We have a tradition this time of October. My sister and I head up the coast, through a small wine region into a secluded valley at the foot of a mountain, kissed by the coastal fog. But, it’s not wine we are tasting. It is apples!
See Canyon is a microclimate that gets the right amount of cold nights; perfect for growing apples this far south. The air is cool and damp from the coastal fog, but that never deters us. We are on a mission you see; to taste apples that we would never be able to sample, even at the Farmer’s Markets.
The orchards are small, organic and each one as unique as the one before. Not like a commercial operation at all. These farms grow over 60 different varieties with names as enticing as Heaven Sent, Splendor, Caville Blanc and Mohawk. Some are great for fresh eating while others stand up well to baking.
Long tables covered with red checkered tablecloths served as tasting stations with more than a dozen varieties to sample. Not all varieties ripen at the same time, but this is still more than we would ever see at home. College students man the tables and are eager to slice off a chunk for us to eat. Some have red skins, some burgundy, some green and some mottled. There are even a few that are black. We had a light breakfast, saving ourselves for this very moment.
Apple farm apples are all different shapes and sizes. Not the uniform specimens found at chain supermarkets. These have dents and creases and bug holes and rough spots near the stem. These are real apples grown by real farmers. Picture perfect is not what it’s all about up here. Taste and texture is all that matters.
After discounting varieties we could get at home we tasted eight varieties that sounded interesting. They were all crispy and juicy, and snapped when we sunk our teeth into each slice. In the end, though, we settled on Heaven Sent, a small, tender, super sweet apple with great storage life, and Splendor, an unusually large, tender, pink apple that stays super crispy when stored in the fridge. We bought 10 pounds of each so we could divide them amongst our households.
The second part of our trip was about tasting this seasons’ apple cider. We can only grow a few varieties of apples on our farm because we don’t get very many chill hours. And, the varieties we do grow are better eating apples than cider apples, so cider hunting is a special treat. Or, should I say necessity?
After we made our way through all the farms and tasted cider from many different apples we bought 8 half-gallon jugs of a blended cider from Creekside Farms. That should keep us going all winter.
Once out of the valley we stopped at a local hotspot for chowder and bread before heading home. Our cider tasting day-trip is a fun fall tradition and the best part is we don’t have to worry about a hangover.
Anytime I have apples that become too soft for fresh eating I make them into a chunky applesauce that’s great along side pork, in oatmeal or as a replacement for bananas in our favorite banana bread recipe. Here’s how I make it:
- Peel, core and chunk apples.
- Place in a large saucepan.
- Add a small amount of apple cider or apple juice.
- Cook over low to medium heat until apples begin to breakdown, stirring often.
- Then mash them with a potato masher so they stay chunky.
- When the apples are the consistence you like, stir in cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to taste.
- Continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated.