Last weekend, we drove up to Apple Hill. Nestled in the Sierra foothills of El Dorado County, Apple Hill was born of necessity. The rich soil around the tiny community of Camino was a major producer of California pears. Some sixteen or so orchards flourished in the area around the turn of the century. But by the early 1960s the pear farmers were struggling – their crops depleting and earning a living was nearly impossible. The farmers began growing apples, and formed the Apple Hill Growers Association as a way to support one another. In 1964, a weekend festival was held to celebrate the harvest and drawn tourists up from the cities. Apple Hill expected about 4,000 people to visit the small farms that first year. An estimated 10,000 visitors showed up. Today, Apple Hill is a major tourist attraction, with over 50 growers, Christmas Tree Farms and wineries in the area. It’s a beautiful drive from the central valley, especially if you ditch Highway 50 and meander along back roads through the Mother Load instead. In addition to the many apples, baked goods and eateries, there are local artists, stocked trout ponds and picturesque picnic areas. It’s a day of old-fashioned family fun, with a carnival like atmosphere, if you don’t mind the long lines of traffic on the tiny two-lane roads and the crowds everywhere. Although a big tourist draw, the growers didn’t pave over the orchards in favor of parking lots.
If you insist upon parking on asphalt, you can always park in Placerville and take a shuttle up to the hill. However, most visitors find parking in the orchards part of the fun. Hubby, Kiddo and I like to get an early start to beat the masses, and we always make it a point to have a fresh Apple Fritter with a cup of warm cider for breakfast.
Last weekend’s simplicity brings me to this weekend’s rant. Hubby and I rose early this morning and headed off to the market with our shopping list in hand. I love to cook. Years gone by, doing the weekly marketing was a source of inspiration. Come across a nice roast, and my mind began to swirl with ideas. Now when I walk through the meat section, most of what I see isn’t very inspiring – and it’s no wonder people don’t know how to cook these days. The pork roasts are all uniformed in size, in nice little one pound packages sealed in their own marinades. Steaks are already rubbed with seasoning. And let’s talk instant sides. There are buckets of mashed potatoes ready at the deli counter. Macaroni salads, potato salads, trays of deviled eggs and pre-made sandwiches. And don’t even get me started on the availability of “home-made” dinners in the frozen food ales. Okay, I get it – convenience in this day of working families, with long hours and busy schedules is important. I’ll admit it, sometimes the convenience of a commercially prepared supper is a necessity on a hectic weeknight. However; what truly frustrates me is that “from scratch” ingredients are becoming more and more scarce. To make a simple meal from scratch sometimes requires stops at two or three markets. When you only have one day off, and you want to spend a few hours joyfully creating in the kitchen, you don’t always have the time (or desire) to drive all over town for ingredients that aren’t canned, frozen or blended. Is that so much to ask? Once upon a time there were butcher shops that didn’t force you to buy an entire side of beef to get a good cut of meat. Once upon a time, you could stop by your local bakery early in the morning for some fresh-baked goods. And the produce section smelled of fresh fruits. You shopped seasonally and planned accordingly. Now we have gluten-free, fat-free, homogenized byproducts of what use to be real food. Today you can get a pot roast complete with all the vegetables on a Styrofoam tray all neatly wrapped in plastic shrink-wrap. Just unwrap and toss it into a pot. In the mood for kabobos? You’ll find them already skewered with vegetables. All you need do is turn on a gas grill and there you go. Cookie dough is sold in the dairy section – just slice a bake. (I can’t help but wonder about all the fun family bonding that is lost in the process. Sure, slice a bake is great when you are in the mood for warm cookies without all the mess, but as a child the mess was half the fun!)
The other night on Public Television, they aired a program designed to teach people (adults – this wasn’t a kid’s show) how to plan a meal and read a recipe. Really? Read a recipe! I once overheard a co-worker apologizing to her college-student daughter because she had to work late and hadn’t made dinner yet. Let me tell you, I could be gone for days, and Kiddo wouldn’t go hungry in a kitchen stocked with “real” food just waiting to be cooked. Kiddo’s been in the kitchen whipping up wonderful meal since he first learned how to drag a kitchen stool up to the counter.
It’s not enough to buy real ingredients, we need to teach our children what to do with them. And that’s time well spent together. Some of my fondest memories are moments in the kitchen with Dad. My sisters and I are all accomplished cooks. As adults, we enjoy spending time together in the kitchen.
Tonight I’m taking back our Sunday with a nice apple-stuffed roast chicken, fresh, creamy mashed potatoes, home-baked dinner rolls (Kiddo keeps checking on the progress of the “rise” every time he wants through the kitchen – anxious for some warm, buttery rolls), corn on the cob and a dutch apple pie. Heck, I might just need to break out my vintage rose china!