Kage Baker loved fresh fruit. The menu above was one of her favourite meals, especially at the end of autumn. A few miles up a canyon near where we lived in Pismo Beach, there is an apple stand: its orchards are multivarious and splendid, full of obscure heritage and rare apples, and by August the season is in full swing. There are 4 or 5 kinds available every week, wonderful apples that are not commercially grown or much remembered, because they are small or a funny colour or don’t travel well.
They have names like a map through a romance: Burgundy, Nittany, Chieftain; Limbertwig, Black Amish, Red Yorking. Caville Blanc and Arkansas Black. They are all in season late in the year, just when the walnuts are also coming on ripe, and Kage lived through every August and September on nuts and apples. The cheese was added just to make up a triad, and because Central and Northern California have native dairy industries that could make the Fae swoon with desire.
We haunted the Gopher Glen Apple Farm on a weekly basis, carrying off 5 or 10 assorted pounds of fruit every time. Some of the rarer ones had seasons of only a week or two, and were actually rationed among the fanatics: Nittanies were one of those. We went early in the day to beat out determined old ladies from Bakersfield who drove in 200 miles or more to stock up; we carried our few bags off in triumph, giggling. Kage usually ate one or two apples while we drove down the twisted mile of the canyon road, and carefully planted the cores all along the canyon wall; some are growing up wild there, now. I made absurd amounts of applesauce.
They made astonishing cider, too, by the simply expedient of pressing whatever was too bruised to sell – you never knew exactly what was in it, and it changed with every jug; you could never tire of it. The apple press was right outside the shed where they sold the fruit, and a zone of narcotic perfume filled the whole back of the place.
And since there were no preservatives or any such nonsense, you could make apple jack of it, as my brother-in-law always did: take off the cap and let it sit for half a day to collect wild yeast. Re-cap it and wait a week. Decant and sip the finest hard cider ever made. Liquid amber, changeable and smooth, fire opals in a glass.
This is what we used to do:
Take a good ripe apple – a Limbertwig, maybe, with its glassy “snap” and aftertaste of honey. Or Kage’s utter favourite, a Burgundy – the flesh is tart and snow white, but veined with bright rose red: gorgeous. Don’t peel it! That’s where the bite and half the flavour are. Add a handful of walnuts and don’t forget a nutcracker – we opened walnuts with a wild variety of rocks, tire irons and Swiss Army knives until we learned to keep a nutcracker in the car. Now cut a generous hunk of Jack cheese; plain unadulterated Jack cheese, no pepper or port or added antioxidants, preferably made from cows you have seen grazing in the orchards …
Now alternate bites. Repeat until replete.
Tomorrow: a Sunday drive through the Memory Mansion