Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Back at the Ranch: Apple Harvest Time. And Pie.

As it says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, "All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven."

Unless I'm mistaken, this refers to apples.

Because of their chilling requirements, apples are generally a cold-climate fruit, but there are varieties that will grow and fruit in the Desert Garden. Anna, Ein Sheimer, and Dorsett Golden are all low-chill apple varieties with a good track record in the low Desert. I've grown Dorsett Golden here at the Ranch for any number of years with great success.

There are trade-offs in growing the apples that grow here. None of them are what are called "keepers," and all of them ripen around mid- to late-June. What that means practically is that you will end up with a tree full of fast-fading apples hanging around in 100° weather. Once they're ripe, you must pick them then or they'll be gone; they have their season, and it passes quickly. When it's a hundred degrees out, tomorrow is too late. If you find that year after you year you don't get to your apples and they all rot on the tree, then your best course – and I hate to say it – is to pull out the tree and replace it with something you'll use.

So let's say you do get all your apples picked. Now what? The first step is to rinse them in cool water or hold them in the 'fridge for a while to dissipate the field heat, or they will go bad before your eyes.

You can only eat so many fresh. You can give away a lot. Every year I decide I'm going to put up apple sauce, and most years I decide that canning apple sauce when it's 110° is insane.

Apple Pie © Tyler Storey

Which brings us, inevitably, to pie. Apple pie. Pie is, as they say, as easy as pie. So why don't more people bake pies? The crust.

Surveys have shown that when asked why they don't make pies, 8 out of 10 people will say they don't know how to make crust. The other two will ask "who are you and how did you get in my kitchen?"

I made that up.

Unless you have ambitions to be a pastry chef, go buy ready-made pie dough at the grocery. It comes rolled up in a cardboard box, the store brand tastes better than the name brand, it's cheap, and it's better than most pie dough I've ever made. This may be the only time I ever recommend buying a food item ready-made.

So here's the easy part: preheat your oven to 350°. Set out your box of crust so it comes to room temperature. Melt one-half of a stick of butter. In a small bowl mix one-half cup white sugar, two tablespoons brown sugar, two tablespoons cornstarch, one teaspoon cinnamon and one teaspoon ground ginger. Peel, core, and quarter a bunch of apples, enough to over-fill your pie plate, probably 9 to 12. Cut them into one-inch or less chunks; pretty doesn't matter. Put the apples in a big bowl, drizzle the butter over them, add the sugar mixture and toss to coat. Unroll one crust and press it into the pie plate. Glass pie plates are best. Dump the apples on top. Unroll the other crust, lay it on top, and tuck the edge under the edge of the lower crust, pinching them to hold them together; again, pretty doesn't matter. With a sharp knife, cut a few vents in the top crust. Lightly spritz the top crust with a 50-50 white vinegar and water mix, then sprinkle the crust with one to two tablespoons of white sugar. Don't skip the vinegar and sugar step; it makes a big difference and no, you can't taste the vinegar. Pop the pie in the oven and bake it for one-and-a-quarter hours, turning it once, half-way through, then cool on a rack. You have pie.

Side note: of course you have a spray bottle of 50-50 white vinegar and water in your kitchen. It's under the sink. You use it to wash windows because it works better than all that expensive purple and blue stuff.

See how easy that is? If you have a lot of apples, make a lot of pies. Give them to friends and neighbors and co-workers. They will be impressed and possibly touched; over the course of a bland lifetime of monotonous routine, you may be the only person ever to give them a pie; they will remember you in later years. Personally, I favor apple pie as breakfast food; it contains most of the major food groups: fruit, sugar, butter, and wheat. Add vanilla ice cream (cream and eggs) and it becomes the perfect nutritionally complete food with which to start your day.

You can never have too much pie.


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