Why We Like Them: Apples

Adam and Eve were onto something—and luckily we’re heading into picking season for everybody’s favorite fruit.

apples

Photo by Paul Miller

Can you imagine if Adam and Eve had eaten a forbidden grapefruit in the Garden of Eden? If William Tell had shot a pear off the top of his son’s head? If Isaac Newton had discovered gravity when a banana fell on him? If we referred to New York City as the Big Strawberry? Or if the Steves—Jobs and Wozniak—had created the Kiwi computing company?

The world would spin off its sweet axis.

Apples have been around for millennia—experts believe the fruit was first domesticated in Asia as early as 2000 B.C.—and are grown around the world, from China, the world’s largest producer, to Chile. But, despite the phrase “as American as apple pie,” apples are not actually native to North America. (Only crabapples are.) It was the European colonists who first brought apple trees to these shores in the 17th century, and the fruit didn’t arrive in Colorado until the late 1860s, brought—via oxcart— by the legendary nurseryman Jesse Frazer.

But that hasn’t stopped us from loving them. As we head into apple season in Colorado—depending on weather, the first apples, probably Galas or Jonathans, will ripen in early September, and the last ones, likely to be Braeburns, Fujis, Granny Smiths or Romes, might not be ready to pick until early November—now is the perfect time to salute the sweet but crunchy king of fruit

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Colorado apples don’t always get the respect they deserve. Their very ubiquitousness—apples are available in supermarkets here year-round—can make them seem less special, and that’s a pity.

“People in Colorado know about Palisade peaches ripening in August and early September and how wonderful they are,” says Bryan Braddy, research associate at CSU’s Western Colorado Research Center in Grand Junction and an expert on the state’s fruits. “They know about our cherries in July and our Olathe sweet corn in August and September. They’re all fantastic, fantastic crops, but after those windows, we all know they’re gone and won’t be back until next year.”

But because of apples’ prodigiously long shelf life, not everyone knows that Colorado apples are great, too. “Our apples are very, very superior in terms of both taste and quality,” Braddy says. “It’s just like the corn and the cherries and the peaches. It’s because of Colorado’s warm days and cool nights, which build up that sugar in our crops.”

Though a lot of the state’s most popular varieties—like Honeycrisps, Fujis, Suncrisps, Golden Delicious, Galas and McIntoshes—arrived here from somewhere else and are common nationwide, rarer heritage apples are having a resurgence in the state, particularly in counties like Montezuma and Delta on the Western Slope, whose warmer springs and more temperate winters make it the epicenter of apple growing in the state.

Jude and Addie Schuenemeyer got interested in heirloom Colorado apples more than a decade ago. As the owners of an old nursery, they often heard customers tell stories about the amazing apples that grew in their grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ orchards. “Sometimes they’d give us articles from old county fairs that showed this long list of 50 different varieties of apples, a lot of them from commercial orchards,” Jude Schuenemeyer says. “There was an incredible genetic diversity with apples. And people would want us to get them varieties of trees that they knew as kids.”

That led the Schuenemeyers in 2008 to found the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project, whose aim is to rediscover, and revive, old Western Slope apple varieties. It’s a slow, tedious process—and clearly a labor of love. There are about 200 historic orchards in their county, with thousands of heritage trees, many of them especially resilient and bearing particularly yummy apples with names like the Antonovka, the Honecker Shackleford or the famed Colorado Orange.

The Schuenemeyers have several ways of finding old trees. “Sometimes somebody will tell us they have an old tree that they can’t identify, and we’ll go find it, document its location, come back when it’s bearing fruit and, with the owners’ permission, take cuttings to grow our own trees; it can take years, but we always give the person back a tree,” Schuenemeyer says. “Another method is to look at old county fair records from a century ago, see what apple varieties are listed and try to figure out where the farms are that those trees were grown on. A third way is just driving the back roads of the county, seeing an old apple tree, getting permission from the owners and mapping it. And the burgeoning hard cider market in Colorado (see story, page 3) has started driving demand for more apples from these 60-, 70-, 80-, 90- and 100-year-old trees. Apple trees can live a long time.”

It helps their longevity that a lot of these old Colorado apples are grown at a high elevation of 6,500 to 7,000 feet. “One of the biggest disease pressures that apples face is a bacteria called fire blight, which thrives in wet, damp, warm weather,” Schuenemeyer says. “Another big threat is codling moths, which thrive when nighttime temperatures are above 60. That’s not common here.”

Despite apple trees’ longevity, they take a lot of care, Braddy adds. “Growing apples is not easy,” he says. “They bloom in the spring so you have to monitor temperatures and provide frost protection via large turbines that bring warmer air down to the ground and mix it with the cold air. You’ve got to monitor for pests, thin the fruit so it doesn’t get too heavy for a tree, then prune the trees between December and March. It’s a year-long process.” And despite the notion of 19th-century travelers throwing half-eaten apple cores out of train windows and starting whole new trees from the seeds, healthy apple trees usually need to be started by grafting onto a rootstock.

No matter how they’re grown, apples “remind most people of their childhoods—and they’re really good for you, too,” Braddy says. He knows what he’s talking about. The old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is not just talk. Apples are nutritional superfoods, high in phytonutrients, antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and fiber and are said to help people fight hypertension, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Spreading the word about apples’ health benefits is one of the missions of Wacky Apple, a Hotchkiss-based company whose founder, Edward Tuft, has been growing organic apples for decades. Sarah Tuft, Edward’s daughter and now the company’s marketing and sales director, says: “About seven years ago, a family friend came home from school with the snack she had gotten in class that day. It was full of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and she said, at the ripe old age of 10, ‘You guys can make something better than this.’ It was our light-bulb moment, and that’s when we came up with Wacky Apple.”

