Even a pie therapist needs professional development. Or maybe there's just no nicer way to spend a Sunday afternoon than bumping along in the back of a pickup truck, perched on a hay bale, out to pick fresh apples for a pie.
Tipped off by a friend who lives in Petaluma and knows my fondness for (one might say obsession with) pie, I headed out to the rolling hills of rural Sonoma last weekend, joining 19 other local pie enthusiasts for Two Rock Ranch's Orchard to Oven Pie Workshop, a three-hour event hosted by ranch owner and orchardist Kathy Tresch and taught by chef, caterer, and blogger Meloni Courtway.
Two Rock Ranch has been in the Tresch family since 1905, when the family of Kathy's husband Joe started it as 300-acre dairy farm. Over the years, they added to the farm piece and piece, and it now stretches across some 2000 acres. The dairy was certified organic in 1995, the second (after Straus) organic dairy in California. Straus Organic Creamery has kindly donated the butter for all the classes, making our pies truly local, since the Tresch dairy supplies nearly two-thirds of the milk processed by Straus.
Kathy's pet project now is Olympia's Orchard, 8 acres of fruit trees spread out over several fenced-in parcels throughout the farm. Since 2004, she's planted some 500 trees, with over 50 varieties of apples alone. Many of them are hard-to-find antique and heirloom types, such as Cox's Orange Pippin and Kidd's Orange Red, along with newer varieties like Freedom, Pink Pearl, and Gold Rush, all chosen especially for the area's mild climate, so unlike the icy winters that many of the more common East Coast varieties (Macintosh, Macoun) require. The trees, planted on dwarfing rootstock and farmed organically, are charmingly petite, laden with fruit that all but drops into our hands. Pick 10 each, Kathy tells us, and it's nearly impossible to stop plucking the fat bright-red Jonathans, tart-sweet and perfect for pies.