If you haven’t noticed it yet in the heat and haze of our prolonged summer, Boulder’s apple trees are in their ninth month. They are limb-breaking-ly heavy with fruit and the black bears are loving it.
Early rain, prolonged heat and lack of a killer freeze means an epic year for apples, and this is the big apple week in Boulder.
This week, the Boulder Apple Tree Project is tagging hundreds of historic heirloom trees while Community Fruit Rescue is harvesting backyard trees to supply food banks, and if you bring your home-harvested apples to BOCO Cider, they’ll transform them into delicious hard cider. You could also bake a pie.
How did Boulder end up so overloaded with apple trees?
That simple question inspired Katharine Suding—a University of Colorado professor and scientist—to form a multi-disciplinary team to answer it, says Amy Dunbar-Wallace, project coordinator for the Boulder Apple Tree Project.
Basically, if you now live in a neighborhood from North Boulder to south of Table Mesa, your front lawn used to be a fruit orchard. In the late 1800s, Colorado was famous for apples—not corn, melon, or peaches. The Depression, Prohibition, drought, disease, and development leveled most of the trees, but tough, old, gnarly survivors are still growing in plain sight all over town.
“We just took students to a couple of trees hidden behind a building on campus with tons of sweet apples on it,” Dunbar-Wallace says. “The students said, ‘I didn’t realize these were here.’ Sometimes people don’t look up into the tree canopy to see what’s there.”
Those are the kind of trees the Boulder Apple Tree Project wants to hear about, literally, today.
“Our goal is to identify and preserve these trees from the early days of Boulder orchards” Dunbar-Wallace says. “Trees only live about 80 to 100 years here, and many are coming to the end of their natural life.” About 10 percent die of old age every year.
The Project finds and tags trees, identifies the variety, and grafts some heirloom varieties to young rootstock to propagate them.
“One reason we propagate these trees is that they seem to do better against diseases. They’ve demonstrated the ability to survive in pretty rough conditions,” Dunbar-Wallace says.
The group has found numerous varieties, including examples of the original Delicious apple trees. “Unlike the commercial version, it’s one of the tastiest apples I’ve ever had. Not as red, but very juicy and not mealy,” she says.
These grizzled trees hang over ditches in North Boulder neighborhoods, on Open Space land, and along many trails.
“There are great trees particularly on South Mesa trails and on Marshall Mesa. Taste the apples,” Dunbar-Wallace says.
The Project maintains an interactive map that helps people find these trees while respecting the ones on private property. “There’s some really fascinating trees in Columbia Cemetery, including three by the grave of Eben G. Fine (of park fame) near the irrigation ditch he helped dig,” she says, adding a word of caution:
“Bears seem to really enjoy those trees, so watch out.”
So far, the Boulder Apple Tree Project has tagged more than 700 trees in Boulder County, a small fraction of what’s out there.
Property owners can report their old trees now. The Project’s Apple Blitz on Sept. 25 brings together students and community volunteers to tag and map as many as possible.
While the Project doesn’t harvest apples, it works hand in hand with Boulder’s non-profit, Community Fruit Rescue, which organizes volunteer harvests from backyard trees. The apples and other tree fruits are provided to tree owners and food banks, with non-edible fruit donated to animal sanctuaries. These efforts cut waste, feed the hungry, and keep the fruit from attracting bears.
If you have an old apple tree to identify, contact the Boulder Apple Tree Project: appletreeproject.org.
If you want your tree harvested, contact Community Fruit Rescue: fruitrescue.org
North Boulder’s BOCO Cider is accepting home-harvested apples in trade for hard cider through Sept. 19. Details: bococider.com
The Boulder Apple Tree Project’s new long-term effort involves planting three heritage apple trees in Boulder, Longmont, and at CU, grafted with multiple varieties of the most unique and useful apples from local trees.
Amy Dunbar-Wallace says one huge perk to her research has been the opportunity to taste dozens of varieties of fresh apples. She has some favorites.
“The Rambo apple is small but it has a really great flavor,” she says. “The person who wrote the script to the movie First Blood said he got the name for his main character from a bag of those apples that his wife brought home from the store. He thought that really sounded tough.”
Local food news
Not surprisingly, the City of Boulder will extend an emergency order allowing extra outdoor dining through April . . . North Boulder’s Lucky’s Cafe has closed and will reopen in late September as Lucky’s Bakehouse Cafe under chef Jennifer Messinger of Lucky’s Bakehouse . . . Takeout-only Hundys is dishing unique Kolkata-style biryani dishes from a kitchen at Boulder’s Broker/Roadway Inn. hungryforhundys.com . . . MECO Coffee Collective has opened at 627 Main Street, Longmont, offering coffees and local foods including MECO’s Cheesy Bits crackers . . . Boulder is among seven Colorado towns Saveur.com recently labelled “culinary gems,” with kudos for Frasca, Pizzeria Locale, and OAK at Fourteenth.
Words to chew on
“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream.” —Mark Twain
Radio Nibbles, John Lehndorff’s 25-year-old food news radio show, airs Thursdays at 8:24 a.m. on KGNU (88.5 FM, kgnu.org). Comments: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com