It's that lateral-management time of year. But unless you're an apple or pear farmer, this is about as important to you as doing your taxes early. All you need to know is that proper lateral management ensures efficient fruit production, focusing a tree's energy where it counts — building strong limbs and producing quality apples by trimming off excess branches.

Multiply that over hundreds of trees and you have a small mountain of apple wood, which up until recently might have been chipped into mulch and forgotten. Ha's Apple Farm is now selling its excess apple wood from its winter trim, packed into tidy, netted bags like prized mandarins.

You will buy a bag or two of Ha's apple wood — it's sold at multiple farmers markets including Pasadena, Hollywood, Silver Lake, Monrovia, Santa Monica and others. And then you will immediately dust off your charcoal grill, which frankly never should have gone dormant after Labor Day anyway. Jump-started with a few preheated briquettes, Ha's apple wood — which is cut to the perfect cooking size — burns slow and hot, simultaneously grilling and smoking your food with an almost Santa Maria-style kind of perfection. It turned a few New York steaks into Hitching Post-worthy slabs of smoky, buttery beef.

Yes, Santa Maria barbecue calls for a hot oak fire. Ha's apple wood provides the next best alternative and uses up a waste product of local farming in a most delicious way. Organically, no less, and all while providing an excellent excuse for starting a seasonal winter barbecue tradition. It's selling for $4 a bag and each bag fuels about two sessions with the grill.

Felicia Friesema is a Master Food Preserver with the UC Cooperative Extension and Co-Leader of Slow Food USA's Los Angeles chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaFriesema.

LA Weekly