Anderson Valley, Apples and Apple Cinnamon Loaf

Traveling south along Hwy 1, after three beautiful days exploring in and around Fort Bragg, my sister Gwen and I decided to take yet another backroad detour off the main highway. Backroads can be beautiful and enjoyable experiences, sometimes they are just the opposite. This time we would try a road headed inland from the coast through the tiny town of Comptche, then south to Hwy 128 just west of the town of Navarro in the Anderson Valley. It turned out to be both beautiful and enjoyable.

The Anderson Valley occupies an area about 25 miles long, extending northwesterly from Hwy 101 towards the Coast along Hwy 128. Early  European settlers described it as “a long valley stretching to the northwest, surrounded by dense woods on the southwestern side, and grassy hills to the northeast. There was abundant meadow grass, and water. Deer, elk, bear, and small game animals are abundant and roam the valley and surrounding hills.”

The settlers started arriving around 1850 and with them came the changes that transformed this wooded valley into the thriving agricultural community it is today. From what I can find in the histories apple production here began just before the turn of the century. Today apples still grow in this region but many orchards have been replaced by vineyards. Since 1964 winegrowing and winemaking has become a big part of the economic landscape of the valley. But then that’s another story for another day. Today it’s about apples.

DSCN6633 As we entered Anderson Valley I remembered a historic fruit stand that I had visited many years ago and wondered if it was still there. Much to my delight Gowan’s Oak Tree was still there, unchanged and best of all it was open. I had to stop.

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DSCN6634Gowan’s has been around since the 30’s when Grandma Gowan would sit under the oak tree, that now shades the building, and sell apples to travelers passing by. Around 1950 they built the fruit stand and have been selling to travelers and neighbors ever since.

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They had a nice variety of apples and pears to choose from but no persimmons even though the sign said they did. During the summer months they sell peaches, plums, berries and home grown vegetables.

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Oh, and they had Arkansas Black apples. One of my favorites and not always easy to find.  To link to a recipe for Fresh Apple Cake and more about these beauties see my previous post Arkansas Black Apples.
DSCN6637This little basket of Lady Apples intrigued me, begged me to try one. So I did. It had a semisweet flavor and was crisp and juicy. The sad thing about these little gems is that they aren’t widely available.

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From what I could find about them, they were first cultivated by the Romans and are the oldest apple variety known. The French, it is said, loved them and considered them as royal; early American colonists thought of them as a symbol of wealth. Pretty impressive history for such a tiny fruit.DSCN6684

Always looking for something new to try and having a nice variety of fresh apples on hand, I decided to try this recipe for Apple Cinnamon Loaf by Sharon Whitley posted on Just A Pinch Recipes. The perfect recipe for brightening a cold winter morning. The only thing I changed was to add 1 cup of chopped walnuts with the apple and use mini loaf pans instead of the 9 x 5. The aroma of this loaf will drive you crazy when it’s baking. Is there anything better smelling than cinnamon and sugar? Quick to fix and yummy.

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Arkansas Black Apples

This morning I found one of my favorite apples for sale at the Sacramento Farmers’ Market. It’s called Arkansas Black. I was first introduced to it about fifteen years ago at the Davis Farmers Market. Ever since then I keep a watch out each fall for it’s brief, but welcome, return. Evidently there aren’t too many farmers raising this variety, which is said to be a direct descendant of the Winesap and originated in western Arkansas in the mid-19th Century. Thanks go out to whoever brought it to California’s fertile soils. They obviously had good taste when it came to apples.

The Arkansas Black is a large, late season apple with a distinctive dark red skin encasing yellow flesh that is firm and crisp with a tart aromatic flavor that mellows as the apple ages. Generally a very dark red on the tree, occasionally with a slight green blush where hidden from the sun, the apples grow darker as they ripen, becoming a very dark red or burgundy color. With storage the skin continues to darken.

I love just eating them out of hand but they are also good for cider making, applesauce and baking. Here’s a tasty, yet simple, little cake to try them in.

Fresh Apple Cake

2 cups chopped apples

½ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup oat flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8 x 8 inch pan. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar and apples, set aside. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom and salt.

In a large bowl, stir together the oil, egg and vanilla. Add, the apples and sugar, mix well. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the nuts. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until cake springs back to the touch. When cool,  dust cake with sifted powdered sugar or serve warm with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Craving Mac n Cheese

The other day I made my favorite Mac n Cheese. I’ve been craving it for a while but it’s been too warm to cook this type of food so when the days started cooling off I knew exactly what it was time for; creamy Mac n Cheese with crispy edges and crusty top.

It was a Saturday and the Farmers’ Market that I usually go to is on Sunday morning. That means I was out of just about everything fresh. So, that night I feasted on my Mac n Cheese accompanied by only a simple salad of baby greens, shredded carrots and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. Tasty enough but as I sat down to eat I thought, “you know what would be great with this Mac n Cheese, grilled Brussels sprouts”.  Next morning as I shopped the Farmers’ Market the first thing I picked up was some Brussels sprouts and some Crimii mushrooms. I also picked up a nice butternut squash, some onions and a couple of Black Arkansas apples (more on these later)

Sunday night I grilled the Brussels sprouts, Chrimini, onion and garlic and feasted on left over Mac n Cheese with a side of the roasted veggies. Oh my was it good. Definitely a great accompaniment to the Mac n Cheese. You can find more ways to fix Brussels sprouts on my January 22, 2010 post, \”How I Learned To Love Brussels Sprouts\”. You might even consider one of these versions as a side for Thanksgiving.

Here’s the recipe for the Mac n Cheese. It’s from James Beard’s American Cookery and has been my favorite since my son was a little boy. Which, as I consider it, was a long time ago.

Macaroni and Cheese I

½ lb macaroni (I use brown rice pasta)

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Dash Tabasco

1 to 1 ½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese (I use a sharp Tillamook)

Boil the macaroni in salted water till just tender. Drain well. Prepare a white sauce — melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, blend with the flour, and cook several minutes over medium heat. Heat the milk to the boiling point, stir into the flour-butter mixture, and continue stirring until it thickens. Add the seasonings and simmer 4 to 5 minutes.

Butter a 2 or 2 ½ quart baking dish or casserole. In it arrange alternate layers of macaroni, sauce, and cheese, ending with cheese.  Option: Cover the top with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the sauce is bubbly. Serve at once.