I grew up right next door to Johnny Appleseed.
Admittedly it was several hundred years apart, but my Massachusetts hometown, Fitchburg, was right next to Leominster, birthplace of John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman. As a child I imagined Mr. Appleseed bringing the blessing of apple pie to settlers throughout the country. Come to find out later that Chapman was an arborist, but mainly a seriously wacky wanderer. The apple varieties he encouraged were for making hard cider as much as for eating or baking. Folks knew better than to drink the water.
Apple trees were everywhere in my town — in backyards, in the middle of the woods and on the edges of parking lots. As a kid I would just grab apples off branches — mainly Macintosh, take a bite and toss the rest. They were crisp and cool with a blast of nicely tart juice.
I’ve become fond of Colorado’s Jonathan apples — good for eating and cooking and designated as a Slow Food heirloom apple varietal. Colorado was once a major player in the American apple world with orchards along the Front Range shipping the state’s crop east by rail. Colorado’s apples even won gold medals at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. But apples have been in steady decline since then as a Colorado crop, and the state is now more famous for peaches and melons.
There has also been a steep decline in apple diversity. Experts estimate that in 1910 more than 15,000 varieties of apples were grown in the United States. That has decreased to fewer than about 500 now and most Americans only eat a few varieties including the poorly named Delicious apple, the serviceable Granny Smith and the forgettable Gala. The Honeycrisp is the first “hit” apple variety to sweep into the produce marketplace in many years and still usually is the most expensive apple available.
Some of the many missing apples — the crisp, the tart, the soft and the wine-y — were available last Saturday under classic fall sunny blue skies at the Boulder County Farmers Market.
A large assortment of end of the season Western Slope apples were available at the big Ela Family Farms booth including Jonathans, Macintosh and Honeycrisp. I was especially charmed by the balanced flavor of the Esepus Spitzenberg, a rare heirloom apple that was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Another great one is the Empire, a nice eating apple that is ideal for salads and fresh dishes because the flesh stays white much longer before oxidizing and turning brown.
Over at the Masonville Orchards booth, numerous rare and heirloom varieties are offered from growers in Weld and Larimer counties that collectively raise more than 200 varieties of apples. I really liked the Eve apple (really, that’s the name), a Braeburn relative ideal for cooking and baking uses where you want apple slices to retain their shape. Most Macintoshes, for instance, turn into apple sauce. I was especially thrilled to find the Winesap, the variety many of us think is the most nearly perfect apple for pies with a perfectly balanced flavor.
It’s been a good year for fruit, and other Boulder County farmers are also offering fresh apples at the markets and at their farm stands and orchards.
There are only three Saturday markets left plus the Winter Market Dec. 3 and 4 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. Bring your kids and have them taste a bunch of varieties so they understand at an early age that apples are a world of flavors. When you find a farmer offering great fresh apples, invest in a case and stock up. Store the apples in the refrigerator or a cool place. While you are shopping grab your “keepers:” potatoes, root vegetables, a dozen kinds of garlic, onions and wonderful winter squashes.
You can add a grated apple to your cole slaw. Slice them into the pan when you roast pork or chicken. Core and peel a whole apple, wrap it in pie dough after filling it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and bake. Make apple and cheddar cheese quesadillas in a buttered frying pan. Stuff a whole chicken or a kabocha winter squash with chopped fresh apples and roast. Or juice them for a sip of the true essence of autumn.
Just make me one promise that you’ll try A.B.R.D. — Anything But Red Delicious.
We Have a Winner: East Boulder County
Pick up a copy of the fresh East County Best of Boulder 2016 edition or check it out at boulderweekly.com. Reading through the winners and runners-up from Longmont and Lafayette to Niwot, Erie and Louisville, it is tastefully clear that there’s a culinary boom going on outside the foodie confines of the City of Boulder.
You have to come to Lafayette for places like The Post and Pho Café, to Louisville for Spice China, Busaba and Moxie Bread Co., and to Longmont for Rosario’s Peruvian Restaurant, the Cheese Importers Warehouse French café, and Rosalee’s Pizza. There’s also a world of barbecue joints, pizzerias, coffee roasters, breweries and distilleries. By the way, the Best New Restaurant winner is Erie’s 24 CARROT BISTRO, plus city winners Hefe’s Tacos (Longmont), Pica’s Taqueria (Louisville), the 1914 House (Niwot), and honorable mention to 740 Front (Louisville).
Thanksgiving Horror Stories Wanted
What is the worst or funniest thing that ever happened to you while cooking Thanksgiving dinner? I’ve dropped my share of turkeys and recovered. Email your Thanksgiving dinner disaster memories to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know if I can share them in an upcoming column, anonymously if the public shame would be too much for you.
Taste of the Week
The Butchers Breakfast Burrito at Boulder’s Blackbelly Market is one beautiful handheld bundle of tasty only available mornings on the meat market side of Hosea Rosenberg’s eatery. A warm flour tortillas wraps fluffy eggs, roasted green chilies and high-class tater tots with a secret ingredient, the butcher’s choice of chunks of smoked, roasted or grilled meat and sausages. Pass the salsa, please.
Words to Chew On
“My grandmother’s paring knife goes slicing through the rings and they become apple pies, apple cakes, apple crisp. Soon they will be married to butter and live with cinnamon and sugar, happily ever after.” — Joyce Sutphen
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays at 8:25 a.m. on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org).