Sept 17, 2013 – This is really my favorite time of year. The weather is great, the light is shifting to that golden bronze shimmer of early fall and the markets are bursting with abundance. As opposed to spring, when we salivate over those first few baskets of strawberries, this time of year is all about apples. By the height of summer, the glut of strawberries evokes barely a glance, but for me, apples will always steal the show. I average about two a day all fall; a hunk of cheese, maybe some almond butter, and that’s lunch. I don’t get sick of them. In fact, apples might be one of the reasons I like this time of year the best.
Live Earth Farm just had their 5th annual Slice, Dinner in the Orchard event—a fundraiser for the Live Earth Farm Discovery Program (LEFDP) non-profit that works towards educating kids of all ages about where their food comes from. This season’s magic is certainly not a secret around here, with so many events planned and things to celebrate before the rain arrives, and Live Earth couldn’t have chosen a better day for their party on Saturday, September 14. For someone as smitten with apples as I, this was the place to be. Apples were everywhere, literally dripping and tumbling and falling from the heavy branches as we walked through the orchard to our al fresco dinner setting. There were stations of apple tastings along the way, featuring at least ten different types: Cameo may have been my favorite of the day. There were apples being pressed for juice, little bags handed out for apple picking, and, needless to say, every course of the menu featured apples in some form or other.
To start, there was a cold Gala apple, fennel soup and Pippen apple chutney bruschetta with goat cheese and lemon zest. The 2011 Storrs Riesling and 2012 Cima Collina “Red Roses” Rose of Syrah were perfect accompaniments. We gathered around the long, continuous table set with pretty mismatched plates, mason jar glasses, tealights and centerpieces featuring…more apples. Jessica Ridgeway, director of LEFDP, welcomed us and gave thanks to all the generous contributors that donated to the event, stating that their total grocery bill was a mere $75. That’s pretty amazing given the scope of food and drink to come.
Next came a cabbage and Sommerfeld apple slaw with lemon ginger dressing. Then my personal favorite course, the polenta stuffed Delicata squash with French green lentils, Jonagold apple chips and pea shoots. And more wine! The 2012 Birichino Malvasia Bianca and 2011 Alfaro Estate “A” Chardonnay. While eating and drinking, we were educated a little bit about the history of the apple in the Pajaro Valley, shedding some light on the place and flavor of right here, right now. We also heard from some of the youth from Life Lab’s Food What?! program, who helped prepare the meal, working closely with the chefs (Jonathan Miller of Eat Right at Home and Karen Haralson and Rebecca Mastoris of Vibrant Foods Catering) and acting as our efficient servers.
After the main entree arrived, slow cooked pork with braised greens and roast Honeycrisp apples, onions and potatoes, Chef Miller stood up to explain the dish. From his voice it was obvious he had some fun preparing the Tamworth and wild boar mix sourced from Linda’s Tasty Pork in Carmel Valley. The pork leg, not the most sought after cut to prepare, was stewed for hours and hours with the apples, creating the tender and delicious main course that was heaped on platters in front of us. The 2009 Storrs Grenache and 2009 Zayante Clos du Z brought it all together even more.
As we were served Food What?!’s apple crisp with Penny Ice Creamery vanilla bean ice cream, Farmer Tom Broz made his way up to the front of the crowd, assuming his position as the one and only live auction item of the night to be sold to a lucky winner who wants to become a “farmer for a day”.
I reluctantly gathered my things together, which included my one year old, taking note that the Slice event is the place to be for parents of kids just a little bit older than mine. There are not too many beautiful farm dinners that provide an educational children’s program at the same time, elevating childcare to the next level with cob oven pizza and lessons on sustainability. As I was leaving, Jessica pointed to a stash of apples near my bag to make sure that I didn’t forget them. They were not mine actually, as my bursting paper sack was already loaded into my tote. “Have some more,” she snickered, aptly summing up the attitude of apple overwhelm that happens for anyone on a farm in September. And despite the bushelfuls I have at home from my own trees, I accepted. Like I said before, I’m a big fan.
Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer based in the Santa Cruz Mountains.