The signs said “closed” at most Green Bluff farms, but the parking lots were filled with cars and buses as almost 400 volunteers descended for the final pick of the season.
The pickers gathered about 39,000 pounds of fruit from about a dozen orchards on a cool but sunny Halloween day for the Second Harvest food banks – apples that will help feed hungry families in the Inland Northwest and beyond.
The effort, in its third year, started with the Rotary Club of Spokane-West and its president, Bob Slyter.
Slyter said he first had the idea for a volunteer harvest when he lived in Colorado. During his recovery from surgery, he took a walk each day on a trail that carried him past a beautiful apple tree. Slyter said the red fruit was so enticing that he thought each day about reaching out to grab one.
“Then over the course of that month, all of them fell on the ground and rotted,” he said.
He tried to organize a backyard harvest there, but ran into roadblocks. Later, he and his wife moved to the Spokane area so she could take a job at Eastern Washington University. He tried again when the Spokane Rotary Club he’d joined began looking for a “dirty hands” project.
Slyter said when he approached Second Harvest about the idea, Rod Wieber, director of donor and community affairs, told him they had long been looking for volunteers to help with an end of the season harvest at Green Bluff.
Together they worked with the Green Bluff Direct Marketing group and then-president Lloyd Thorson to recruit orchards willing to donate fruit.
In 2007, that first year, 24 Rotarians and their families helped pick fruit for the food bank. They gathered 7,000 pounds of fruit.
After seeing the volunteer effort, other growers brought their surplus fruit to the food bank and pushed the donations up to 14,000 pounds.
“But I left the orchard that day with a sense of failure because there was so much fruit that we couldn’t reach,” Slyter said.
Over the next year, he began recruiting other groups to help, making presentations to other Rotary clubs, Rotaract, Lions and Kiwanis.
By the time it was harvest season again, Slyter had almost 300 volunteers in the wings ready to help. He even had to turn a few groups away, but with the extra helping hands they gleaned more than 60,000 pounds of fruit in just four hours last year.
Thorson said the volunteer harvest is a great way to get the fruit that isn’t sold to hungry families.
“I don’t think any of us up here want fruit to fall on the ground and be wasted. So what better can you do than to give it to the Second Harvest so that they can get it to people who need it, and there are quite a few people who need it,” Thorson said.
He worried that the October cold snap would put a damper on this year’s harvest, because it ruined so much produce. Pickers said it was difficult to find good fruit among the mushy apples, but enjoyed the hunt on a blue-sky fall morning.
Russell Werkman and his two boys, 11-year-old Isaac and 8-year-old Xander, took turns tossing fruit from the tree to waiting hands below for inspection.
The Werkman family moved to Spokane two months ago from New York so Russell could take a job as the head of upper school at St. George’s.
“OK. This is a weird one, but …” Isaac said, tossing a small Red Delicious apple down to his dad.
They used the rotten apples for target practice and made jokes about re-creating another Isaac’s discovery.
“It’s really frustrating when you drop a good apple,” Russell Werkman said.
St. George’s School families, students from Gonzaga University’s Coughlin Hall, and volunteers from Thrivent Financial, Northern Quest Casino and others joined the Rotarians and other service clubs at this year’s harvest. They were fueled by coffee from Perkins and discount goodies from WinCo Foods.
Second Harvest’s Wieber says the fruit will be distributed throughout its network of food banks and meal sites, including 100 in Spokane County and 275 in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
The need is still growing fast. Wieber said one site in the West Central neighborhood had 200 new clients in September alone.
Among the more alarming statistics in a recent survey of clients is how many people get fresh fruits and vegetables during an average week.
Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed in Spokane County said they get just one serving of produce on an average day. Another 11 percent said they don’t get any fruits or vegetables.
Slyter gives the community and volunteers the credit for making his idea work here.
“I got it going because there are a lot of concerned people in Spokane who wanted it,” he said.
And he hasn’t given up on the original idea for harvesting backyard trees. He’ll be working with Washington State University Extension Master Gardeners on the program this year.
Here are some apple recipes to enjoy for the season, including apple crisp two ways. Jan Thorson, Lloyd’s wife, shared her favorite crisp recipe as did Jerri Horton from Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels, which will get some of the fruit from Saturday’s harvest.
There are also recipes from “Cookin’ on the Bluff for 100 Years.” It can be purchased at the Grange for $14.95. To order by mail, send a check made out to Green Bluff Grange No. 300, 18825 N. Dunn Road, Colbert, WA 99005, plus $3 shipping for each book.
For more information e-mail DDavisP@aol.com. Proceeds from book sales go to scholarships at the Grange.
Thorson’s Apple Crisp
From Jan Thorson, of Thorson’s Country Farm and Nursery at Green Bluff. She said this recipe is from an old farm journal that she adapted over the years.
