Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the colors, the smells, and flavors of the season. As the air starts to chill, the leaves begin to fall, and the autumn harvest yields ingredients for warm, tasty comfort food, I decided to inaugurate the season by honing my pie baking skills at Olympia Apple Orchard at Two Rock Ranch. More than just an apple pie workshop, this day on the farm was an enriching experience of cooking at the source; from Orchard to Oven.
Kathy Tresch, farmer, apple-expert and owner of Olympia Orchard, hosted the event at the beautiful new lodge at Two Rock Ranch. Our “kitchen” was set up on the lodge porch, two long table areas with cooking workstations that overlooked the vast property. It was an intimate setting with warm hospitality and beautiful surroundings. Our pie making instructor was Meloni Courtway, local chef, food writer, and winner of Martha Stewart’s Best Bakers in America.
We started the day with a tour of the orchard to pick our apples. Loading up on hay bale benches in the back of Kathy’s pick up truck, friendly farm dog in tow, we gently bumped our way along a valley and through some trees to a sun kissed corner of the property called Olympia Orchard. Planted with about 50 varieties of heirloom apples the orchard was teeming with fruit laden trees. We each picked 8-10 dark red Jonathan apples and put them in baskets. Standing out there with a basket on my hip I thought I could stay there all day and just pick apples. It was so sunny, peaceful, and picking those red ripe apples felt so satisfying.
Back at the ranch we swiftly changed gears as Meloni got us cleaned up and in position to make our pie dough. Armed with a bowl, measuring utensils, and a pastry blender we eagerly followed her instructions. The ingredients are just flour, salt, sugar, butter, and water. It is all in how you put them together that makes the difference. The key is cold, cold, cold butter and cold, cold, cold water. Work quickly and touch it with your hands as little as possible. As I vigorously worked my butter into the flour a few pieces jumped onto the floor. Oops. Wondering if my dough would suffer the loss I quickly nudged the stray butter under the table and kept working. Meloni’s charismatic instruction kept us focused on the task of perfecting our dough. Not too much water. Don’t overwork it. Soon we each had two round balls of dough wrapped, labeled and put away in the fridge.
Next, getting all of the apples peeled. We moved down to the other table and began to tackle the baskets of apples. The tool of the day was the nifty apple slicer-peeler-corer. The person wielding this gadget dusted the rest of us as they quickly cranked out one sliced apple after another. As my bandaged finger will attest, this is the must have piece of equipment for dealing with an abundance of apples. The apple slices were taken away and tossed with cinnamon and just a touch of sugar; so naturally delicious they didn’t need much.
Assembling the pies was an expression of each person’s personal taste. There were pies piled high with apples, others were more flat. Some people folded their crust under with a wave, others folded it up with a ripple, and some trimmed it right to the edge of the pan; no two pies were alike. We each added a unique detail to further identify our creation. I rolled my initials out of dough and placed them on top. Then the pies were swept off to the smoldering wood burning oven.
While our pies baked we were treated to some tasty food and drinks inside the lodge. Suzanne Alexandre, another Orchard to Oven talent, served up wood-fired pizzas topped with cheese, bacon, apples, and arugula, paired with Russian River wine. Alongside the pizzas sat a plate of Pt Reyes Blue Cheese served with honey and apples on crostini. Meloni sliced up apple pies that were made earlier; a sample of what we hoped to be taking home. Along the antique bar Kathy lined up an apple tasting for us to try some of the many varieties she grows in the orchard. It was local goodness all around.
When the pies emerged from the oven everyone admired the results. My pie had deflated a bit, with the softening of the apples, so my towering crust gave it sort of an atoll-like appearance. Still, I felt pretty please with my results. The flakiness of the crust looked promising. Our pies were safely boxed for travel and as I walked my still-warm package to the car I reflected on our fun day. Good people, beautiful weather, delicious food; honestly, what more can a person ask for?
From Orchard to Oven has added a new class on Sunday, September 19th at 3:00pm, to sign up visit www.tworockranch.com. Other “farm to table” experiences are happening around Sonoma County! Check local events listings for seasonal farm dinners, tours, and local cooking experiences.
For delicious organic apples look for Kathy Tresch at the Saturday Petaluma Farmers’ Market or visit her on-your-honor apple stand at Olympia Orchard– 1051 Walker Road, Petaluma, CA, 9am – dusk. Check the Two Rock Ranch wesbite for dates and times.