Remember that snow on the foothills back in May? That cold spell delayed the apple harvest in El Dorado County about 10 days, but the ranches of the Apple Hill Growers Association are now open for visitors. Gravensteins are already ripe and the first crisp and juicy Galas are ready to pick, with Jonagolds close behind. September is the perfect month to visit the ranches, pick your own apples and maybe stop for a glass of wine or a slice of fresh apple pie.
More than 50 Apple Hill Association member ranches welcome the public onto their small foothill farms every fall with fruit stands, U-pick opportunities, wineries, apple pressing, bake shops, and attractions including live music, old-time steam engines, craft fairs, apple-head carving classes and pie-eating contests. The association hosts a website to help visitors find farmstands, where to pick their own fruit or what events are scheduled.
Apple Hill was born of hard times. In the 1960s, pears were the chief source of income for the area. But a disease known as "pear decline" was ravishing the trees. A small group of local farmers met with the UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and the county agricultural commissioner to discuss how to save the farms. Since most of the farms had a few apple trees on the land, they decided to try inviting people from the Sacramento Valley up the hill to buy some apples and a fresh-baked pie or two as a stop-gap measure until they could figure out a solution. The apple and pie event was instantly successful, the growers formed their association and planted more apple trees, and Sacramento Valley families have made a tradition of the short drive to Apple Hill every fall for the past 50 years.
All over California, apple growers are harvesting now. California is fifth in the United States in apple production, and many of California's growers have organized together to share their harvest season directly with visitors. In San Bernardino County, about 90 minutes from Los Angeles, The Oak Glen Apple Growers Association offers U-pick apples, U-press cider, hayrides, farm animals, tours and history. In Sonoma County, you can check the Sonoma County Farm Trails to find an apple ranch to visit. To find other apple ranches, check the California Apple Commission's site.
When you do pick your own apples at one of the many ranches open to the public, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you don't have to climb any ladders. In fact, due to liability concerns, most U-pick operations now make sure that you keep both feet firmly on the ground by planting dwarf varieties of fruit trees for visitors' picking.
Just picked, crisp sweet apples can't be beat for good eating. They are also good for you; an apple a day just might help keep the doctor away. apples are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and are a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C.
Apples will keep for three or four months, or even longer if stored properly. When harvesting, do not remove the stems from apples that will be stored. Be sure to store only apples without bruises, insect or disease damage, cracks splits or mechanical injury. Store apples at around 40 degrees F for best results. You may also want to wrap each apple in newspaper to keep them from touching each other.
Apples are also great for cooking. Here's an apple crisp recipe from www.momswhothink.com:
Mama Shirley's Apple Crisp Recipe
Apple Crisp Ingredients :
12 medium Granny Smith & Macintosh apples (6 of each); peeled, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
Apple crisp directions:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Place apples in a mixing bowl, sprinkle evenly with vanilla. Toss to combine.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. Cut butter into mixture until crumbly.
- Evenly place coated apple slices into the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover apple slices with crumb mixture.
- Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 to 50 minutes or until apples are tender.