Hungry for summer? Salivating over plans for road trips and meetups and culinary celebrations? Marking your calendar with repeat favorites and wondering about new adventures inspired by Western Colorado’s crops?
From summer solstice on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 10:24 pm MDT to the autumnal equinox on Friday, September 22, 2017 at 2:02 pm MDT, mountain and Western Slope communities are serving up food and drink festivals that honor this season’s bounty. There is a smorgasbord of choices, so here is a little map to get you started on your gastronomic journey.
(FYI: I’m not including the Aspen’s 2017 FOOD & WINE Classic for three reasons. One, it’s before summer officially starts. Two, “Wines for Zillionaires” leaves out a lot of us. Three, they’re sold out.)
First up is the TELLURIDE FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL June 22-25. The event’s prestigious gathering is somewhat distilled from Aspen’s celebrity jamboree. The experts, however, are not chopped liver. World-renowned chefs with a sheaf of James Beard Award honors are a common theme. The event has imported California winemakers from Sonoma and Napa Valley AVAs. And sommeliers will be on hand to guide the palate through the tastings. Participation prices range from free, yes free (“Seminar: Introduction to Wine Tasting”), to $1600 for the whole four day shebang, aka “patron pass.”
PAONIA CHERRY DAYS FESTIVAL June 30 through July 4 has put cherry red in red, white, and blue for seventy-one years. This is a true community event that opens its arms to those beyond the North Fork Valley. The Paonia Lion’s Club began the festival in 1947 as a celebration of the cherry harvest in order to raise funds for the football field. Today it continues through the efforts of local service clubs and community members. Cherry Days is a true taste of life in Paonia. This festival expands its humble roots to current day status as a Colorado Creative Community through its unpretentious culture of arts, music, and agriculture. Will there be music? A symphonic yes (literally—Aspen Music Festival talent among the featured musicians). Will there be a three-legged-race, belly dancers, and a flag ceremony? Of course. Will there be cherry pie? Move over apple, there’s nothing more American on the 4th.
Do you see it? Can you smell it? Lavender farms are filling Western Colorado with the scent of Provence. The 2017 COLORADO LAVENDER FESTIVAL begins July 7 with two half-day motor coach tours of farms in Grand and North Fork Valleys. Visitors to growers like Lamborn Mountain Farmstead are treated to lavender cultivation expertise and culinary treats. Saturday vendors of all things purple sell their wares and lead workshops on wreath making, food preparation, and more in Palisade’s Memorial Park. Talon Wine Brands crafts a special lavender wine for the occasion under their St. Kathyrn’s Cellars label. Sunday farms are open for self-guided tours for those who want more of this beneficial plant.
CRESTED BUTTE WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL in the Upper East River Valley gets into the spirit of summer, adding, well “spirits” from distillers like Woody Creek (vodka, whiskey, gin) and Montanya (rum) to the venue’s offerings. Since this is Crested Butte after all, bring your canvases, hiking boots, and swimsuit. This schedule features painting, hiking wine picnics, and a stand up paddleboard lunch in addition to the eating, drinking, and educational seminars and suppers. The festival covers five days of summer, July 26-30, so pace yourself and save your pennies.
Map out your own route for the WEST ELKS WINE TRAIL August 4-6. An actual map is available at each of the West Elk wineries where your hosts also offer wine and food pairings. Cheers to the bonus events on the 7th at Azura Cellars and Black Bridge Winery where you can partake in remote control yacht racing or a barrel tasting (wine, not wood). Reserved wine trail dinners are already sold out, but Delicious Orchards keeps their doors open on August 6th with a BBQ and music and hard cider tastings. You are in for a treat if you have never explored this trail. So pack your camera and steer toward the North Fork Valley’s section of the West Elk Scenic Byway Loop if food, wine, music, and fun are your thing.
PALISADE PEACH FESTIVAL is the granddaddy of the Grand Valley’s festivals. The star of the show is the world famous fruit that built an industry and founded Colorado’s fruit farming heritage, one nourished by the Colorado River and preserved by the Palisade Historical Society. The fruit-forward activities begin on Thursday, August 17, with an old-fashioned ice cream social. Spend the next day touring orchards then head to historic Riverbend Park after 3:00 pm for music, chef demonstrations, and peach eating contests (no hands!). Saturday’s full day schedule is family fun under the sun with everything peaches.
