7 Fall Flavors in Sonoma County (And Where to Find Them)
Some aspects of autumn get a lot of attention: That crisp coolness in the air, the heady scent of pumpkin spice, the thrilling sight of deep red, orange and yellow trees. But what about the tastes of fall? From produce to baked treats and beverages, here are some of the most beloved autumn flavors we celebrate here in Sonoma County, in all their delicious seasonal glory.
With a harvest season that spans August through November, apples are essentially at the, um, core of Fall cuisine in Sonoma County. In addition to our very own thin-skinned, early-ripening Gravenstein apples (affectionately called "Gravs") and their delicate cousin the Winterstein, area orchards grow hardier varieties like Rome Beauty, Northern Spy, Granny Smith, MacIntosh, and Fuji.
To chase the sweet, crisp taste of apples this Fall, follow the Sonoma County Apple Trail to Sebastopol-area orchards like Walker Apples, Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch and Gold Ridge Organic Farms. Also in Sebastopol, EARTHseed Farms invites visitors to pick apples on autumn Saturdays, while Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma welcomes apple pickers on Sundays throughout the season.
Many Apple Trail orchards — as well as area farmers markets — sell goodies like apple sauce, apple pies, and apple butter. A slice of the apple action can also be found at bakeries like Mom's Apple Pie in Sebastopol, which makes a double-crust Gravenstein pie from August to November.
Prefer your apples in liquid form? Visit Sonoma County cider houses such as Tilted Shed Ciderworks and Golden State Cider, which make hard ciders from locally grown apples, both harvested and foraged. Area ciders range from bone dry to sweet, and unfiltered to effervescent.
With its sweet, honeyed bite, the yellow-and-red-skinned Bartlett pear is an autumn favorite in Sonoma County — but enjoying one requires a little strategy. Bartletts easily get mushy if left to ripen on their trees, so instead, they're picked when hard and green, roughly three weeks before they're ready. To ripen, they should be left in a dark, cool place, none of them touching. Once ripe, they'll have a perfectly sunny taste of Fall ... for all of about 24 hours.
If you plan to make something with them — a pear tart, baked pears, pear sauce or preserves — then go ahead and buy Bartletts in bulk. If you just want a few to munch on throughout the season, though, be sure to stagger your purchasing so that you don't end up with a whole bushel of mushy pears.
For some of the best pears in Sonoma County, visit Oak Hill Farm and its Red Barn Store in Glen Ellen, the Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch in Sebastopol, and Preston Farm & Winery in Healdsburg. Or swing by the Occidental Community Farmers Market on Fridays (through October) to try the pears from Rainbow's End Farm.
Try seasonal delights like the Pear Bruschetta and baked-pear desserts from Sebastopol's Flavor Bistro. Or for treats that spread beyond the season, try the Pear & Ginger Jam and Unsweetened Pear Butter from Petaluma's Lala's Jam Bar and Urban Farmstand, and the Egyptian Bread (made with pears, figs, and ginger) at Wild Flour Bread in Freestone.
Persimmon trees lose their leaves early in the Fall, so it's easy to spot their pendulous (and delicious) sunset-orange to ochre-yellow fruits in orchards throughout Sonoma County.
In Sonoma County, you'll find two varieties of persimmons: The squat, rounded Fuyu can be eaten while still firm and crisp, while the oval, elongated Hachiya should be eaten only when fully soft. When both kinds are ripe, their textures and tastes are akin to a brown-sugary cross between a mango and a plum. They can be enjoyed on their own, paired with soft cheeses, made into savory soups, and more.
Throughout the fall, Fuyu and Hachiya persimmons can be found at almost every Sonoma County farmers market (for instance, look for Front Porch Farm at the Healdsburg Farmers Market) and especially tasty dried persimmons can be found throughout the season at Side Road Farm (3116 Westside Road, Healdsburg — next to Twomey Cellars).
If you love the rich taste of pumpkin as much as we do, check out pumpkin patches in Sonoma County, such as Grandma's Pumpkin Patch in Healdsburg, Punky's Pumpkin Patch in Santa Rosa, PaPa's Pumpkin Patch in Sebastopol (set next door to Ratzlaff Ranch), and The Peter Pumpkin Patch in Petaluma. Pick a few pumpkins for making bread, soup, and/or pie, and roast and salt the seeds for snacking.
