Sunday, September 30, 2012

Julian Apple Days Festival

JULIAN-- Every fall, San Diegans trek 50-odd miles east to this mountain suburb. They are drawn by what seems to be an endless supply of apple pies, apple muffins, apple fritters, apple doughnuts, and apple cider.
Julian overflows with everything apple-icious, except Julian apples.
That may come as a shock to most visitors at the town’s 101st annual Apple Days Festival, the start of a cinnamon-scented season that runs through Thanksgiving.

 This event features antique tractors and gold-panning demonstrations, but the main attraction is juicy, crisp fruit. Farms like Calico Ranch Orchards may host 2,000 visitors a day, people paying for the thrill of plucking fruit from heavily-laden trees. Many of those same tourists jam the local cafes for apple turnovers or mugs of cider, and on hectic fall days, the Julian Pie Co. may sell almost 5,000 pies.
But the apples baked into Julian desserts or poured into Julian mugs rarely come from Julian orchards. Most come from Washington state, the San Joaquin Valley and other far-off locales.

“The money in Julian is made on pies and restaurants and inns,” said Conrad Young, Calico Ranch’s owner. “You can’t make money (growing) apples here any more.”

That’s because the Julian apple crop, like the typical Julian apple, is tiny, even in good years. And if you take a stroll across Calico Ranch, you’ll notice that this year is rotten. Young’s trees are almost bare of fruit, thanks to an April frost that wiped out his crop. Some local farmers fared better, some did not.

“We were open just one day and then we’re out of apples,” said Les Turner, owner of Peacefield Orchard. “Many of the orchards just aren’t going to open.”

This is bad news to the growers, but a non-factor to the neighboring merchants selling apple-based desserts and drinks. While Julian is San Diego’s foremost apple-growing area, that’s not saying much.

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