“Que” up you grills for the PORK AND HOPS CHALLENGE September 8-9. Las Colonias Park and Amphitheater in Grand Junction will be smoking hot with professional, amateur, and kid BBQ competitions. This is a family event, to just beyond the event grounds—for twenty-one and older—an annual Beer Tasting quenches the thirst brought on by the BBQ winner tastings and food vendor fare. Whatever your personal preference in BBQ, sweet and tangy or spicy and savory, the winner from the People’s Choice tasting is the community, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting United Way of Mesa County.
COLORADO MOUNTAIN WINEFEST celebrates right at the source: The Grand Valley, Colorado’s largest grape-growing region. What began in 1987 as a grassroots collaboration with five wineries has blossomed into a destination celebration orchestrated by state supported trade non-profit CAVE (Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology. Thousands come from across the U.S. to stomp grapes, savor chocolate pairings, tour the wine country, and learn why Colorado wines are winning national awards. Thirty years later, this year’s libation participants number over fifty—with hard cider and mead joining the party. The events begin on Thursday, September 14 with “Wine, Dine, and Paint,” and wine pairings at participating Grand Valley restaurants. Bus tours and a “Chocolate & Wine Tasting” at Palisade’s Wine Country Inn fill up Friday. Tour de Vineyards kicks off Saturday with a twenty-three or fifty-eight mile road ride past orchards and vineyards. Festival in the Park on Saturday is the main course for Colorado Mountain Winefest, with seminars and souvenirs, song and sommeliers.
Paonia’s MOUNTAIN HARVEST FESTIVAL straddles the solstice and equinox, but with one foot (tapping to the music) still in summer they just made the list … and what away to end the journey. The non-profit four-day festival September 21-24 is led by locals: local food, volunteers, winemakers, and Slow Food Western Slope. Saturday’s activities are in Paonia’s town park, with the full schedule of events still in the works. Based on 2016, merrymakers can anticipate a cornucopia of choices, including farm and winery tours, farm to table dinners, as well as music, music, and more music. Mountain Harvest Festival is a small celebration with a big heart. With Teens on Farms and collaborations with the Blue Sage Gallery, they “serve” the North Fork Valley by providing art and agriculture education that fosters the creative juices.
By no means is a complete compilation of Colorado’s gastronomic celebrations. (click here for Colorado Tourism’s list) The Front Range has a long list separate from the Western Slope. And in between, mountain communities know how to highlight the best of the state. Should you have a tendency to detour off the beaten path, here are two more Colorado mountain town food and wine festivals:
Breckenridge: Two is better than one in Breck. Take a “small bite” out of summer and wash it down with “unique” wines at the Breckenridge Wine Festival July 28-30 then go all out September 14-17 at the Breckenridge Wine Classic (details yet to come).
Steamboat: Does life taste better in the ‘Boat? Discover for yourself August 9-13 at the Steamboat Wine Festival. Here’s what they say you can expect: “Enjoy hundreds of food artisans, wineries, breweries, distilleries, epicurean purveyors and local producers at the ultimate food and wine experience.” I say: The town and the mountain are two locations so bring a designated driver – there is still plenty for non-drinkers to enjoy.
Wine Soaked Grape Cake is from Sharon O’Connor’s Wine Tasting recipe box, “Small Plates for Wine.”
I made a couple of changes that I will note in the recipe. How did it taste? Good. I think the Marsala from California I had on hand was a little strong—a sweeter dessert wine with lower alcohol content might be a better choice next time. Maybe a fruit wine from Palisade’s Carlson Vineyards or a mead (honey wine) from Meadery of the Rockies.
This cake would be a great choice for a wine tasting party, perhaps paired with the same dessert wine used in the recipe. Hot coffee or tea for a brunch is another good option.
- 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour (I used 1 ½ cup + 1 tbsp. of sifted high altitude flour and sifted dry ingredients again)
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 6 tbsp. unsalted butter (softened)
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp. grated orange zest (Not a fan of such a strong orange flavor so I used 1 tsp. each orange and lemon zest)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup dessert wine
- 1 ½ cup seedless red grapes (I increased to 2 cups)
- Turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Combine dry ingredients in one bowl: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt.