Olive harvest season in Sonoma County starts in late October, just as wine harvest is wrapping up. If olives will be used for oil, they're harvested early, while still green; if meant to be eaten, they're left to ripen more fully, usually turning a deeper green or purple-black. These Mediterranean delights can be enjoyed all year, but they're at their freshest in the Fall, when first milled or cured.
Varieties commonly found in Sonoma County include Leccino (sweet, spicy, and meaty); Arbequina (fruity); Pendolino (sweet then spicy, with aromas of roasted almonds and fresh grass); Casaliva (slightly fruity, a little bitter, with an olive leaf scent); and Maurino (bitter and spicy, with the scent of artichokes). Many of these varieties originated in Italy, just like Sonoma County's 19th-century grape farmers.
Many area wineries have their own olive mills and sell their own artisanal olive oils in their tasting rooms. Look for olives and olive oil at B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company and Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen; McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma; and DaVero Farms and Winery, Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Preston Farm & Winery and Trattore Farms Winery in Healdsburg.
Want to skip the wine part and go right to the olives and oil? Check out Figone's Olive Oil Company and The Olive Press in Sonoma. And for the perfect olive oil pairing, be sure to slice into some Olive Bread from Basque Boulangerie Cafe on Sonoma Plaza or Wild Flour Bread in Freestone.
Close your eyes and concentrate on thoughts of Fall. Taste cinnamon on your tongue? Yup, us too. It's the most autumnal spice we can imagine!
Sonoma County loves its cozy-season cinnamon. Don't miss Costeaux French Bakery's classic Cinnamon Walnut Bread or the Cinnamon Challah from Full Circle Bakery. And at Village Bakery, you don't have to choose between the Cinnamon Twists and the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl bread — you can have both.
Start off a morning at Dierk's Parkside Cafe or Dierk's Midtown Cafe with Grandma Dierk's Pull-A-Parts, fried bread goodness dusted with plenty of cinnamon and sugar that you can share with the whole gang (or not). Or pull apart some decadent Cinnamon Rolls from Johnny Doughnuts or Red Bird Bakery.
For a liquid warm-up, sip some Cinna-Bun Tea, made with cinnamon bark and chips, from Russian River Tea Company, the Cinnamon Orange Tea from Petaluma Coffee & Tea Co., or the cinnamon-y Thai Tea from Duncans Mills Tea Shop. If coffee's more your jam, treat yourself to a hot cup of joe laced with Retrograde Coffee Roasters' house-made cinnamon syrup. (You're welcome, in advance.)
Sure, this magical beverage is one of Sonoma County's top draws throughout the year, but these particular varieties all but beg to be enjoyed in Fall:
Pinot noir: The most-planted red in Sonoma County, light-bodied Pinot has earthy notes of ripe cherry, mushrooms, cloves, black tea, and rose petals. It's an ideal pairing for the whole Thanksgiving meal. Hundreds of Sonoma County wineries make great Pinot noir, but you could start with Joseph Swan, Rochioli, Gary Farrell, Littorai, Flowers, and Siduri.
Chenin Blanc: This zingy yet hearty white evokes golden apples, just-ripe pears, ginger and honey, with a grassy note of hay — which may as well describe a sunny Fall day in Sonoma County. Pair with pork chops and applesauce, squash, cheddar, or Southeast Asian cuisine. Try bottles from Leo Steen, Dry Creek Vineyard, and Aperture Cellars.
Carignane: Medium-bodied, rich, and smooth, with cinnamon on the nose and a palate of raspberry, cranberry, and smoked meat, pair this red wine with autumn stews, cured meats, dark-meat turkey, kombucha squash, and shitake mushrooms, adding savory herbs and exotic spices. Try bottles from Zo Wines and Ridge.
Grenache: Ripe cherry and raspberry meet notes of dried herbs and spices in this light red wine, which is best when chilled for 20 minutes. Pair with roasted delights like turkey, pork, and root veggies, and try bottles from Unti, Kokomo, and Meeker Vineyard.
Cabernet Franc: This medium-bodied red wine offers flavors and aromas of red and black fruits, bell pepper, pipe tobacco, and a hint of chili. Pair it with dishes that include mushrooms, black beans, and sausages. Find bottles at area wineries such as Leo Steen, Sunce, and Alexander Valley Vineyards.
Happy Fall, everyone!
Written by Melanie Wynne