By Niki Hayden
A windfall is associated with sudden, unexpected bounty–the image of ripe fruit blown from trees. In September when there’s a chill at night, apples, pears and sour cherries show up in the farmers markets as if a cool gust, an autumn windfall, has swept them in from the Western Slope.
Thin-skinned apples arrive first, the beginning of a parade that with late bloomers like Winesap or Fuji that keep throughout winter. “We begin with the Gingergold and all the other early apples that don’t keep well but make great applesauce,” Eddy White says.
Despite her manly name, Eddy is a woman. Petite, soft-spoken and energetic, she is half the team of Bob and Eddy White, who farm in Hotchkiss.
Along with her granddaughter, Heather, she packs bags of fruit for her customers. The summer has been exhausting, she says, selling peaches, apricots and sweet cherries from neighboring Palisade farms. Finally her crops of apples, pears and sour cherries are beginning to pour in.
Bob is back home in Hotchkiss packing boxes of apples and pears to bring to the Front Range. Despite their geographical proximity, Hotchkiss and Palisade grow different crops. Palisade is perfect for peaches, Eddy says. “It’s in a rock valley for warmth. In Hotchkiss, we’re nearly 1200 feet higher. Of course, it’s colder and that’s why we think it makes for better apple growing.”
Eddy and Bob once owned 150 acres, but they’ve whittled down to 60. “We’re getting too old; the work is so hard,” Eddy says. And, like much of Colorado, the weather is unpredictable. In the last two years they lost 70 percent of their crop to a late frost. This year the flowering was abundant but the honeybees sluggish. Too many cloudy and cool days meant the bees were not their usual busy selves, so pollination was spotty. Bees have to visit flowers many times to achieve excellent pollination. The flowers may be profuse, but without pollination, they’ll not turn into fruit.
THE ALL-AMERICAN FRUIT HAS A LONG LEGACY
“American as apple pie” may be a cliché, but like many clichés, a truth is revealed. Most of the apples we’re familiar with were accidentally discovered on American farms in the 19th century. The old varieties from England, France or even Russia cross-pollinated in America’s heartland and produced an abundance that we take for granted. A poster on the wall details the origins of each variety: Red Delicious was discovered in an Iowa orchard in 1870. Rome Beauty isn’t from Italy, but is traced to an Ohio farm in 1840. Jonathan dates to Woodstock, New York, in the 1820s. The Golden Delicious was an oddball seedling that sprouted in West Virginia in 1914.
Granny Smith was introduced into Australia as early as 1868, although it’s new to us. Some crops are considerably older: Bartlett pears date to the 1600s in England and Lady apples, small and decorative, can be traced to 1628 in France.
Just one generation ago, most fruit trees were called standards. “Trees that lived 50 years or more,” Eddy says. Some, like the Elberta peach tree hold a charm for her. “Many people remember the taste of that peach. And we have people who ask for the transparent apple. You’ll never see that very often anymore.”
The transparent apple called Lodi, as tough a tree as you’ll find, once grew plentifully along the Front Range. The apples were small and thin-skinned, but many believe they made the best applesauce. Those old standard trees were large and picking fruit took time. Today the fruit trees are dwarfed, which allows for faster picking. Sometimes that’s worthwhile; sometimes it’s not. “We pay our workers more money to go slower with the Golden Delicious,” Eddy says. “They bruise so easily.”
THE GOOD OLD DAYS REALLY WERE GOOD
At one time, Colorado promoted their Golden Delicious apples only to discover that they wouldn’t pack well. “We had ideal conditions and it’s a beautiful pink blush when ripe,” Eddy says. But her favorite is the Jonagold. It also presents shipping problems. “It’s susceptible to sunburn,” Eddy says, “and doesn’t have a long shelf life. It’s picked for the market on the green side and the flavor isn’t there.”
Eddy worries about what she sees happening in the marketplace today. One pie baker wants to buy green cherries from her. We’ll provide the artificial flavor, they tell her. “You just can’t do that to cherry trees,” she says, “they don’t give their fruit until they are ripe and then you shake the tree.”
The sour pie cherry, known as the Montmorency, ripens on the tree. The fruit is shaken off and either cooked or frozen immediately. “The cherries break down almost overnight,” Bob says. These days he sells cherry cider, which is recommended for arthritis patients. The cherries contain properties that relieve some symptoms of gout, he is told. The winemakers on the Western Slope buy up his cherry juice, too.
Eddy’s apples are allowed to ripen before she’ll sell them to customers. But that rarely happens anymore in big supermarkets, she says. “Our kids will never know what ripe fruit is supposed to taste like. No wonder they don’t like it.”
LEAVE PEARS OUT; REFRIGERATE APPLES
While apples and cherries should be allowed to ripen on the trees, pears must be picked unripe. They’ll ripen on their own just sitting out. Placed in a brown bag, ethylene gas that ripening fruit gives off will hasten the process. Once ripe, they’ll last only one or two days.
Unlike pears, apples are one of the few fruits that should be refrigerated. Leave them out as a table display and they will turn to mush. Traditionally, apples were harvested and kept in a root cellar throughout the winter. If kept cool, nature provided a preservative coating.
Eddy reaches for a Jonathan. “Apples have a natural wax that will shine,” she says, and with a slight rub, the apple turns a lustrous red. “Perhaps it is the tree’s way to prevent sunscald. Whatever the reason, you don’t have to wax the fruit like you find in supermarkets. It has already been waxed by nature.”
