Last week, the girls had a day off from school that wasn’t a holiday. As serendipity would have it, this most welcome break landed on a beautiful day, so we headed over to the Santa Ynez Valley for some apple picking. We piled in the car with the dog and some baskets and headed up the 154 to the Ballard Apple Farm in Solvang.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by a menagerie of miniature Mediterranean donkeys, a zonky (yes, it’s a zebra-donkey cross), and a beautiful variety of chickens and specialty game birds. The pretty orchard boasts an interesting variety of apples, even a row of optimal baking apples.
The girls went off on a picking frenzy before I could explain how to find the best and tastiest apples. Here’s my mom lesson if they had listened: When apples are ready to be picked, they will come off the branch with the stem still attached. If you make a slight twisting motion the apple should pop off easily and then you know you have a ready-to-eat apple.
They happily returned with loads of not-quite-ripe apples, complete with wormholes, and as moms have done for generations before me, I took the poor little apples, pretended they were perfect in every way, and then transformed them into applesauce (minus the worms, of course). I thought I’d have to add sugar to the sauce because the apples weren’t ripe, but I didn’t and the sauce was delectable!
First I cut the apples into segments (discarding the cores) and tossed them, skins and all, into a large stockpot with 2 cinnamon sticks. I added about 2 inches of water and set the pot on the stove at high heat. Once the water boiled I turned it down to a good simmer, covered the pot, and let the apples cook for about 15-20 minutes until they were soft. Then I removed the cinnamon sticks and cranked the whole mess through a large food mill. The result was creamy and delicious applesauce, especially when warm.
The few ripe apples that were not devoured immediately found their way into a batch of our family-favorite apple muffins.