Here in southern California, apple season has just hit full stride. We don’t have any apple trees at our place, so we hauled ourselves off to Julian this past weekend.
Ah, Julian. A picturesque town in the mountains, known for Girl Scout camps, Boy Scout camps, church camps — did we mention camping? — and apples. Actually, way back when, Julian did pears (and gold, but that’s another story). It was one of the leading pear growers in the nation, and pears ship more easily than apples. But as technology improved, apple orchards were planted instead. When I was a kid, Julian apples were a big deal. That was where you went for apple picking and amazing pies. As I grew up, though, between drought and lack of interest, the industry dwindled.
Luckily, it never died out. Today, with the revival of interest in hard cider and local food, Julian’s apple growers have a very enthusiastic market for their apples.
The husband and I went to Volcan Valley Apple Farm for apple picking. Owned by former San Diego mayor and talk show radio host Roger Hedgecock, Volcan Valley is a handsome orchard, sporting Empire, Gravenstein, Newton Pippin, and my favorite, Jonathan apples.
The apple trees are espaliered for easy picking, and you can spot the orchard at a distance from the glitter of the flash tape used to keep the birds off the apples. $24 got us two hefty bags of apples, easily twelve to thirteen pounds’ worth. There were pies for sale, but I had in mind to make my own delicious apple desserts, so we passed on that. Besides, since you’re allowed to taste-test (make sure you eat the whole apple, don’t waste food!), we were already full by the time we were done.
The apples are fantastic. I have missed Jonathans so much. You can’t buy them in the store; they don’t ship well. The few I’ve had storebought (and oh, they have been rare) have been underripe and underwhelming. A proper Jonathan apple as a terrific red-skinned improvement on a Granny Smith — sweet-tart, crisp, complex, great for eating out of hand and also for baking.
So what did I do with those? Well, we’ve been eating some of them raw, because who wouldn’t? I also made an apple crumble, borrowing the recipe from Amy’s Healthy Baking. It’s a good base recipe, but since these apples are more-tart and less juicy, I added a tablespoon of vanilla sugar to the filling and swapped the spices for my homemade apple pie spice. I also didn’t need all the cornstarch her recipe called for. It turned out a touch dry, so next time I’ll use less.
Aside from that, I’ve got some apple liqueur resting on the counter, and plans for either another crumble or some more apple butter in my near future.
I’m looking forward to posting updates about the liqueur when it’s ready!