Combine wet ingredients in a second bowl: beaten eggs, zest, vanilla, wine.
Add wet to dry to create a smooth batter. Transfer into pan and insert grapes into the top. Bake 20 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar (opp.) and bake additional 10 minutes. 30 minutes total, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool. Remove sides. Serve warm.
The journey over the hill and through the woods to grandmother’s house for turkey and pie is a bit more decorative these days thanks to artists who are hanging squares of local culture on the sides of buildings.
Quilting—an old tradition of art and agriculture—has taken on a modern twist with plywood, paint, and brushes replacing the needle, thread, and fabric. While quilting as an American pastime is still a widespread practice, artists are now taking patterns of heritage preservation and hanging them on the sides of barns.
Designated Barn Quilt Trails weave across the country thanks to Donna Sue Groves, who created the concept in 2001 to honor her Appalachian heritage. With support from the Ohio Arts Council, her idea expanded into a driving trail that featured twenty squares. Today, organized trails include forty-eight states and 7000 quilts. Colorado is one of those states.
Several Front Range counties have united to create the Colorado Barn Quilt Trail, aided in part by the Colorado Quilting Council, Inc. (CQC). Although not a designated trail, barn quilts on the Western Slope are a part of the fruit culture’s landscape along the byways and beyond.
Along the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway, orchardists such as Carol Zadrozny of Z’s Orchard and lavender store Sprigs & Sprouts display barn quilts that reflect their agricultural pursuits. At the Museum of the West and Cross Orchards Historical Site in Grand Junction, artist and local quilter “Verda,” crafted more barn quilts using traditional quilting patterns.
Barn quilts are usually wooden squares 4×4, 6×6, or 8×8. The Iowa Extension offers a PDF with directions for building a barn quilt by the Le Mars Arts Council. (Click here for directions.) Also, the Monroe County Illinois Barn Quilt Trail Members have a “how to” download that includes additional resources. (Click here for directions.)
Quilt FAQ from Quilting in America:
- Mothers made “several quilts for each of her children to have when they left home to start life as adults.”
- “The U.S. government urged citizens to ‘Make Quilts – Save the Blankets for our Boys over There’” during WWI.
- The Depression prompted thrifty quilters to “saving bits and pieces of material from clothing and other blankets, using material from feedsacks.”
- During WWII, “quilting was used to raise money to support the Red Cross.”
LAVENDER INFUSED CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
1 c heavy cream
10 oz. chocolate – 8 oz. good quality, high coca content bittersweet like Ghirardelli; 2 oz. semi sweet (okay to use chips in this quantity).
3 tbsp. butter – softened
Crush lavender with a mortar and pestle.
Break chocolate into small pieces (pound or shave).
(If coating—recommended—put into small ramekins or bowls. Coatings: crushed, toasted nuts like almonds, walnuts, or pecans; cocoa powder, ground espresso)
Heat cream to simmer. Remove from heat.
Add chocolate. Stir slowly. When partially melted add butter. Whisk until glossy. (You are making a chocolate ganache).Add lavender and whisk until incorporated.
Option 1 – Pour into a bowl and chill completely (approx. 4 hours). Best for larger truffles.
Option 2 – Line a shallow square with non-stick foil and pour into a 1” layer. Chill completely. Best for small truffles.
Option 1 – Working next to the sink with a bowl of ice water, scoop out chocolate with melon baller or small spoon. Form into ball quickly with palm of hands. If coating, toss/roll. Put on parchment lined tray or storage container and chill minimum 1 hour before serving.
Option 2 – Cut into small squares with a chilled knife. Lift off square and roll. This technique is faster and a little less messy, but you must be careful foil is not stuck into chocolate. Coat/toss/store/chill as above.
NOTE – If using multiple coatings, toss in nuts last to avoid allergen contamination.
The history of Palisade peaches began with pioneers, explorers, and town builders who breached the backbone of the continent—the Rocky Mountains—in the Territory of Colorado. The question is how did they know in the 1890s that peaches would be a juicy contributor to Colorado’s $40 billion plus and growing agriculture industry of today?
