TIME WAS when you needed no excuse to go for a drive in the country. Now, in order not to feel guilty about expense and using precious gas, you can pay for your excursion if you stop at any one of the numerous apple orchards surrounding Washington. In 20 or 30 minutes you can pick a bushel of firm, crisp apples for $5.

Apples keep well so it is smart to go for a bushel. At 49 cents to 69 cents a pound at the local market, $5 for a bushel is a superbly effective way to fight inflation. You must then solve the problem of what to do with all those apples without getting bored. Fortunately that is easy. Eat them out of hand, at least one a day. They are great for your health and teeth. But even in a good-sized family there will still be plenty to turn into heavenly desserts. Don't restrict them to apple pie or sauce, good as they are. With the same amount of effort you can turn them into a variety of new and different apple desserts. SOUR CREAM APPLE TORTE (6 Servings)

A light cool dessert, rather mysterious in flavor and texture. Always a success to make and to serve. 5 cups tart apple slices 1/4 cup butter 1/2 cup sour cream Rind and juice of 1 lemon 1 cup sugar 2 tablespoons flour 8 egg yolks 8 egg whites stiffly beaten with 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs 1/3 cup shredded almonds 1/2 to 2/3 cup heavy cream, whipped

Melt butter in skillet, add apples and cook covered over low heat until tender. Combine the sour cream, lemon juice and rind, flour, sugar and egg yolks and pour this mixture over the apples; stir until well thickened. Remove from heat, allow to cook slightly and then fold in the beaten whites. Spread the batter which is essentially a souffle, to the depth of 1 inch in two 8-inch, greased, cake or pie tins. Mix the sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs and sprinkle evenly on top, then distribute the shredded almonds over the entire surface. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until firm. Cool and then chill before serving. Cut the cake in half, cover one section with a thin layer of whipped cream, place the other section on top and put mounds of whipped cream on each portion to be cut and served. OZARK APPLE CAKE (6 Servings)

This homey dessert is simplicity itself. 1/2 cup cake flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup brown sugar 2 eggs, well beaten 2 teaspoons vanilla 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts, walnuts or pecans 1 3/4 cups finely chopped, peeled apples

Sift and measure the flour. Add the baking powder and salt and resift into a mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar to the beaten eggs and when well mixed and creamy add to the flour and blend well. Stir in the vanilla, nuts, and chopped apples. Put into a greased 9-inch pie or cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Cool in the pan. Cut and serve on individual dessert plates topped with sweetened whipped cream. This keeps for several days in the refrigerator and freezes well. APPLE ALMOND CRISP TARTE (6 Servings)

The extra touch that distinguishes this apple tarte from all other apple tarts is the topping, a mixture that will take you only a few minutes to assemble but will taste like hours.

If you wish you may omit the tart pastry, put the apples into a buttered tart or pie pan and after baking for 15 minutes put on the topping. Just call it a crisp instead of a tart pastry. Tart pastry (recipe follows) 6 peeled, cored and coarsely chopped tart apples -- Jonathans, Staymans or Goldens are all excellent 1 cup chopped blanched almonds 2/3 cup sugar 2/3 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 cup butter or margarine, cut into bits 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Roll out the pastry into a round to fit a 10-inch pie or tart pan. Drape the pastry over the rolling pin and gently lift it on to the pan, use your finger to fit it all around. Bake this shell for 5 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from the oven and fill with the prepared apples, return to oven and bake for 15 minutes. While baking combine the almonds, sugar, flour, bits of butter and cinnamon and work with your fingers until they are a coarse meal. Remove the apples from the oven and cover with this crumbled mixture. Continue to bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden and the apples tender when tested with a fork. Serve warm with an accompanying bowl of sweetened whipped cream or with sour cream. TARTE PASTRY (Two 9-inch shells) 1 1/2 cups flour 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon sugar 6 ounces butter or margarine (sweet butter makes the best pastry) 1 egg yolk 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons water

