Apple Picking

Posted on Nov 13, 2013

Apples on tree TIH&


Every fall I have some primeval urge to go out among trees-  not the palm trees that line the local beach, but real trees, with changing leaves towering overhead. It must be a gatherer instinct.  The colorful leaves, the crisp air, the clear sunshine, all call me outside and toward trees.  This fall, instead of ignoring it, I managed to convince the whole family to head out apple picking.

My daughter, home from school for fall break, was a pretty easy sell.  During six weeks of grueling schedules and midterms, she coped by adopting an obsession for making apple butter based on the heavenly delight served at a local restaurant in our area.  Perfect.  She was in.  With a simple nudge to the Mister, we all piled in the truck one grey and wet morning – leaving the beach and the drizzle- and headed to the orchards at Calico Ranch in inland San Diego County, just outside of the small farming town of Santa Isabella.

Luckily, the sun started peaking out about 45 miles inland and never stopped gleaming after that.  In fact, it was roughly 90 degrees on highway 76 when we got to the apple orchard.  But, it was a dry heat (ha ha!).  OK, so, not your traditional fall apple picking weather in late October, but it’s Southern California and the sun was absolutely sparkling in an incredibly blue sky so I wasn’t complaining! {I might actually have been gloating as I looked down the valley back toward the coast and sang a little na na na-na na at the fog}.

apples on the ground TIH&G

Calico Ranch is a large orchard bordered with huge California Live Oaks that must be several hundred years old. It’s a great place for families or anyone who needs to go out and gather :0).  October is late in the apple picking season here in So Cal, but there were still trees to be picked, so we bought our sack from the small roadside stand, walked to the very back of the orchard, and started gathering our haul.  It’s not always easy being above average in height, but at times like this, it is a huge blessing.  Other people were lamenting the need for ladders while we stretched and picked the firmest fruit.


Picking the apples TIH&G,com


And I do mean s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d!  Public apple picking is left with the fruit in the middle and at the top of the trees.  The easy stuff is already harvested, but that made it more of a challenge and helped exorcise the gathering instinct.  Besides, it feels great to stretch and move after a long car ride :0).


Row of apples collage TIH&G


No one leaves empty handed at an apple orchard.  Back at the main stand there are crates and crates of different varieties of apples.  We harvested the variety Winesap, a smallish red apple with soft-ish yellow flesh and a medium sweetness,  perfect for making apple butter.

Several other varieties available at the orchard included unusual ones like Winesap and Sundowner as well as more traditional Granny Smith and Fuji varieties. My daughter collected enough of four varieties from the crates and, when we got home,  made apple butter out of each of the different varieties.  That way we could compare their relative flavors and suitability for apple butter (she’s a science kid).  We only got to try the Winesap before she had to leave which, by the way, was delicious.

My urge to go out and gather satisfied, and with enough apple butter to make it through the winter, and spring, and maybe even summer(!), we were happy to agree to send her a jar a week so she could sample the different flavors (and concentrate on the rest of the semester). In about four weeks we should know the results of the “best apples for apple butter” experiment and I will be happy to share.


Mike and Silken Apple Picking TIH&


Apple ButterIf you’re interested in satisfying your own need for sweet, mouthwatering, delicious apple butter that induces an obsession to enjoy again and again, try my daughter’s recipe below.   It is fabulous on biscuits, toast, waffles, pancakes and with cheese and crackers.  Yum!  Take care to note the variety of apples you use.  I’d love to hear your opinion on the best apples for apple butter!

Silken’s Apple Butter

  • 3 pounds assorted apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 cup fresh or unsweetened apple cider,  plus more as needed
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar,  plus more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon -use the very best quality you can
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  1. In a large pot over medium heat cook apples and one cup cider, bring to a boil for about 3-5 minutes, and reduce heat to a simmer.  Add nutmeg and cinnamon and stir well. Let simmer, mostly covered and stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 30-50 minutes depending on apple type.
  2. Mash softened apple mixture with a potato masher or a slotted spoon. Add more brown sugar to taste, if desired, a bit at a time. The mixture should be loose enough to just barely pour off of a spoon.  Because apple water content varies, you may have to add more juice and cook 10 minutes longer or if you’re using particularly juicy apples and the butter is too runny, let simmer uncovered until it reaches the desired consistency.
  3.  Let cool before serving.  Apple butter may be kept, refrigerated in an airtight container, up to 5 days or kept frozen in an airtight container for several weeks.
  4. Enjoy!


More Inspiration:

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