They had vision, motivation, and a market.
Mining interest cut into the mineral-rich mountains of Western Colorado, extracting gold, silver, and coal. They laid out communities close to their mother lodes and far from their markets. Enter next the railroad companies like the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) and the Colorado Midland Railway (later Railroad) who set tracks within the precarious passes to export the precious commodities. The BLM’s Cultural Series No. 10 by O’Rourke, Frontier in Transition, explains:
“The construction of railroad lines in southwestern Colorado during the 1880’s and 1890’s was determined by the desire to connect gold and silver mining camps with the rest of the state, but was also motivated by the necessity of securing locomotive fuel from the many rich coal fields in the area.”
“It is uninviting and desolate looking in the extreme.” That is what the Denver Tribune wrote in 1880 of the Western Slope, as cited in Ingersoll’s legendary 1885 book Crest of the Continent.
Yet, elephant-skin colored cliffs and dusty, brush-covered terrain is not what Colorado agriculture and irrigation expert William E. Pabor saw. He writes in his twelve-year agriculture study Fruit Culture in Colorado, published in 1883, “We see, through the mists of the present, the fruit-lands of the future.” His extensive interviewing of fruit growers, coupled with his knowledge of irrigation opened his eyes to the possibility of a fruitful future in Western Colorado’s semi-arid landscape.
The world was moving west at a pace as fast as the railroad could lay tracks. Once the U.S. government relocated the Western Slope Ute Indians (again), the west was open for business. Town founders like George Crawford (Grand Junction) and Pabor (Fruita) set up orchards and communities. They, among others, recognized that the isolated Western Colorado was ripe for development. They untied their motivation with their vision to tap into the nearby market.
“The miners pay cash. The harvest gathered from the soil, under the genial influence of the sun and water, is as golden as that taken from the hills, whose supposed wealth attracts so many prospectors…. The mines furnish a very profitable market, and towns are springing up in every direction,” Pabor wrote, adding that food imported from California, Utah, Kansas, and Nebraska “ought to be raised at home.”
As so it was. In the 1880s, and as the end of the century neared, Harlow, Bowman (owner of the peach-picking sack patent), Blain, and Steele planted the roots of an iconic legacy.
This legacy is celebrated each year in August at the Palisade Peach Festival in Riverbend Park. The Palisade Chamber of Commerce, the Palisade Historical Society (run by chairperson Priscilla “Bowman” Walker), and author of Western Colorado Fruit & Wine: A Bountiful History will honor that history at the 2015 festival August 14 & 15th with a special “Palisade’s Peach Past” booth—a journey through the people, places, and tastes that have made Palisade a juicy destination.
Lavender may be an ancient herb used by Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures, but it is a new crop in Western Colorado.
In the spring of 2009, a small group of lavender enthusiasts explored growing the fragrant herb on the Western Slope—primarily in the Grand and North Fork Valleys. They formed a nonprofit, the Lavender Association of Western Colorado, and began their cultivation journey with support from the Colorado State University Extension-Tri River Area (Counties: Delta, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray).
July 10-12, 2015 is the 5th Annual Lavender Festival, a celebration of the lovely buds that now thrive under in the semi-arid micro-climates of Western Colorado. The festival activities include: a chauffeured farm tour; a Feast in the Field dining experience; a park packed with demonstrations, vendors, and workshops; and a mapped out self-guided tour.
Want to learn more? Here are a few Lavender FAQs:
In ancient times lavender was used for mummification and perfume by the Egyptian’s, Phoenicians, and peoples of Arabia. During the Middle ages it was considered an herb of love and was used as an aphrodisiac.
In 1652, Culpeper recommended that “two spoonfuls of the distilled water of the flowers taken helpeth them that have lost their voice; as also the tremblings and passions of the heart, and faintings and swounings [sic].” England’s Queen Elizabeth I drank lavender tea to help ease her migraines, and during WWI, nurses bathed soldiers’ wounds with lavender washes.
Other historical uses include embalming corpses, curing animals of lice, taming lions and tigers, repelling mosquitoes, snuff flavoring, and as an ingredient in special lacquers and varnishes.
