The Crompond Diner serves three square meals a day, but breakfast is the one you want to eat. Bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, toast and coffee are dished out faster than you can read through the menu in this comely stainless-steel diner with its purple window shades and arched pink-and-white monitor roof. Biscuits come hot from the oven, as do jumbo muffins (blueberry, corn, bran). You can even eat Nova Scotia lox (smoked salmon) and cream cheese on a bagel, or an omelette made with the traditional Jewish delicatessen ingredients of sweet onions and small bits of lox.

One of the reasons breakfast is so good is that the ambience broadcast from behind the counter suits a brisk and efficient morning meal. There is a rousing bustle to this place, and a workmanlike efficiency that has made it a favorite among locals (who know it as "Pete and Ray's") since the '50s. For travelers along the Taconic Parkway, the Crompond is a beacon of low-priced breakfast specials, fast service, and pure, mid-century American diner pizazz that is hard to match.Don't get us wrong: As good as breakfast is, lunch and dinner at Pete and Ray's are fine meals, too, especially the fried chicken in a basket with french fries and salad, which is available in a takeout box because so many customers like to take their chicken home. In fact, it was at dinner that we discovered what turned out to be our favorite breakfast item at the Crompond Diner: the hot apple dumpling. It is served as dessert, which is probably what it ought to be; but to our taste, there is something irresistibly luxurious about an apple dumpling for breakfast. And the Crompond Diner's apple dumpling, made daily and served piping hot under a drizzle of rum sauce, is one of the best.

As a breakfast dish, you don't want an apple dumpling every day of the week. It is a Sunday or Saturday meal, for a time when you can relax and read the paper after eating, savoring the afterglow, preferably in the comfort of your pajamas. Our recipe includes a spicy rum sauce, which can just as easily be made without the rum (substitute a quarter cup of water), although the alcohol in the rum will burn off while you heat the sauce.

Now available! Nearly 200 of the most-requested recipes from this column, all in one book, "A Taste of America." It includes Jane and Michael Stern's favorite restaurants, as well as photos from their coast-to-coast eating adventures. Available in paperback, it can be ordered by sending $9.95 plus $1 for postage and handling to Taste of America, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 419150, Kansas City, MO 64141.1990, Jane and Michael Stern

(Universal Press Syndicate)

Hot Apple Dumpling with Spicy Rum Sauce

Spicy Rum Sauce:

1 cup apple juice

1/4 cup dark rum (or water))

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter

Dumplings:

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 cup ice-cold milk

4 large Rome apples, cored and peeled

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup cream Make sauce first. Combine all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently as butter melts. Do not bring to boil, but continue stirring and heating at the lowest possible simmer about 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol in the rum. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture is like cornmeal. Pour in milk and mix only long enough to create a ragged dough.

Gather dough in ball and place on well-floured board. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a square about 16 inches per side and about 1/8 inch thick, making sure it does not stick to the board. Cut it into four equal squares about 7 to 8 inches each.

Place an apple in the center of each square and bring the dough up and around to wrap it, pinching the dough well at the top and sides to seal in the apple.

Place all four wrapped apples in an 8-inch square baking dish and pour syrup over them. Sprinkle them with sugar. Bake 25 minutes, basting dumplings four or five times with syrup as they bake. Stir cream into the bottom of the pan and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, until dumplings are golden brown.

Remove from oven and use two large spoons to remove dumplings immediately from pan (so the crust doesn't soak up all the sauce). Place dumplings in serving bowl and serve immediately, drizzled with sauce.

Makes 4 servings.