While the weather has been a bit odd this summer in our neck of the woods, it has fortunately been perfect for the cultivation of apples. Although California’s finest weather is just starting to set in, the first hints of fall are ripening and weighing heavily on branches everywhere you look. We are so blessed to live close to some of the best apple farms in the state, including one that is considered an authority on heirloom apple varieties. Here, a peek into the delicious world of Central Coast apple season.
Gopher Glen Apple Farm (2899 See Canyon Road San Luis Obispo, CA 93405, 805-595-2646) is always the first farm to open in our area at the end of the summer with several early-ripening varieties to choose from. Right now, they’re offering Gravenstein, Gala, Mutsu, Empire, Laura Red, Burgundy, Tohoku, and Mollies Delicious, but they’ve been known to carry three times as many cultivars later in the season. Gopher Glen has been a staple of Central Coast apple farms for many moons, and recently, a children’s book called The Apple Lady was published about life at Gopher Glen over the years. The book can be purchased at their charming farm stand in See Canyon, or online at www.AppleLadyBook.com.
Every apple you bite into at Gopher Glen is simply delicious, but even better is their freshly-pressed apple cider. The proprietors recommend the following recipe to try with their fresh cider:
Simple Lime Squeeze
Our family loves this — as do our guests! Fill a glass at least half-way with ice. Fill the glass with cider and squeeze a quarter of fresh lime into the glass (dropping the lime into the cider after squeezed). You can top this off with a slice of apple dropped into the glass as well. This drink is scrumptious!
Windrose Farms (5750 El Pharo Road Paso Robles, CA 93446, firstname.lastname@example.org, 805-239-3757) is an unlikely source for apples because it is located in Paso Robles, which is widely considered to be a Central Coast hot zone. But the microclimate on the farm is just right for crisp, sweet apples whose heritages tell a fascinating story.
These old apples can have a powerful pull. Bill Spencer of Windrose Farm likes to tell about the first year he and his wife, Barbara, brought their old apples to market. “There was an old woman from Germany or somewhere and the first time she tasted a Belle de Boskoop [an old variety from the Netherlands], she just broke down,” he says. “Tears were just streaming down her face. It was home and she hadn’t tasted it in 40 years.” — From the Los Angeles Times article, “At long last, heirloom apples,” by Russ Parsons, September 12, 2007.
For Mutsu apples, which are also known as Crispins and are Bill Spencer’s favorite variety, we like to cook up an old-fashioned batch of apple sauce. And it couldn’t be easier.
The PSPR Off-The-Cuff No-Added-Sugar Apple Sauce Recipe
Peel and core Mutsus and place in slow cooker. Add a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of cinnamon, put the lid on and cook on low for about 4-6 hours. Mash sauce with a potato masher. Allow to cool and enjoy!
Cirone Farms is another See Canyon apple farm, but you can only buy the apples at farmer’s markets, including Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo Thursday and Saturday markets, and the famous Santa Monica Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. Farmer Mike Cirone has been featured in the press A LOT for his dedication to cultivating heirloom apple varieties, including Spitzenberg, Arkansas Black, Smokehouse and Bellflower. In other words, he farms apples that your local grocery store has never heard of…and he does it all without irrigation. That’s right: Cirone Farms apples have been dry-farmed for over fifteen years.
[The Esopus Spitzenberg apple is a] highly respected American apple variety named after the settlement of Esopus, Ulster County, New York, where it was found towards the end of the 18th century. It was rumoured to be Thomas Jefferson’s favourite apple. It was widely planted in the USA in the 19th century and used for both dessert and culinary purposes, but subsequently fell out of fashion although it remains a popular variety for gardeners and trees are available from many US nurseries. The apples have an excellent flavor, which improves with storage. — OrangePippin.com.
A terrific recipe for Cirone Farms Spitzenberg apples is this apple cake from Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.
Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.
Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.
The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream. Marie-Hélène’s served her cake with cinnamon ice cream and it was a terrific combination.
The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature and, according to my husband, gets more comforting with each passing day. However long you keep the cake, it’s best not to cover it — it’s too moist. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.