When I was growing up our family holidays were spent at the Russian River in Northern California. Back then it wasn’t the trendy bohemian destination it is today. We went there because a family friend owned a sprawling log house on the riverbank, and our large family could stay economically. We’d play in the river, catch tadpoles and float on plastic blow-up rafts all day long.
In the evenings, we’d have a family style dinner: Spaghetti Bolognese, garlic bread freshly baked from the local store, and a big salad made with Romaine lettuce sprinkled with olive oil and red wine vinegar. We’d also have apple pie.
It wasn’t just any apple pie. The pies were made from Gravenstein apples, the local favourite. Gravensteins are the first apple in the area to mature, sometimes as early as late July, and go from sweet-to-tart-to-sweet again in your mouth. To me they taste like late summer.
My father found Walker’s Apples in Graton back in the 70s. Today it’s one of the few apple orchards left in Sonoma County. They grow 27 varieties of apples, and yes they still have Gravensteins!
Even after we all grew up and didn’t made the annual trek to the Russian River for our summer holiday, my parents would still go to Walker’s Apples in early August for their Gravensteins. They would get 3 or 4 40 lbs. boxes and make apple pies and apple sauce in bulk.
120 lbs of apples is too much to try to peel with a small peeler (even with many hands). So we invested in an apple peeler/corer (they are about $20).
My dad wasn’t feeling up to going this year, so instead we made the journey (fitting in a day at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery and swimming pool!)
Here’s my mother directing the making of the apple pies.
My mother’s Gravenstein apple pie recipe (the secret is the crust):
1). 4 cups flour
2). 1 cup lard (yes, really, it’s essential)
3). 1 cup butter
4). 1 Tbs. sugar
5). 1 Tbs vinegar
6). 1 egg
7). 1/2 cup water
Mix 1st four ingredients with fork. Add 5, 6 and 7 after beating well. Mix/chill 1/2 hour. Roll and put in pie pans. Makes about 4 pie crusts.
8 – 9 Gravenstein apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup tapioca
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
Mix all ingredients and put in pie shell. Top with crust. Bake at 400F for 40-50 minutes, or when curst is golden and apples are bubbling.
If you go:
Walker’s Apples 10955 Upp Rd Graton, CA 95444 +1 (707) 823-4310 This apple farm has 27 varities of apples, and you can “try before you buy”. In August, it is worth the trip to get a box of Gravenstein apples, quite possible the best in the world and a local secret.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery 300 Via Archimedes Geyserville, CA 95441 +1 (707) 857-1400 www.franciscoppolawinery.com $125 to rent a cabine for the day, includes 4 wine tastings, 4 lounge chairs and towels. Kids smoothie tastings on the weekends.
Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch 738 Main St St Helena +1 (707) 963-9181 www.longmeadowranch.com Great food and responsible farming.
Nicholson Ranch Winery 4200 Napa Rd Sonoma, CA 95476 +1(707) 938-8822 www.nicholsonranch.com Winemaker owned and run! Sip one of their signature Pinots or Chardonnays while sitting in a comfortable deck chair looking over a lake and golden hills. Worth the trip.