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Fear and Pies: Julian Is a Welcome Escape from the City

Exploring mines and eating Moms apple pie in the historic mountain town

By Troy Johnson

“He was the first employee I ever fired,” says Anita Nichols, pointing at her son, Teak.

Teak explains himself. He was young. The ovens were terribly hot. He had a potty mouth. So mom canned him. He went to college, cleaned up his diction, and came back to Julian. Now he runs Moms with his mom.

It’s a Wednesday. Julian is a ghost town. It’s 70 degrees. Annoyingly perfect. We’re here to do a little video project with the San Diego Tourism Authority. As a native, I’ve come to Julian at least once a year to see snow, eat pie, drink cider, and time travel. It moves slow here. The sun takes two days to make it across the sky. First snow of every year, Southern Californians arrive in droves to see what snow looks like. They talk too fast and drive too fast. Julian helps ease them out of their addiction to bustle.

We take a tour of the only place in San Diego County where the gold rush hit. A man with a mustache leads us into a door in a mountain. It’s awesome, and creepy. It was built by two men in the 1800s. They must’ve been short little fellas. They would make four feet of progress every day. There’s a little nook where the dynamite man would hide. Light his stick, toss it, and hide. Sounds safe. The guide explains you’ll never see him in the middle of the tour group. He’s always first or last. He has a healthy respect for the prospect of mountains falling.

Anyway. This is a food blog, so back to the pie. Anita Nichols founded Moms in 1984. Smells like nutmeg and warm spices in here. The wallpaper is very Laura Ingalls. She’d trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Canada. She is one of the nicest, warmest people I’ve met. Someone on Facebook saw my video with her, said they knew her in high school, and she was the sweetest person back then, too. First snow, there’ll be a line out the door, down the block.

She walks me through making a dumpling. Grabs a whole, peeled-and-cored apple, lays it in the center of a sheet of dough. She throws two pats of butter down the apple hole, sprinkles some cinnamon, pinches it up like a little present, sprinkles large chunks of sugar, brushes it with more butter to brown the outside, and puts it in the oven.

We eat it a la mode. It’s expletive delicious. Guess when you do something for 24 years you get pretty good at it.

Fear and Pies: Julian Is a Welcome Escape from the City

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