Here’s a list of the apples that arrive from the Western Slope:
The Very Early Apples
The thin-skinned Gingergolds are noted for excellent applesauce, as are most of the early apples. They generally do not keep well. Apples that will keep through the winter come from the last varieties to be harvested.
Thin-skinned apples are followed by the mild Gala and the stronger flavored red Jonathan. The Gala is favored by people who look for low-acid fruits. The Jonathan is a tart apple, full of flavor that complements cheese well.
The Golden Delicious is not a traditional pie apple, but it will bake beautifully in tarts and has a smooth sweetness. For a sharper flavor, mix the Golden Delicious with other apples when baking.
Jonagold is Eddy’s favorite. It may not keep well, nonetheless, she says the flavor is outstanding.
Red Delicious is a beautifully shaped eating apple and provides a crunch, but sometimes has a bland flavor.
Late Season apples
Granny Smith, Cameo, Honeycrisp, Rome Beauty (the best baking apple because it will hold its shape), Winesap (a very old apple that does have a fermented aroma when fully ripe, excellent for eating and baking), and lastly, the Fuji. “The Fuji is rapidly becoming a favorite because it’s a good keeper. The longer it keeps on the tree, the sweeter it gets. We wait until a bad freeze and then hop out there in the orchard,” Eddy says.
A few acres are under new cultivation. Expect to see Braeburn and Black Jonathans soon.
FRESH PEARS WITH FRESH RASPBERRIES AND RASPBERRY LIQUEUR
- 1 pear, peeled, cut in half and cored
- 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
- 4 tablespoons raspberry liqueur
Arrange one pear half in a bowl, sprinkle with raspberries and liqueur. Serve immediately. Serves two.
POACHED PEARS WITH CHOCOLATE-FILLED CENTERS
- 1 underripe pear, peeled, cut in half and cored but leaving the end intact
- 1 cup peach nectar
- 4 tablespoons high quality melting chocolate
- cinnamon for sifting
Only unripe pears will poach well. Add the pear halves to nectar in a saucepan and poach until the pear is easily pierced but still firm. It should take only about 8 minutes. Cool pears to lukewarm. Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Fill cored centers with chocolate. Sift cinnamon sparingly around the pear on the plate. Serves two.
PEAR SALAD WITH SPINACH, BLUE CHEESE AND WALNUTS
- 1 pear, peeled and cut in half with the core removed
- 1 handful of fresh, washed spinach leaves
- 1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon roasted, chopped walnuts
Place pear on bed of fresh spinach. Combine blue cheese and heavy cream, and fill the center of the pear. Sprinkle with roasted nuts. Serves one.
ROASTED WINTER PEARS
- 2 pears, peeled and cut in half with core removed
- 4 Tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon sherry or port wine
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place each pear on a tablespoon of brown sugar, flat side of the pear down. Roast for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour in the sherry or port wine. Turn pears over so that they are bathed in the liquid. Serve immediately.
APPLE SALAD WITH WALNUTS, CHEESE AND HONEY
- 1 apple cored and sliced
- 2 ounces salad ricotta cheese, crumbled
- 2 ounces walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1 tablespoon honey
Toast walnuts in a heavy skillet over medium heat on the stove or place in a 350-degree oven for 8 minutes. Arrange apple slices on a plate. Sprinkle cheese and walnuts over. Drizzle honey. Serve immediately. Serves one.
APPLES BAKED IN KABOCHA SQUASH
Kabocha squash, a dark green winter squash, arrives in the farmers markets at the same time as do apples. It has a rich, buttery interior with dense flesh.
- 1/2 kabocha squash, medium-sized, with seeds removed
- 1 tart apple peeled, cored and sliced
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat over to 350-degrees. Fill the squash interior hollow with apple layers, then sugar, cinnamon and dot with butter; place in a shallow baking dish. Cover baking dish with foil and bake for one hour or until the squash pierces easily. Serves four.
APPLE AND PEAR CRISP
- 3-4 cups Golden Delicious and Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and sliced–about two apples and two pears. Golden Delicious cooks into a sweet, silky texture, the perfect accompaniment to mild, tender pears.
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 cup sugar, white or brown
- 4 tablespoons butter
- pinch cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pears and apples together in a 6-cup casserole. Mix remaining ingredients together with your fingers so that it resembles a coarse meal. Sprinkle on top of fruit and cook for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and cooked through. Serves four.
APPLES AND PEARS WITH CINNAMON, GINGER AND NUTMEG ICE CREAM
- 4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 4 pears, peeled, cored and sliced
- 8 dried sweet cherries, soaked in kirsch or brandy until plumped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoon maple syrup
Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and on low heat allow the fruits to soften. Serve with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg ice cream–as follows.
CINNAMON, GINGER AND NUTMEG ICE CREAM
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Heat the half-and-half and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar has dissolved, add all the spices. Let cool to lukewarm and place into an ice cream maker. This will make about one pint, which fits most freezer designed makers. Serves four.
SOUR CHERRY COMPOTE
- 1 cup sour cherries
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream
Combine cherries, sugar and cinnamon stick in a saucepan on medium heat until the sugar melts into the cherries. Serve over vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream. Serves two.
SOUR CHERRY GRANITA
- 2 cups cherry juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
Melt sugar into juice in a saucepan on medium heat. Pour mixture into a baking dish and place in the freezer. Within two hour you may begin to scrape the freezing juice into long shavings of granita, an ice sorbet. You also can use a freezer ice cream maker. Serves four.