and look like butterscotch. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt. Stir well.
Cut up 4 to 6 apples for dipping, and pour butterscotch into individual bowls.