Friday, December 31, 2010

The land of fruit and nuts

Last week dh and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. For this momentous occasion, we decided to abandon the kids (thanks Dan and Kori) and take a drive to the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, CA. We had a wonderful time exploring the tiny towns of Buellton, Solvang, and Los Olivos, and especially enjoyed the gorgeous fields, vinyards, and orchards between the town centers.
A young olive grove near Old Mission Santa Ines.
The town of Solvang is a Danish immigrant town turned tourist attraction. Along with windmills, half timber buildings, and a healthy obsession with Hans Christian Anderson, the town boasts what most Americans think of when we hear the word Danish, which would be, well, Danishes. Several bakeries got our money in those two days, the traditional ball-like aebleskivers being a favorite, eaten for breakfast with a side of Danish sausage.

Some of my favorite experiences of the trip weren't the shops or even the sausages. The hand-painted signs on the side of the roads between towns stating simply "Walnuts" or "Apples" held as much interest for us as the Little Mermaid sculpture or even the gushing Nojoqui Falls.

At our first local produce stop we were lucky to meet Mr. Dittmar of Dittmar's Apples. Even though the apple season was on its very last weeks, he still had a truckload full of Granny Smiths, the latest in the season of his 10 apple varieties. I did not know I had never tasted a real Granny Smith until Mr. Dittmar sliced one open for me. Tree-ripened and quite sweet, this Granny Smith was nothing like the shiny, bright green, hard, perfectly round Grannys found in stores. He did have several bags of 1st quality apples, but dh and I dug into the orchard-run bin, bringing home about 10 pounds for $4. My favorites are the apples with slight blemishes (but not cuts or bruises) on the skin, or those too small or too large (and there were some big ones!) to qualify for supermarket conformity. I guess they have character. Mr. Dittmar was nice enough to chat with us about his orchard. His trees cover just 2 acres next to his home which he bought in 1970 and his son now helps him with the work because it is all done by hand. He is proud of his sustainable and organic farming methods. In case a customer comes while Mr. Dittmar is not at the little stand, there is a can marked "Honor System" on the table.
Just down the road from the apples, we were intrigued by the walnut sign. Again we were treated to a chat with the owner, but I am sorry I didn't get his name. He showed us the huge walnut trees surrounding his winter-dormant berry bushes. Many of the trees he planted himself and he was happy to explain the harvesting process to us. Dh was intrigued by the antique hulling machine in the yard, and I admired the homemade jellies and jams made by the walnut-man's wife. She had a purple best-in-show ribbon from a county fair displayed next to her jars. As with the Granny Smith apples, these walnuts were not like the ones you buy at the store. As we cracked open our free samples and chatted, I noticed they were different, sweeter somehow or fresher? How do you describe the taste of a nut? Happily carrying our brown paper bag of several pounds of walnuts to the car, I felt like I knew the neighbors already. I announced to my dh that we were moving. He laughed.

Apple Crisp

5-6 cups sliced, peeled apples
1 cup regular rolled oats
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
6 TB butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Spread apples in a 9x13 pan. In a bowl, mix all other ingredients until topping looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle topping over apples. Bake at 375F for 30 to 35 minutes.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at Sustainable Eats.

1 comment:

Maxmomma said...

That looks so nice! What a wonderful way to celebrate an anniversary! Can I come visit you when you move out there?