Apples in the Central Sierra: Sonora
Saturday we made our annual trek to Sierra Glen apple ranch in the hills above Sonora, CA. Just getting there is an adventure. The ranch is on Big Hill Road, between Columbia and Twain Harte. The trip involves several miles of winding mountain road, before emerging on a jewel of a foothill valley, with the ranch nestled into it.
This season, they have about a dozen varieties of apples--the usual Delicious, King David, Pippin and Granny Smith for baking, Braeburn (I had one today for my break, and it was exquisite), deep port-wine-red Staymen (a personal favorite), Romes, Fujis, Spitzbergen, and some fabulous Arkansas Blacks. Apple "tasting" is encouraged--any variety you are interested, they will cut one up and offer you a slice.
Earlier in the season they have berries, cherries, pears, & peaches, but I've never managed to get there except in Oct-Nov.
We took home a gallon of their wonderful fresh-pressed cider. A small kitchen is attached to the sales building, and serves some excellent pies.
The apples are the real thing. They will make your heart sing. They'll do everything groovy...(oops, carried away again...) Anyhow, if you're in the area, this is well worth a trip.
Wow, this place looks great! Next fall, when I'm back in the States, I'll definitely check it out.
Have you ever gotten the chance to head up to Apple Hill, in Camino, a few miles east of Placerville on Highway 50?
It is a godsend for those of us originally from Sacramento. It started out YEARS ago with 16 different ranches in the area, and has now grown to about 50 ranches, Christmas tree farms, vineyards, and wineries. They range in size from, for the most part, small mom-and-pop places, to some very large operations. I cannot even remember the number of Christmas trees that our family went and cut at one of the Christmas tree farms in the area (Santa's Acres turned out to be our favorite).
Once you get into Apple Hill, there is a very handy map available at all of the participating orchards (or on the website below), which tells the traveller what types of apples (and other products) the consumer can find at each ranch. At last count - as I look at the map I brought back to Tokyo with me - 17 different varities of apples are available in the area (including Black Arkansas and Mutsu), along with, while in season, 4 different varities of pears (Bartlett, El Dorado, Asian, and Bosc), along with peaches, cherries, pumpkins, plums, grapes, nuts, and berries.
NOTE: Because the owners of Larsen's Apple Barn are Seventh Day Adventists, Larsen's Apple Barn is closed on Saturday, which is not noted on the map.
Also, 16 of the orchards have bake shops, featuring some of the best apple products I've ever tasted. Fortunately for us Chowhounds, the creators of these sublime treats aren't stingy with their recipies, and have compiled more uses for apples than I'd ever imagined, into 3 thin-volumed cookbooks called "Apple Hill Recipies". Each volume costs about $4.50, and are available at most orchards with a bake shop.
Two cooked goods NOT TO MISS...
1. Apple cider doughnuts from Rainbow Orchards. As you bite into one of these warm doughnuts, while smelling the subtle aroma of wood smoke from the cabins and homes in the area wafting down through the pines of the mountains, an incredibly pleasant, indelible memory will be created; a memory that your subconcious will beg for you to re-create year after year.
2. Apple Hill cake. Most of the orchards with bake shops sell a version of this, each with their own blend of apples. I won't tell you which is my favorite, since most of the gastronimical fun is arriving at this conclusion yourself. This cake is one of the reasons that the Almighty made apples. Dense, moist, spiced, and, oh so applelishous.
Over the years, I've made it from the recipe from Vol. 1 of the cookbooks, but it never tasted quite the same. I took my recipe book with me when I was there last October, and told of my plight trying to impress my friends in Japan with their recipe, which just didn't taste quite like it should. One of the authors of the cookbook looked at the recipe printed, and she proclaimed "Oh heavens, we forgot 1 t. of vanilla! (wink, wink)". Sure enough, adding that does the trick.
If you are willing to make a very nice day trip, up into some beautiful country (much as the area around Sonora is), check this place out. I don't think that you'll be sorry.