The company—which has about 500 acres of organic orchards, growing about 10 varieties of apples, with new varieties being planted every year—launched with the goal of getting organic, healthy food to schoolchildren in Colorado, many of them on the Front Range. “The program literally became so popular that the teachers were calling us and saying, ‘What have you done to these apples? The kids are actually eating them!’ ” says Tuft, who adds that the company also provides apples and natural applesauces to state food banks. “But it wasn’t like we were doing anything special; it was that the kids were getting fresh, ripe Colorado apples delivered to their doorstep. We only sell apples that have just come off the tree; they don’t sit in cold storage for a year. We let our apples ripen to their full sweetness, and they need to be eaten as soon as possible.”

Sweet, crunchy and good for us? We’re already licking our chops.

Apple Fun Facts
2,500

Number of varieties of apples grown in the United States; there are 7,500 varieties grown in the world. (If you ate an apple a day, it would take you 20 years to sample all those varieties.)

AN APPLE A DAY
Medium apples contain about 80 calories. They have no cholesterol or fat, are loaded with antioxidants and fiber (much of it in the peel), Vitamin A and niacin, and also contain iron and Vitamin C.

PATRIOTIC FRUIT
Apples are grown in all 50 states.

100
Number of years that some apple trees live.

TO DIE FOR
Apple seeds contain a cyanide compound; the average apple has 10 seeds.

1976
Year the largest apple peel was created in Rochester, New York. It was 172 feet, 4 inches long.

SMILE!
Apples contain malic acid, the same stain-dissolving chemical used in teeth-whitening products.

POPULARITY CONTEST
Americans eat more apples than any other fruit.

25
Percent of apples’ volume that is air (so they float).

scallops

Euclid Hall scallops. Photo by Paul Miller

Savory and sweet
We’ll be honest: When we heard about this scallop-and-apple dish from Jorel Pierce, chef de cuisine at Euclid Hall, we were a bit surprised. Apples and pork—a true classic. Apples and duck—of course! But apples and scallops? The key, says Pierce, is that “I didn’t use the apples in a very sweet way. I used them for the pan sauce, which offers a smoky, well-developed flavor against the clean, sweet scallop, and the dish is finished with a tiny squeeze of lemon juice, to bring the acidity up.” Pierce likes cooking with apples. “They are super applicable in a savory kitchen,” he says. “They’re so versatile if you’re using ingredients that are strongly flavored or if you want something rich or acidic. As fall comes around and apples are in season, we’ll have them cooked, raw, in savory dishes and in sweet dishes—all over the menu.”

SCALLOPS, APPLE, CHOUCROUTE
Jorel Pierce, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

BUTTER & CALVADOS APPLE PURÉE
INGREDIENTS
¼ pound butter
2 green apples, slightly tart and firm
2 cups apple cider
4 ounces Calvados (French apple spirit)
½ lemon

DIRECTIONS: Melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the milk solids in the butter begin to caramelize. Remove from heat once a deep, nutty aroma and chestnut color have developed. Wash, peel and core apples; slice into ¼-inch-thick pieces. Cover with cider and Calvados; simmer until very tender, about 45 minutes. Replenish pan with water periodically so liquid always covers apple slices. Strain and purée in a blender. Stream in the brown butter; add a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Taste to make sure purée is sweet, tart and nutty. If it is sweeter than sour, add a little more lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Reserve warm or refrigerate and reheat when using.

CHOUCROUTE
INGREDIENTS
6 tablespoons cold butter (or rendered duck fat)
2 heads celery root
1 teaspoon ground juniper berry
2 ounces good apple cider or Champagne vinegar

DIRECTIONS: Wash, peel and julienne celery root. Cook in butter or fat on medium in a skillet for 7-8 minutes or until wilted and just tender. Add juniper and vinegar. Cook 1-2 minutes; season with salt. Reserve warm.

SCALLOPS, APPLE PAN SAUCE
INGREDIENTS
16 diver scallops (about 1 ½ pounds)
2 ounces cold butter
2 ounces canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces Calvados
2 Jonagold or Honeycrisp apples, diced into ½-inch cubes
8 ounces chicken stock
2 ounces cold, unsalted butter
½ lemon

DIRECTIONS: Preheat a large cast-iron skillet on high. Remove foot of scallops and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper; pat dry. Add canola oil to pan. Heat until oil ripples and barely smokes. Place scallops in pan and cook on high for 3-4 minutes. Add cold butter and turn scallops over. Turn off heat. Spoon melted butter over scallops for 1-2 minutes, then remove from pan. Pour fat from pan and add Calvados. Cook on high until Calvados is reduced by half; add apples and caramelize in reduced Calvados for 3-4 minutes until Calvados is dry and sticky. Add stock; reduce to 4 ounces by volume. Whisk in butter and continue to reduce slightly. Season with lemon and salt. Reserve hot.

TO PLATE: Spoon apple purée into a long swoop on a plate. Place charcoute in center. Lay seared scallops in front of celery root. Sauce with apple pan sauce.

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