Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Roxbury Russets

November 25, 2013

Tags: apples, empanadas, Bainbridge Island, local farms, sustainable living, fruit trees, heritage, Secret Spring Farm, Sweetlife Farm.

Empanadas made with Roxbury Russet apple filling.
The Farmers Market decamped for the season, taking down their white pavilions and moving from colorful vegetables and squash to more sensible potatoes and other root vegetables. A few farmers continue to sell in the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church community room, and even fewer brave open tents in the parking lot.

Now is the time to buy homemade preserves and dolls, wood products, and other goods that are made by hand. Now is the time to be thankful for our harvest and lower our sunlight expectations, the hardest thing for me.

We recently finished the last peas I picked and froze this summer when Nancy Fortner declared an emergency of Too Many Peas at Sweetlife Farm. I’ve put the raised garden I use next door to bed, to dream of the crows and squirrels and songbirds, the bees and moths and butterflies, and yes, the deer, that will visit it next year.

In October, I stopped by the Secret Spring Farm stand at the market. They had some interesting-looking apples for sale, and I asked about them. “These are the oldest American apples,” said Felix. “Roxbury Russet.”

I knew they were not, since there are crabapples indigenous to the Northwest, but I didn’t want to start an argument. I tasted a slice. The apple tasted green and earthy, a little mineral. “Nice,” I said. “I’ll take a couple of pounds.” That worked out to four apples of varying sizes.

The Roxbury Russet was probably brought to the farm by Felix and Eric’s great-grandfather, Frank Williams, who homesteaded the place near Rolling Bay. The apple trees were planted in 1920. Felix and Eric are cousins, and they are married to sisters Sola and Maia. And now there is baby Aime. They all look very young.

At home, I sliced up the apples, peels and all, and cooked them with a little cinnamon, sugar and water. I rolled out dough and cut rounds to fill with apple before baking them until brown. I saved out a couple of empanadas, which we ate immediately, and mailed the rest to my son for his birthday.

We enjoyed ours, so I hope he enjoyed his. We are grateful for the bounty of the island, and happy to share it beyond its shores. I’m glad that Frank Williams’s great-grandsons, who grew up in California, decided to come to Bainbridge and revive his farm. There are neglected fruit trees in every neighborhood, food that could be gathered and shared. Maybe we will figure out a way to do that in the future.


  1. October 23, 2014 5:04 PM PDT
    Hi Kathleen!
    I just happened across your blog post, and thought I'd follow up.

    I'm glad you enjoyed our Roxbury Russets, and the empanadas sound delicious. We've enjoyed this year's bounty in pies, apple sauce and fresh cider. They are world-class pie apples.

    I would have been delighted at the correction — oldest American apples — and you're certainly correct. I've never managed to try any of the Pacific Crabapples that are native here. So I'll issue a correction: Roxbury Russet is the oldest apple cultivated in the United States. It remains a wonderful apple, one of our favorites.

    Secret Spring Farm
    - Anonymous
  2. October 23, 2014 7:28 PM PDT
    Thanks for checking in, Felix! I have yet to taste any of the Pacific crabapples myself, although I haven't been looking too hard. I went to a wonderful conference in September, "Our Food is Our Medicine," put on annually by the Northwest Indian College in Bellingham. I need to write about this exploration of native foods. Have a great fall.
    - Kathleen Alcala
With Cowichan Elder Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester at the The Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods and Ecological Knowledge Symposium


Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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