At the gorge in George, the road heads north through miles of dry landscape: dark rock trimmed with sagebrush and sparse grasses. West of Quincy, however, is a completely different story. Here the land is sunglinted green in a wide swath that follows the glistening Columbia as far as the eye can see. Closer in the green becomes leaves, swaying lightly in the breeze. Among the leaves are apples. Hundreds and thousands of apples.
I found myself between two mature orchards, standing in a clearing in which stack after stack of apple wood marched into the distance. There was enough wood for my fire for a hundred years. I salivated at the sight. I breathed in its sweet flavor as I began packing my trusty wagon to the gills.
Mike came zipping up to me on his yellow ATV, one knee down on the seat like you’d ride a skidoo, and instantly started talking apples. On his hundred acres –long blocks of beautiful, sturdy trees in lines that rolled over the gentle hills– he was already picking Pink Lady, Gala, Honeycrisp, Braeburn. The newest buzz in cultivar circles at the moment was the SweeTango, so up-to-date that it had its own Facebook page and Twitter feed.
How cool is that? He’s looking into that one.
Driving the long journey back over the pass, I began to see the world through Mike’s eyes. To him, it was all part of the same cycle; when an apple variety stops selling, you replace the trees. New apple varieties show up in the grocery store once the new trees mature and meanwhile the woodfired guys get the wood from the old trees. Sounds like a handy arrangement to me.
Mike’s apples are in the stores now, all fresh and bursting with flavor. We’ve been trying them out for weeks and I can tell you this: when it comes to apples, variety really does matter. Just now at Chez Bullhog, Jonagold is our choice for making the best apple butter, and we reach for slices of Honeycrisp when we want a sweet snack. Our favorite go-to apple, however, is the Fuji. They’re crisp and flavorful, and they make the best pies, hands down: just ask my wife’s book club.
Now next year, it might be a different story. Maybe SweeTango, the new kid on the block, will win us over. Stay tuned!
Makes one 9” pie
5 fresh Fuji apples
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice in a quart of water (optional)
1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground cloves
1 Tablespoon of butter
Pastry for crust (see below)
Prepare the apples: Peel, core and slice 5 Fuji apples into pieces 1/8 inch thick. To keep the apple slices from turning brown, do the apples one at a time and drop the slices directly into a bowl of water suffused with 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice. Set aside while you make the pastry.
Make the Pastry: In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of flour with ½ teaspoon of salt. Add 1/3 cup of shortening (we use Spectrum, which is non-hydrogenated) and 1/3 cup of butter. Cut in the fats with two knives or a pastry cutter until no piece is larger than a pea. Mix in 5 Tablespoons of cold water. Roll half of the pastry out on a floured surface until it is larger than the pie dish, and then carefully set it into place. Trim the edges.
Fill the pie: Drain the apples well. In a separate bowl, mix the 1/3 cup flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of clove together and then toss in the drained apple slices. Slip the coated apple slices out into the pastry lined pie dish and settle them in to fit as tightly together as possible. Leaving a hump in the middle. The apples at the edges should be up to and slightly below the rim. Pour any remaining sugary mix from the bowl on top and dot with a few pieces of butter.
Top the pie: Roll out the other piece of dough, again slightly larger than the pie dish. Wet the edge of the bottom pie crust with a little water and then put the top in place. Cut off the excess and seal the edge with a fork, making a pattern if you wish. The edge should be tightly sealed. Using a small knife, cut 3 or 4 slits in the top of the pastry.
Bake the pie: Preheat oven to 425°. Bake for 50 minutes on the center rack until the juices begin to bubble out of the slits. To prevent excess browning on the crust, put a thin strip of foil around the edge for the first 25 minutes.
Let cool for an hour before serving. Enjoy!
For more information on apple varieties, see the Washington State Apple Commission’s website Here.