A couple of weekends ago a friend from the East Coast suggested we go apple picking. That set me to dreaming. Steaming pies. Robust cider. Chilly afternoons in upstate New York. But mostly, I imagined, the crunchy, sweet-and-sour flavor of straight-from-the-tree apples. Ahh, sure, I’d like to go apple picking, but this friend, I thought, must be delusional. We live in Colorado–the state of peaches, cantaloupe, and wine grapes. But now, two weeks later–after several trips to the grocery store–I must confess I was wrong. Last week, my grocery bags carried home Colorado Jonathans, and this week, I stocked up on Jonagolds. Apples, although only grown on about 1,000 acres of Colorado land, are currently the second most produced fruit in the state.
“We grow great fruit [in Colorado],” says Steve Ela, of Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss. “We have mountain-desert climate–with hot days and cool nights–clean air, and water from mountain snow pack. We don’t grow big apples but they’re full of color and flavor.” Like most states trying to meet consumer demand, Colorado farmers grow mostly Gala and Fugi apples. These breeds have a long shelf-storage life, but the state’s prized apples are Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and Jonagold. Available only for a two- to three-week period during September and October (and on rare occasion in November), these delicate apples recall the simple truth of Colorado apple history. Fresh Colorado Golden Delicious–far from the prematurely harvested mush available in today’s grocery stores–have a crispy, light bite. Our Jonathans, a Slow Food-designated heirloom variety, are roundly tart, and the refreshing Jonagolds, a blend of these two historic apples, have a pleasant but sharp flavor. So, my East Coast friend, I offer my humblest apologies and wonder, where should we go to pick apples? (If you don’t go apple picking, buy Colorado apples locally at Whole Foods Market, Marczyk’s Fine Foods, Spinelli’s Market, City Park Esplanade Fresh Market, or the Boulder Farmers Market.)