Asher on Aspen: Exquisite Simplicity

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen

It seemed as if time moved slower in Paonia. Though just a two-hour drive from Aspen, it felt like another world. People took their time here. There was no sense of urgency or real need to be anywhere and everyone seemed to like it that way. We journeyed here on a Sunday morning to escape Aspen’s snow and experience the beloved fall tradition of apple-picking.

Nestled in the North Fork Valley, 1 mile west of Paonia on Highway 133, sits a charming establishment called Big B’s Fruit Company. On the property lives Delicious Orchards, an orchard planted in 1965 that produces a variety of apples, cherries, pears, peaches, plums and nectarines. This particular time of year, however, is ideal for apple-picking.

The trees were ablaze in fall color and the crisp mountain air chilled our noses as we walked up to the entrance. We were greeted by a group of chickens pecking and weaving around our feet. Crates of honeycrisp apples flanked the lot while bails of hay and pumpkins lined the walkway to meet the front door. We passed a group of kids sitting Indian-style on the front steps who took turns guessing how many apples were in each bucket.

The lady inside welcomed our group and instructed us to grab a basket and a map and start our day of apple picking. Before departing, we purchased a few hot apple ciders to warm our hands as we walked. The cider was superb and it soothed my throat. It tasted fresh and smelled like I had just walked into my mother’s house on Thanksgiving.

Before getting lost in a sea of apple trees, we took delight in the giant rope swing hanging from a branch in the courtyard. One by one, my friends tried it out and eventually, it came to be my turn. Like a little kid scared to go down the big slide at the neighborhood pool, I was nervous at first. But after trying it out just one time, I wanted to experience it over and over again. The adrenaline rush was truly unexpected, given the quaint environment.

We meandered around the property and it became clear visitors weren’t expecting an extravagant affair — they were searching for a fun, wholesome activity and Big B’s provided just that. We could have moseyed around the farms all day just getting lost in the endless aisles of apple trees. There was no rush and certainly no one there to monitor us or hurry us along. We moved at our own pace and it was peaceful.

I juggled my hot apple cider with my basket as I jumped for an apple that seemed perfect at first glance. The hand-drawn map highlighted where each type of apple was grown; however, I found it more entertaining to be spontaneous about the whole apple picking process. Once an apple caught my eye, I would snatch it off the tree, take a bite and then determine how I would rank it compared to the others.

Honeycrisps were easy to snack on but it was the Pink Ladies that really stole my heart. Boasting a beautiful mesh of green and red, the coloring almost looked tie-dyed. One bite into the apple and my taste buds exploded with frenzy. It was the perfect blend of tart and sweet and the initial crunch was mouth-watering. I ventured up a ladder to steal more of these and I told my friend, “I think we found the jackpot.”

Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, Roman Beauty, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady and Honeycrisp — the distinct taste of each apple is uncanny when compared side by side. The Fujis were sweet, crisp and juicy while the Granny Smiths were tart, crisp and tasted perfect for salads. The Red Deliciouses were bland and crisp while the Roman Beauties were sweet and firm. We learned that some are best for baking, others for sauces.

The high elevation, clean Rocky Mountain water, cold nights and warm days in Paonia make for prime climate conditions that produce some of the finest fruits in the world. Big B’s Fruit Company also generates a full line of organic and local juices and ciders from Western Slope fruit at the manufacturing plant located in nearby Hotchkiss. You may have seen these juices sold in City Market. They are terrific!

The fruit picking is not all that this charming orchard has to offer. Big B’s has a full cafe, award-winning hard ciders, camping options and live music with regular outdoor barbecues in the summer months. Things are simple here at Big B’s and the people wouldn’t have it any other way. Want to experience it for yourself? You’re in luck. This weekend is Big B’s 8th Annual Hard Cider Festival (see Libations, page 10) featuring Colorado’s premier hard cider makers, live music, food vendors and even a Halloween costume contest. Enjoy!

Aspen Times Weekly

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