As I pen this column, fires rage unrelenting all over California and the West. So little water, still, and so much devastation for those affected by these roaring, totally unforgiving amoebic infernos, fueled on all sides by nothing less than the best firewood money can buy. My sister and her family are among the many hundreds of folks that are staring hollow eyed at the gaping nothingness of their devastatingly burnt out properties. How do you recover from something like this? Anyone ever burnt out can tell you that you never really, totally do. The smell and pain tinged with a little nagging fear will linger long after new buildings, photos and memories are created. But they all got out alive, unlike others, and life goes on in the strong and beautiful communities of the mountain people that live daily with the threat of fire never expecting it to really actually happen to them. Blessings to all.
Considering the small amounts of water that my fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been receiving all summer, surprisingly it has been a wacko year for apples among other produce. I have a red delicious tree that looks like something out of the Wizard of Oz that’s going to start talking to you and throwing apples if your response aint right. Granny Smiths are big and juicy and falling off almost quicker than I can pick them off the tree or ground. At College Park the apple tree has so many apples that coach Keck reports his weight room students are eating them.
Usually first to ripen at summers decline are McIntosh apples. Said to be descended from a single tree discovered in a field in Canada by farmer John McIntosh in 1811, the McIntosh apple has seen some days. Chains of DNA history abound around this apple and it has sparked many a new variety off its branches mixed with other heirlooms. Attractive, with dark red to crimson with green swaths of tint running through, these creamy fleshed beauties have a sweet crunch with just the right acidity, seductively addicting you to the variety and keeping one on their toes for each season when they show up at the market. McIntosh are an early variety and are at their peak perfectly ripe off the tree by mid September to mid October and don’t hold really well past a week or two of picking before losing a bit of characteristic brightness.
An apple eater could get drunk off their honey sweetness and many do early in season preferring to simply eat out of hand, at first. McIntosh, or any of the varieties for that matter of apples, are great for concocting fresh apple sauce to eat warm with a touch of cinnamon and vanilla bean. Cakes explode with apple flavor while the red skin of the apple gives the batter a complex pink hue. Cider from the McIntosh is thick with lavish texture and glittery palate notes. Savory applications can cause a pitter patter of the heart when apples are sautéed with butternut squash and onions and baked into a quiche with a tender, buttery crust and dollops of smooth, melted chevre. Pork chops sautéed to a crispy exterior are enhanced immensely by the addition of your precious apple sauce. Chicken goes classical when coupled along with a buttery, sautéed apples, cognac and cream. McIntosh apples are enshrouded with lore and go away faster than a rainy cherry season. Be alert and be happy when their season may cross your path. Other varieties of heirloom apples can be easily scored for the next few months at the local farmers markets.
Heirloom apples refer to a seed that has not been altered. Apples are actually part of the rose family and are traceable to fourth century Egypt, Babylonia and China. In North America they go back to pilgrim settlers of Massachusetts. Easterners feel possessive about their apples but in Northern California and the Northwest we have some pretty fine heirlooms to choose from at the farmers’ markets. Fragile heirlooms don’t ship well and will not be obtained elsewhere unless it is off your own tree. Core apples whole and slice into rounds to brush with walnut oil and place on a medium hot grill. Grill three minutes on each side and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar immediately as you remove from the grill. Puree one cup of fresh strawberries and warm in a saucepan. Drizzle over apple slices. Whether it is an Arkansas Black, Honeycrisp, Red Banana, Black Twig or Cox’s Orange Pippin, the flavor of an heirloom apple soars miles above the flavor of a common apple grown who knows where, who knows when and isn’t just better when you are looking the farmer in the eye and talking apples?
This is an amazing time to get up in our local hills and hike. Wildlife is plentiful as are intricately woven spider webs dusted with morning dew, glittering in early sunlight. Move it or lose it.
Apple and Pear Bars w/ Streusel Topping
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
2 t baking powder
1 T cinnamon
1 t sea salt
1 cup turbinado sugar
¾ cup almond milk
2 T coconut oil
2 t vanilla extract
1 cup diced apples
1 cup diced pears
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup oats
¼ cup whole wheat flour
3 T coconut oil
1 T vanilla
1 T cinnamon
1 t sea salt
Preheat oven to 350*
Spray a baking pan with coconut oil. I use a large cookie sheet with edges but any baking dish will do.
Measure dry ingredients into pour bowl or onto a piece of parchment paper for easy pouring into wet ingredients. Combine sugar, milk, egg and vanilla and beat well. Pour in dry ingredients and mix lightly. Add fruit and fold in. Spoon into baking pan.
Mix all streusel ingredients together until moist and crumbly. Sprinkle generously onto batter in pan. I poke holes into the batter like Foccacia bread so topping actually gets into the batter. Bake for 15 minutes and check to see if top is firm. Bake another 5 if needed. Let cool a bit and cut into squares or bars as desired.