- Lavender is a member of the mint family.
- English Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia, is the most widely cultivated species (synonyms – L. vera, L. latifola, L. officinalis, L. spica, L. delphinensis).
- Lavender oil contains up to 40% linalyl acetate and 30% linalol. Linalol is a terpene alcohol that is non-toxic to humans, yet naturally antimicrobial.
- The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying.
- bon appétit has a great guideline for cooking with lavender.
- Try lavender Sugar and Salt.
- Boulder Locavore features lavender infused recipes from lemonade to lamb, potatoes to peaches.
The Grand River Diversion Dam—the irrigation icon of the Grand Valley on the Colorado River—turns 100 years old this June. To celebrate, the Palisade Historical Society is throwing one big, okay, dam big birthday party.
- Took roughly (figurative and literal) 20 years from start to finish.
- Provides H2O for five irrigation canals
- Innovative “roller” design at the time (1897)
- Affectionately called “Roller Dam” by locals.
The Palisade Historical Society (a.k.a. Priscilla Bowman Walker) is the historical source and tells the dam story best at the event. Activities include How the West Was Watered video by Larry Seibert (InFilms & Design, Inc.) and his photographer and editor, Scot Stewart. There will be speakers, an information booth (look for me and say hello!), historical photos, and more to add to the hydro-historic narrative. To wet your palette check out Melody Gonzalez’s news report, “Grand Valley Diversion Dam Celebrates 100 Years” on Westernslopenow.com with Fox 4 News television shout-out.
- When: Saturday, June 27, 2015
- Where: Veteran’s Memorial Community Center (8th & Main)
- More when: 9-5 “
- What else: “Dam Art Show,” Slice ‘O’ Life Bakery “Dam” birthday cake by Dorothy Carver Hines; Bookcliff Harmony Barbershop Chorus
Visit the Palisade Historical Society’s Dam birthday party site for additional programing details and activities.
May days on East Orchard Mesa above Palisade are lush with post blossom greenery. Verdant grapes on the vines are forming miniature clusters among the broad leaves. Even cherries—the first fruit of the growing season—are green.
Along the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway, growers are nurturing peach saplings. Z’s Orchard is planting 500 strawberry and 800 raspberry plants to add to their established u-pick patch. Early kale, lettuce, arugula, radish, and rhubarb are ready to harvest for the spring table. Click here to Z’s Orchard on Facebook to see what else is happening. (Click here.)
Gardeners are loading up their cars and trucks with greenhouse bounty at Sage Creations Organic Farm. Lavender-lovers wanting to start their own farm can learn from the owner and propagating pioneer, Paola Legarre, at Sage’s “Plant to Market” class on May 22nd. Sign-up is limited to ensure personalized instruction. Topics covered:
- Preparing beds
- Harvesting (for optimum use)
- Post-harvest handling
- Cultivars and their marketability
- Introduction to lavender propagation
For those who would rather create in the kitchen, Sage Creations Organic Farm has a variety of lavender recipes on their website from various chefs and magazines. One I plan on trying is Bon Appétit Magazine’s Chocolate Lavender Honey Tart.
Chocolate Lavender Honey Tart
Author: (Bon Appetit Magazine, April 2008)
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 9 whole chocolate graham crackers (about 5 oz.)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temp, divided
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender blossoms
- 12 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 9 inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick spray. Grind graham crackers with 3 tablespoons butter and honey in processor until fine crumbs form. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom (not up sides) of prepared tart pan. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Cool.
- Bring cream and lavender just to boil in small saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, remove from heat. Place chocolate in medium saucepan. Strain hot cream mixture into saucepan with chocolate. Stir over medium-low heat just until melted and smooth. Add cocoa powder and remaining 1 tablespoon butter; stir until melted and smooth. Pour chocolate mixture over crust in tart pan. Chill at least 45 minutes (chocolate will be slightly soft after 45 minutes and firm after 2 hours). Cut into wedges and serve. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
Click here to learn more about cooking with lavender from Sage Creations Organic Farm.
Share photos of your culinary creations here at A Bountiful History’s virtual #farmtocommunitytable.