Apple farmers throughout Sonoma County are celebrating. Many have been picking Gravenstein apples for three weeks or so, and the 2013 crop looks good. Throughout August, we'll see them everywhere, or almost.
Many local businesses, public offices and libraries will offer free Gravensteins, as they've done for several years. This year, even the Sonoma County airport is involved: Visitors arriving in Santa Rosa will be greeted by our beloved apples, free for the taking.
Slow Food's Apple Core, a project of Russian River Slow Food, will offer fresh-pressed Gravenstein apple juice at several farmers markets, and the Gravenstein Apple Fair is coming up this weekend in Ragle Ranch Park. If you attend on Sunday, come by the cooking demonstration area at noon, where I'll be making Apple and Smoked Cheddar Chowder. (For more information on the fair, visit gravensteinapplefair.com.)
For the past 11 years, Slow Food Russian River has worked tirelessly to support our apple and its farmers. And their work has paid off, in part because they have always insisted that growers be paid for the apples that have been used in their various promotions. The group has succeeded in lifting the apple's public profile, which in turn has resulted in more sales for farmers. And although some orchards are still being replaced with vineyards, there are also new plantings, with more to come.
Gravensteins don't last long. Their season is about three-and-a-half weeks long — progressive ripening extends it a bit — and the apples don't store well. By the end of the month, most will be gone, making way for the many other varieties that ripen through December. If you want to enjoy the Gravenstein and preserve it to enjoy later, now is the time to eat it, cook it, dry it or turn it into apple butter, apple sauce, apple chutney and many other delicious condiments. You might even try your hand at making your own apple cider vinegar.
For more apple recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit "Eat This Now," this column's companion blog, at <a href="http://pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com" target="_blank">pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com</a>.
I originally developed this sauce to go with seared foie gras, which I served atop thinly sliced and sauteed Gravenstein apples. It's one of my all-time favorite dishes but something I can enjoy only when I am cooking outside of California, now that it is all but impossible to get foie gras here. But the sauce is delicious with other foods, especially rare salmon, grilled quail, roasted chicken and pork tenderloin. Adding baked or sauteed apples alongside is always a good idea.
<strong>A Simple Sauce for Salmon, Quail, Chicken and Pork</strong>
<em> Makes about ? cup</em>
2 cups apple juice
? cup organic apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
— Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter, chilled
Pour the apple juice and vinegar into a small saucepan, add the peppercorns and set over medium heat. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to about three-quarters cup. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. Strain the sauce into a cup, discard the peppercorns and return the sauce to the pan. Immediately before serving, set over low heat, add a pinch of salt, add the butter and swirl the pan gently until the butter just melts. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.