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Article

Family Apple Farming, a Dwindling Trade

Fine Cooking Issue 53
Photos: Amy Albert
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There’s a rich history of apple farming in Sonoma County, California, but smaller, familyrun ranches are dwindling as wine grape growing eclipses fruit farming. Lee Walker and his wife, Shirley, own and run Walker Apples, a family business since the early 1900s. The Walkers grow 26 varieties that they sell to markets and at their farmstand. Gravenstein (a Sonoma trademark and “the very best pie apple,” says Lee) is one of their specialties, as are older, rarer varieties like Baldwin and Arkansas Black.

Morning coastal fog and moderate altitude go a long way toward growing the tastiest apples—but there’s another factor. “We do it all ourselves, so we take special care,” says Lee. “Shirley says I walk through the orchards so much, she figures I’ve named all the trees.”

York Imperials are checked for size by hand with a ring sizer. Both size and sugar content determine if an apple is ready for picking.
Lee Walker examines a drop of juice through a refractometer to measure sweetness. “The sugar concentration that determines ripeness differs depending on the variety,” he says.

John Walker picks Golden Delicious apples…
…while his wife, Cindy, hand packs Jonathans.

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