Gardens are waning, and if you have not done it yet, get the winter garden in now. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots beets, arugula, winter peas, the list could go on for awhile because we live in Northern California and it is easy. We can coax an astounding amount of food out of the earth year-round pretty easily just by planting it now and not doing a whole lot more for the rest of the winter. Imperative for success is getting the seeds, seedlings or smaller plants into the ground while it is still above 55 degrees at night, giving them plenty of resources to build up a hearty system acrawl with roots. You may not see a lot happening above ground, but underground, it is moving along hypnotically like a long, slow rock ballad. Weeding and watering factor in, but are nowhere near the attention seizers as the summer garden diva can be. Sweet peas, snapdragons, hollyhocks, poppies and lupine seeds like to be planted now as well. They may be buried and forgotten until they come up in early spring, bringing immense joy in the rediscovery of new life after winter’s chill. We do have seasons here in the Bay Area; they are just a little blurred between the lines.
Pomegranates and persimmons gracefully hang, jewel-like, from leaf- barren trees, waiting for thirsty fingers to grab and mouths to savor their autumn delights. All greens from kale and Swiss chard to lettuces of all kinds have been resurrected, lush and salient, now that solar rays are finished blazing for the season. Apples are everywhere. If eating them out of hand and sliced up gets old, try making applesauce or apple crisp to brighten up ever shortening evenings. Pears are mostly cold storage at this point, but the Alhambra Pear People at the farmers’ markets have incredible Bartletts, and, if you are lucky, a French Butter pear or two are still left for you to snag and slurp.
Farmers’ markets are gearing down as crops dwindle out, but they’re still offering amazing choices weekly to be procured and prepared in any delightful way. A visit to Matt and Nate or Connie and Lupe at the Pleasant Hill market for seasonal goods will be most satisfying as well. The long and patiently awaited meat market next door is soon to be a reality for all the carnivores’ out there, so be on the lookout.
Hiking and outdoor walking in Briones and all the ridges is never better than this time of year, with mists crawling all over and animals scurrying here and there in preparation for the supposed long winter. This side of our beloved Mount Diablo is good for hiking, but, heartbreakingly enough, we will be staying off the east side for many moons to come. Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the families affected by that dang fire. It will be a long time in the healing, but we can hope for rain and join a tree planting party to help it along.
This will make about 4 to 5 cups, depending on your apple choice. Also, if you use a sweet variety, you may want to use water instead of juice and adjust the lemon juice. The lemon juice has the added effect of keeping everything a nice color as well. You can store unused sauce in a jar with a tight fitting lid in the fridge and use within the week.
6 large apples, peeled, cored, rough chop
¼ cup white grape juice or apple juice
Juice and rind from a big lemon
Cinnamon to taste
Vanilla to taste
Place apples, juices and lemon peel in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Cover and cook until apples are soft enough to mash. Add vanilla with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve warm.
Fresh Fruit Crisp
6 cups fruit
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar
½ cup butter, melted (1 cube)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup oats
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375*. Spray an 8x8 baking dish. Place fruit in dish. Mix flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, oats and salt in bowl. Crumble onto fruit. Bake 1 hour until fruit bubbles and top is crunchy and lightly browned. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or cold the next day for a very decadent, but sensuous and utterly fulfilling, breakfast. Serves 6.