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Apple Season in the Pajaro Valley

Watsonville's apple farmers in prepare for the fall harvest

For many years, the Pajaro Valley has been a traditional apple-growing area. The Santa Cruz County Fair and its apple pie baking contest mark our harvest season for apples and other local produce. This week I checked in with a few apple-growers to find out how the early harvest is going; in the process, I learned more about apples.

Gizdich Ranch, owned by Vince and Cynthia Gizdich, is preparing for the Santa Cruz County Fair, where it will have a booth. The apple harvest season is just beginning. I talked to Dustin Dearman, a clerk at Gizdich Ranch, where he has worked for 13 years.

“Right now, our MacIntosh, Royal Gala, Grimes Golden, Empire Reds and Black Twig are appearing in the market,” Dearman said.

I asked him what apple is best for baking in pies.

“Definitely Pippins,” he said. “They are the majority of what we grow here.”

For applesauce, “gravenstein is used, but Golden Delicious are good too,” he added.

Reading over a list of 18 Gizdich apples, I noticed a number of apples that were unfamiliar to me:

  • Black Twig: a firm, tart apple, good for cooking.
  • Pinova: Gizdich’s newest apple, available this September.
  • Empire Reds: tart, crisp, and sweet. Empire Reds look similar to MacIntosh.
  • Winter Banana: good for “cannable applesauce,” but not so good for eating out of hand.

Of course, I had to sample , and ordered a slice. The apples were a tempting combination of sweet and tart, the natural juices flavored the crust without being syrupy or sugary. It was delicious. Gizdich offers a sugarless apple pie; however, it only comes frozen, as a take-home item. You can also get other fruit pies there, including strawberry-rhubarb and olallieberry.

Apples are no longer as profitable for growers in this area as they once were, especially since they can only be harvested once a year. Pajaro Valley apple orchards are making way for more profitable crops that can be harvested several times a year, like strawberries and raspberries. However, some diehard apple farmers, like Gizdich, Silva's Apple Orchards and Buak Fruit Company continue to grow and sell apples.

Some local farms—like High Ground Organics and Crystal Bay Farm (the latter known mostly for their pumpkins)—are experimenting with growing heirloom apples, adding to the varieties grown in this area. Apples such as Rubinettes, Waltana and Hudson’s Golden Gem, can be found in the Redman House Farmstand, which sells produce from High Ground Organics, or at their CSA.

High Ground Organics’ Community Supported Agriculture administrator, Chrissie Brewer, offered this simple recipe using apples grown locally:

Apple Crisp, less sugar

Ingredients:

3 medium baking apples, cored, sliced thin
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp flour

Topping:
1 cup quick oats
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp heart-healthy margarine

Method:

Mix first four ingredients and place into 9-inch (square or round) baking dish.

In small bowl, mix Topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over the apples.

Bake at 325 degrees until apples are soft and topping is golden brown (about 30 minutes).

Serves: 9

What could be easier or healthier? This is a great time to support your local apple farmer. Try out some old and new apple varieties. Stop by your local farmstand or farmers market; check out the grocery produce area; and other Pajaro Valley produce for an autumn taste treat.

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