Kage Baker really did love apples.One of the delights of our advancing age was the proliferation of apple varieties – breeds new or hybridized, heritage varieties found still bearing in abandoned orchards … all that bounty of the family of the rose. (Yes, they are.)
When we were young, there were only three kinds of apples to be found in Los Angeles markets: red Delicious, yellow Delicious, and green Pippins. There has never been an apple more misleadingly named than a Delicious – they aren’t, they are bland and mushy and too sweet – and Momma would only buy Pippins for pies. So aside from a burgled Pippin (and, of course, the pies) apples were boring. But as time went on, things got a little better; Macintoshes and Romes were available sometimes, and while they are rather staid to eat out of hand, they are wonderful baking apples. Especially the huge, glossy red Romes, like glass Christmas tree ornaments; core them, plug the bottom with walnut meats, cram the rest of the hole with brown sugar and dates, and bake them for a hour at 300 degrees … then, when they are literally bursting and the flesh is like exploding like honeyed kapok, take them out and drown them in cream and eat like a madwoman. Bliss!
In our 20’s, one began to hear of older apples, that were now being rediscovered and re-marketed: Eastern Spy and Graventeins were among the first. But this was before Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, or even farmers’ markets, and so those old varieties stayed mythical for us. But then we started doing the Renaissance Faire in Northern California.
Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties may be most famous for wine grapes, but they also grow all the fruits of paradise. Green, red, yellow and Santa Rosa plums; cherries red and yellow; peaches, nectarines and shameless sweet-fleshed crosses of all of them, fruiting without benefit of clergy in backyards. And apples. The fruit stand at the Blackpoint Faire carried everything local it could find, all laid out in rough wooden bins under a canopy of pink cloth that made the fruit incandesce in the late sunlight. The smell alone as you walked by was enough to make you drunk.
Now, when we started going North for the Blackpoint Faire, it was on THE BUS. The management of the Faire rented a bus every weekend, to bring up the 50-odd most needed performers from LA every Friday and return them Sunday night. It meant you didn’t have to drive the 400 miles yourself, you could sleep or drink or smoke questionable substances on the road (and survive) and you had lots of company. However, it also meant you couldn’t leave Faire after hours to find a grocery store or a restaurant. Or money – and no ATMS were around then, anway.
When we were thus trapped on site and/or short of cash, it was our habit to hit some select stands late in the day. A plate of English cheese from the roast beef booth was nicely complimented by some leftover wheat bread from the Cheezewits vendor. We’d fill our Imperial Pint mugs (20 ounces!) with Bass Ale. We’d get Gravensteins from the harem-lit fruit stand, and then we’d climb the hill to Actors’ Camp.
These were the days before we ran the Green Man Inn, and we pitched our tent like most everyone else on top of Heart Attack Hill. We had a favourite spot at the shower end, where you could see through that one split tree with the natural door-arch in it, over miles of yellow hills where Summer lived. If you went down that side you ended up in the lot by Tobin House. But we climbed up on the Grey Barn side, well clear of the quarry where the worse-aimed arrows from the Archery Booth flew, and took our dinner safely to our haven under the oaks.
Then we’d strip down to our shifts in the hot twilight, and we’d sit on our sleeping bags and feast: on Glouchester and Cheshire cheeses, and cool Gravenstein apples sliced with our belt knives. Rough bread and warm ale. The sun would set, the moon would rise, and up the hill would come all the laughing shadows with the voices of our friends …
Tomorrow: riding the bus through the Memory Mansion