Since I was a kid on my grandpa’s ranch, harvest time in the orchards brought a deep, visceral joy and sense of security and well-being to my normally complicated life. Maybe it was passed down because my great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ very livelihoods as young pioneers depended on a successful harvest, or maybe it was later in their lives; the smiles I saw on their faces when all the grandkids dropped out of the trees, and came running up with sticky fingers, and juice-smeared cheeks and baskets full of apricots, peaches, plums, and apples, bragging on their bounty. Or maybe it was the aftermath of afternoons spent preserving the fruit with my mom and grandma, or being the 4th generation of bakers to learn Granny’s rare pie baking techniques. (My friends, now-a-days, look at me like the Lochness monster or Sasquatch when I tell them that the pie they are eating is made from scratch-made pie dough). Or maybe it is my final memories as a 17 year old teenager, gathering the blackberry harvest along the creek banks in Oak Creek Canyon with my aunt and bringing them back to my Grandma, and letting her teach me to make a blackberry cobbler while I tried to ignore the scarf covering her head, and the frailness of her once strong hands, and the scars where the chemo needles had torn through her arms, and instead chose to breathe in the fresh pine air of the Arizona mountains, the musty sweet odor of the wood floors in my Granny’s log cabin, and the sweet, tart, bubbling aroma of the blackberries cooking in the oven, and smile at the rarely heard giggles from my aunt and grandma making a mess with flour, while my Grandpa waited impatiently for one of our final deserts made by my strong, sweet, resilient Grandma before stage 4 pancreatic cancer took her from us.
There is something about gathering your own harvest, straight from the vine or the tree limbs that connects us to the richness of the earth in that moment of contact. The gilded waxy facade of warehoused produce picked months ago cannot compare to the sweet, imperfect harvest that comes from local, organically grown fruits and veggies.
I remember my first born’s first encounter with a pear tree at my mom and dad’s house when he was 2 years old. My mom picked him a big juicy pear and he clung to that thing like he was John Elway rushing for the final 10 yards of a Super Bowl win..He ran across their yard, juice flying, taking bites every chance he got, making sure neither the dogs, nor his mama could catch him to steal away his bounty…and when he got to the core, he came back sticky faced, hands outstretched, asking for more…It became his daily routine, that entire month of September, 10 years ago. I don’t know why harvest time engrains memories such as these in me, but they are precious, and every time my kitchen is filled with the toasty, sweet aroma of fruit simmering in a golden pastry in my oven, these sweet monuments in my life come flooding back, and I remember that as chaotic as life can be, it is also full of peaceful, warm, nourishing moments of life, and bounty, and provision, and in that moment I breathe in gratitude alongside the smells of delicious pie…
When Wegman’s asked me to create a dinnerware collection specifically for Harvest season, we were having an amazing bounty of fruit harvested here in Arizona thanks to a wet summer and a merciful frost-free spring. It was also a somewhat scary time in our world and nation, and I was reminded that my family planted some of the first orchards in southern Arizona in the late 19th/ early 20th century and because of that, they were able to feed scores of starving neighbors and migrant workers during the Great Depression. It just made creating this collection and planting more of my own gardens and fruit trees simultaneously all the more inspired and peace inducing. I hope you can see the love and inspiration that went into these fall collections, and I couldn’t be more proud to create the designs for a family owned company like Wegman’s that has made it’s place as one of the nation’s top grocers, on a foundation of family, customer service, hard work, ethical business practice, respect for the land and it’s people, and the finest produce that they can source or grow themselves. I couldn’t be more proud to share my Harvest Garden story with them, and with you, their customers. What are some of your harvest memories? Here are a few of mine:
I will try and share some of my Granny’s pie pastry secrets later on this season, but for now, enjoy this easy Apple Tart recipe using puff pastry and my own harvested apples. It is guaranteed to impress your friends, and is a super quick desert.
Apple Puff Pastry Tarts
- 1 package (2 sheets) of frozen puff pastry square sheets
- 5 large apples or 7-9 small firm, tart baking apples (Granny Smith if store bought or something along Winesap, Gala, or Honeycrisp if grown in your backyard orchard)
- 1 orange zested, save 1/2 of the orange’s juice to add to the fruit mixture.
- 1.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- light sprinkling of Cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon?) Go very easy on it for this recipe, especially if using home grown tart apples, let them speak for themselves without overspicing.
- Even lighter sprinkling of nutmeg (like 1 quick shake of the bottle)
- 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup of flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar. + 3 tbsp to sprinkle on folded pastries
- 2 tbsp of butter
- 1 egg white mixed with 2 tbsp of cream, half and half, or milk.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Defrost pastry, but keep cold.
- Using a handy-dandy apple pealer/corer/slicer gadget (or your own two hands and a small paring knife) peal, core, and thinly slice apples. (we want them to cook fairly quickly as the puff pastry browns within 25-30 minutes.
- Add sliced apples quickly to the Apple cider vinegar and orange juice to prevent browning. Toss them in the juice.
- Add in Vanilla, orange zest, and sprinkling of Cinnamon and Nutmeg (remember, do not overspice).
- Add in Flour and Sugar and mix together.
- Roll out pastry sheets and cut into 9 squares per sheet. Use flour on board and rolling pin to keep from sticking.
- On a greased baking sheet, fill each square with a heaping tablespoon of apple filling, only in the center. Add a small dollop of butter on top. Brush each corner and side of square with egg wash, and fold up, meeting the corners into the center and pinch sides together.
- Space out 9 tarts per baking pan. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with more sugar.
- Bake 25-30 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden (Start checking around the 20 minute marker.
- With a spatula remove from baking sheet. Tarts are best served warm and flaky but will be delicious the following day as well.