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At Apple Days, celebrate the versatility of this delicious fruit

Minus the minutes I laid on the couch yelling at the Broncos football team, I spent the better part of Sunday canning applesauce (and pickles and peppers).

An early-fall tradition, I spend many a day warming jars in ovens, heating water on stove tops and running the food dehydrator 24 hours a day. By the end of the process, I wonder if it is all worth it, but when you eat homemade applesauce (ingredients: apples, water and cinnamon) in the dead of winter, you realize that it was. Same thing could be said for canned peaches (ingredients: peaches, white grape juice). Or pickles, jalapeños, beets, green beans ...

The food preservation process has not changed much over time. I’m betting my canning techniques do not differ much from my mom’s, or grandparents’ or even their parents. Who knows, maybe even Johnny Appleseed canned his apples this way.

Apple Days Festival

WHAT: 14th annual Apple Days Festival.

WHEN: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8.

WHERE: Durango Farmers Market, TBK Bank, 259 W. Ninth St.

MORE INFORMATION: Free to attend. People can press apples into fresh local cider, eat tasty treats, participate in the apple pie-eating contest and enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities. All proceeds support Apple Days and The Good Food Collective.

Just kidding. Mr. Appleseed, to the best of my knowledge, was not a man who cans. But he was a man who loved his apples.

That man, John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, has become a legend for planting apple trees throughout the country. Some stories have him walking, or even skipping, around sprinkling apples seeds as he went; others have him wearing a tin pot as a hat and dressed in nothing but rags. By all accounts he was thrifty – lived in a rickety cabin, did not wear shoes to save money on leather and would travel by foot so not to spend money on horse or carriage.

But he was also quite the businessman. He did not plant apple seeds, but rather orchards in advance of the westerly-moving population. He quickly realized that as the new frontiersmen and women staked their land they would most likely need a fruit tree. And lo and behold, once they reached their destination there was a nursery nearby full of trees ready to transplant. By the time of his death, it was reported that he owned more than 1,200 acres of valuable nursery land, including one nursery in Indiana that held more than 15,000 trees.

He did not want to grow grafted trees, instead planting everything from seed (he felt that grafting was against his religious beliefs of tampering with the natural world). Quick horticultural lesson: Apple trees grown from seed do not pass on the genetic traits from their parent plant – it is literally a crapshoot as to what you would get. Similarly, they frequently lack in taste compared with anything you would get – even a store-bought apple in June – today. But Johnny, in his infamous wisdom, didn’t really care about taste, nor did the new landowners. See, folks were interested in one use of these bitter apples: hard cider.

Author and foodie Michael Pollan said it best: “What Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus.”

Regardless of his motives, we celebrate what he spread: apples. And on Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Durango Farmers Market, we will celebrate the apple and the value it holds in our landscape here in Southwest Colorado. From 9 a.m. to noon, you can help press apples, purchase some tasty apple cider, test your skills of gorging yourself with the apple pie-eating contest, and maybe learn a thing or two about apple trees, apple harvesting and, yes, even applesauce.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.