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups quick oats
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoon vanilla
Sliced apples (use Jonagolds, Spartans, McIntosh, Fuji or other tart pie apples)
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon tapioca
Whisk together flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Separately, mix melted butter, oil and vanilla. Combine butter mixture with flour and oats and stir until combined.
Oil the bottom of a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Thinly slice apples over the crust until the pan is pretty full.
Combine sugar, cornstarch and tapioca and sprinkle over the top of the apples. Top with remaining oatmeal mixture and press it down. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about an hour. Serve warm with a little bit of ice cream.
Thorson said the crisp also freezes well. She cuts it into squares and freezes them on a cookie sheet. When the pieces are frozen, she puts them into zip-top freezer bags. Then they can be taken out one at a time for dessert.
Yield: 12 servings
This recipe is from Jerri Horton, the chef at Valley Meals on Wheels kitchen. She prepares 300 to 400 meals per day for senior centers throughout Spokane County and for home delivery to elderly or disabled shut-ins in Spokane Valley.
For the filling:
10 medium Granny Smith apples
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Lemon juice, optional
For the topping:
3 cups yellow cake mix (dry)
1 cube (1/4 cup) butter
Cut the apples into even slices no more than 1/4-inch thick. If you like a chunkier pie, cut the apples into 1/2-inch cubes. To ensure the apples bake evenly and completely, the pieces all should be cut to the same size.
Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the sugar-flour mixture. If you’re using a sweeter variety of apple, add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor.
The flour in the mixture will mix with the juices of the apple to form a thick cinnamon sauce for the apples to stew in as they bake. This filling can also be made using frozen sliced or cubed apples.
Transfer the filling to a 9- by 13-inch pan. Sprinkle with the yellow cake mix and shave the cube of butter over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with ice cream or whipped topping.
Yield: 12 servings
From the National Center for Home Food Preservation, www.uga.edu/nchfp. Use Jonathan, Winesap, Stayman, Golden Delicious, Macintosh or other tasty apple varieties for good results.
8 pounds apples
2 cups apple cider
2 cups vinegar
2 1/4 cups white sugar
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
Wash, remove stems, quarter and core fruit. Cook slowly in cider and vinegar until soft. Press through a colander, food mill or strainer.
Cook fruit pulp with sugar and spices, stirring frequently. To test for doneness, remove a spoonful and hold it away from steam for 2 minutes. It is done if the butter remains mounded on the spoon.
Another way to determine when the butter is cooked adequately is to spoon a small quantity onto a plate. When a rim of liquid does not separate around the edge of the butter, it is ready for canning.
Fill sterile half-pint or pint jars with the hot butter, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process jars for 5 minutes for elevations up to 1,000 feet; 10 minutes for elevations of 1,001 to 6,000 feet; and 15 minutes for elevations above 6,000 fee.
Yield: About 8 to 9 pints
From “Cookin’ on the Bluff: 100 Years 1909-2009” from the Green Bluff Grange. This recipe was submitted by Karen Carter.
4 tart apples
2 cans refrigerated crescent roll dough
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 small can (6 ounces) Mountain Dew, Sprite or Mellow Yellow
Peel and core apples; cut into 4 slices each. Roll each apple slice in a crescent roll. Place in a 9- by 13-inch buttered pan.
Melt butter, then add sugar and barely stir. Add vanilla, stir. Pour over apples. Pour pop around the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve with ice cream and spoon some of the sauce from pan over the top.
Yield: 8 servings
Apple and Honey Whole Wheat Bread
From “Cookin’ on the Bluff: 100 Years 1909-2009” from the Green Bluff Grange. This recipe was submitted by Lloy McGee.
2 tablespoons yeast
2 cups warm water, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup apple butter
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 eggs beaten (optional)
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees) in a bowl with sugar. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water, apple butter, butter, honey and salt. Add the eggs, if desired.
Beat in whole wheat flour, 1 cup at a time, and enough other flour to make a stiff, workable dough. Knead and let rise until double. Punch down.
Divide into 2 equal parts. Braid each half. Place in loaf pans; sprinkle with cornmeal. Let rise until double.
Brush with egg and water mixture. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until done. Cool on racks.
Yield: 2 loaves
Roast Pork with Apples
From “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker,” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann
1 (3- to 4-pound) pork loin roast, boned and tied, trimmed of fat and blotted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 7 tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1/4 cup apple juice, fruity wine or champagne
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
11/2 teaspoons ground ginger
Preheat broiler. Season the pork roast with salt and pepper and place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Brown on all sides under the broiler (or in a skillet over high heat) to remove excess fat; drain well.
Coat a medium to large slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Put the apple quarters in the cooker and set the roast on top of them. Combine the apple juice, brown sugar and ginger in a small bowl and spoon over the roast, rubbing it all over.
Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour. Reduce the setting to LOW and cook until fork tender, about 7-8 hours.
Transfer the pork to a warm platter and let rest 10 minutes. Slice and serve warm. Serve apples alongside.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings