When the trees start to change colors on the East Coast, people trade city sidewalks for apple orchards. There, in air sweetly perfumed by ripe fruit, visitors pluck perfectly ripe Jonagold, juicy Macoun, or sour Almata apples off the boughs. Savoring crisp bites, hauling heaping baskets down to the barn for inspection, and sampling fresh-pressed cider and apple donuts is a seasonal rite of passage.
Re-creating this autumnal tradition in Colorado, however, is a daunting task. It's not for lack of apple trees—more than 30 orchards operate in the state—but because of our fickle weather. While many apple varieties thrive at high altitude, late spring frosts and storms wreak havoc on the fruits' fragile blossoms.
In April 2008, much of the crop was destroyed, leaving apple-loving Front Rangers with empty baskets. This year, farmers like Tony Ferrara of Penrose's Happy Apple Farms, skated through the worst of the spring storms, and Ferrara hopes that the warm, wet spring will mean that his farm's 2,500-plus trees will produce some 12,000 bushels earlier than usual. "The crop will start in August with the tart Jonathans," says Ferrara. "[But] the sweet apples need to stay on the trees longer to build up more sugar content, and will be ready in September and October."
That long season ensures that new varieties arrive each week. Jonathan and Gala ripen first and should be eaten quickly. Hardy latecomers, such as apple-pie favorites Rome and tart Granny Smith, last longer in the fridge or root cellar. And although we don't grow as many varieties as in the Northeast, many argue that the Centennial State's apples are crisper and sweeter. You can decide yourself at one of these pick-your-own orchards.