Sift the flour with the salt and sugar into a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter or margarine and blend with a pastry blender or with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine, fine bread crumbs. Mix the egg yolk with the water, add and mix to a firm dough. If 1 1/2 tablespoons of water does not seem sufficient, add another 1/2 tablespoon. Knead lightly until you have a malleable mass. If a bit sticky to handle put into the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to firm up. If the pastry has been kept in the refrigerator for some time it will be brittle and should be allowed to stand at room temperature until it is soft enough to handle. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth to 1/4 inch thickness. Line your shells or flan ring. If to be filled with a prepared filling bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden and completely cooked. If they are to be baked with a filling, prebake for 5 to 10 minutes just to glaze the surface so that the pastry does not become soggy with the filling. TARTE TATIN (6 Servings)

This is France's most popular apple tarte. It well deserves its reknown and place on the menus of many famous restaurants. It is an upside down tarte, the pastry baked on top of apples carmelized to a luscious sticky brown. 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 4 to 5 tart apples, peeled, cored and quartered 1/2 recipe tart pastry (same as for Apple Almond Crisp Tart)

Butter an 8- to 9-inch pie or tart pan heavily, about 1 tablespoon butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the sugar over the butter. Arrange the apple quarters (halves if apples are smallish) attractively in the dish, cut side up remembering that the tarte will be turned upside down to serve. Sprinkle the apples with the remaining sugar and dot with remaining butter. Put into a hot oven, 450 degrees, bake until the sugar has begun to caramelize and the apples begin to be tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Lower the heat to 400 degrees. Cover the apples with the rolled out tart pastry. Gash the top of several places to permit steam to escape. Return to oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until pastry is golden and crisp. Immediately invert onto a serving plate. If not sufficiently caramelized put under a hot broiler for a few minutes. Use a serving plate that is oven proof as you may want to reheat the tarte before serving as it is best warm although it is delicious at any temperature. Accompany with a bowl of whipped cream or sour cream. MOLDED CARAMELIZED APPLE CUSTARD 8 cups sliced or chopped apples (3 to 4 pounds) 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 melted butter or margarine Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons) 4 eggs 1 egg white 1/4 cup calvados or rum (orange or apple juice may be substituted) 2-quart caramelized mold 1 cup or more heavy cream, whipped, or custard sauce

Spread the apples in a large shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle over them the sugar, cinnamon, melted butter or margarine and lemon juice. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, until barely tender, the time will depend on the type of apples used. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Beat together the eggs, egg white, and rum or calvados or juice in a large mixing bowl. Fold the apple mixture into the egg mixture. Pour this custard into the prepared caramelized mold, a 2 quart mold which is at least 6 inches deep is best; any baking dish of these dimensions will do. Set in a pan of boiling water and bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours, until the custard shows a line of shrinkage from the sides of the mold.

Serve hot or cold with whipped cream or cold custard sauce. To serve hot, leave in the mold and reheat just before serving if you have made it in advance. When heated run a knife around edge and reverse onto a serving plate, in a few seconds it will come loose from the mold which can then be lifted off. To serve cold, unmold in the same fashion after it has cooled for about a 1/2 hour. Chill in the refrigrator. It is best hot, I think. To caramelize a mold or baking dish of this size: 1/2 cup sugar 2 tablespoons water

Put the sugar and water into a small heavy pan, bring to a boil and swirl pan until sugar is dissolved and liquid is clear. Continue to boil, swirling now and again until the liquid has turned into a rich brown caramel. This happens all of a sudden, so watch carefully. Grasp the mold in the left hand, be sure to use a pot holder to protect yourself against the hot caramel, and slowly turn it as you pour in the caramel so that all sides and bottom are coated with the caramel. This may be done well in advance. Custard sauce: 4 egg yolks 1/4 cup sugar 1/8 teaspoon salt 2 cups hot milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the egg yolks, sugar and salt together until thick and lemon colored. Gradually stir in the hot milk. Add vanilla. Return the custard to the pan in which the milk was heated and stir over a low heat until custard coats the back of the spoon. Never allow it to boil or it will curdle. As soon as it is ever so slightly thickened, that is, just coats the spoon and the spoon will leave a trace when pulled across the bottom of the pan, remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. If it looks as if a curdle or two has started, strain the custard for you want it to be satiny smooth. Chill. Pour some of the custard around the mold on the serving plate and serve the remainder in a separate bowl.