Regardless of the actual temperature — September and October can be the hottest months of the year in Los Angeles, thanks to the Santa Ana winds— come fall we want apples as much as we want a triumphant Dodgers postseason. So let’s talk about the heirloom apples that farmers Mike Cirone of See Canyon and Barbara and Bill Spencer of Windrose Farm bring to our local markets.
Both Cirone and the Spencers grow antique, classic Eastern and hard-to-find varieties, as well as some more familiar names, that are good for eating, baking, even pressing cider — and absolutely for dipping in pots of caramel. Windrose Farm has 45 varieties across 1,200 apple trees on its 50-acre farm east of Paso Robles, which includes a sheep pasture.
This is deeply flavorful fruit, sugary and floral or with a spicy acidic bite — apples that are worlds away from the cardboard balls that too often masquerade as apples in many grocery stores.
And this year, there are a lot of them.
“This is potentially one of the largest I’ve ever encountered in my 34 years of growing,” Cirone said about this year’s apple crop, from his orchards near San Luis Obispo. He attributes the yield to a “a very very cold winter up here and a very ample amount of rain that came at the perfect time.”
Mid-September is also an excellent time to drive to Oak Glen, about 80 miles east and almost 5,000 feet up into the hills, where there are a cluster of family-owned apple farms growing many older varieties. You’ll find U-pick orchards, farm stands and shops selling apple pies, cider and some seriously craveable cider doughnuts.
What: Windrose Farms has Smokehouse, Belle de Boskoop, Jonagold, Pink Pearl, Kid’s Red Orange and Windrose Gold, with more coming. See Canyon has Esopus Spitzenburg, Jonagold, Macoun, Empire, Fuji, Gala and Mollie Delicious, with more coming. Oak Glen has Gravenstein, Mutsu, Pink Pearl, Cameo, Macintosh, Jonagold, Arkansas Black, Royal Gala, Senshu and Pippin, among others.
Where: Both Windrose Farms and See Canyon go to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market. See Canyon also attends four markets in San Luis Obispo and some farm stands; visitors can visit Windrose Farms by appointment.
When: Windrose brings apples to the market until January, though they stop picking (Hauer Pippin is the last) in November. See Canyon will pick until early December, though Cirone says it’s too early to tell how long he’ll bring them to the market. The Oak Glen farms are usually open for U-pick apples until the end of October.