WHEN: October 1-2
WHERE: Downtown Julian
By David Nelson
Photos by Rob Hammer and John Audley
Apples mirror the climates they prefer. Cool and crisp, they’re the fruit of northern latitudes and mountain orchards. You won’t find apple trees growing side-byside with orange trees, which is one reason this odd couple is too odd to mix, even in fruit salad.
Julian and its tiny neighbor, Wynola, are the famed Southern California center of apple-growing. And it’s safe to say that on Main Street and elsewhere in and around Julian, you can’t stroll more than a few feet without encountering a temptation that’s likely to become the apple of your eye.
From Gold to Golden Delicious
Julian got its start in the 1870s as a gold mining town (experience the history with a tour of Eagle and High Peak Mine, 2320 C Street, Julian, 760.765.0036), but when the shafts dug into its mountain slopes played out, the town continued to mine treasure from the apple orchards that gradually spread a cool, fragrant canopy over its landscape.
The fruit is a big enough deal to merit an annual festival called Julian Apple Days (celebrated this year October 1 and 2), which features a wide variety of activities but nonetheless is apple pie-centric.
In 1907, Julian apples captured the Wilder Medal granted by the American Pomological Society, taking best-in-the-nation status for that year. In that era, if you handed an American housewife a couple pounds of the fruit, you could expect an apple pie cooling on the kitchen windowsill an hour later.
Pies and other apple-based treats are so in demand that Julian cannot produce sufficient fruit and must import a fair percentage of its annual needs. Many purveyors take a strictly local approach anyway, such as Julian Hard Cider, which uses a Colonial American method from 1670 to craft hard cider (the kind with alcohol) from precisely one ingredient: fresh, hand-picked apples.
The distillery’s motto, “American to the Core,” is as tartly on target as a perfect Granny Smith. The cider can be purchased to take home at the company’s “general store.” Or, for some live Bluegrass with your glass of icy, draft hard cider tapped from barrels, head next door to Miner’s Saloon, constructed of wood salvaged from local structures and decorated with historic photos of Julian mining scenes.
Julian Hard Cider
4468 Highway 78, Julian
Founded in 1986 by Liz Smothers, the Julian Pie Company is by far the town’s behemoth baker, located adjacent to an array of craft shops on Julian’s quaint Main Street. The business was so successful early on that, in 1989, Smothers and her husband, Keith, bought an apple farm and planted 17,000 trees to supply pie fruit.
Julian Pie Company pies are also available at Albertsons supermarkets around San Diego, as well as many neighborhood markets and Navy commissaries.
Julian Pie Company
2225 Main St., Julian
Variety: The Slice of Life
In Julian, all things apple are possible. Its rough-and ready Main Street recalls mining days in a way that can only be described as “cute-as-a-button,” while its candy makers, pastry shops and restaurants all prove that there’s more than one way to skin an apple. The enticements range from simple treats like the famous bacon, lettuce and apple sandwiches served at Jack’s
Grocery to the remarkably elaborate, eye-arresting candied and caramel apples confected by the Candied Apple Pastry Company. There are many flavors, but the “Cherry RED” candied apples are so vivid that they’d tempt Snow White to take a second bite.
2117 Main St., Julian
Candied Apple Pastry Company
2128 Fourth St., Julian
If you can’t visualize an apple burger, pay a visit to Cari Thompson’s Cowbella Ranch Cafe. Thompson gives partial credit for this unusual creation to the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, where she enjoyed a similar dish, but nonetheless says, “I kind of invented” the Apple Burger. It’s big and bold, and piles slices of Granny Smiths atop a beefy patty also garnished with Provolone cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, lettuce and a sweet maple-mustard sauce.
Cowbella Ranch Cafe
2116 Main St., Julian
A traditional apple cobbler is one of the offerings at Jeremy’s on the Hill California Bistro, an ambitious, upscale restaurant at which chef Jeremy Manley, age 23, aspires to culinary greatness. During apple season, Manley sometimes features savory dishes that pair pork, veal and the like with tart apples. Such creations are in the style of Normandy, the historic district in Northwest France, which is something of Apple Central to the universe.
Jeremy’s on the Hill California Bistro
4354 Highway 78, Julian
Slice of Heaven
One of the town’s mainstays, the Julian Cafe & Bakery is known for several kinds of exceptional apple pies, as well as specialties like Kristi’s Julian Apple Salad, a refreshing meal that embeds the town’s claim to fame in every bite. During the height of apple season, this extremely popular salad includes Granny Smiths as crisp bedrocks for a tumble of avocado, blue cheese, candied walnuts and, if you like, chicken, with poppy seed dressing on the side.
Julian Cafe & Bakery
2112 Main St. Julian
Pick A Winner
One of the prime destinations for pick your- own-apple aficionados is Raven Hill Orchard, where seven varieties grow on a total of 8,000 trees. Other attractions include the artworks of sculptor and co-owner Patrick Brady.
Raven Hill Orchard
1284 Julian Orchards Dr., Julian
Reservations are required at Apples and Art Orchards, which predicts that this will be a very good year for apples. Tours can be booked for groups of 10 to 50 and include apple cider making and tasting, as well as picking for $10 a half-peck (a dry measurement equivalent to eight quarts).
Apples and Art Orchards
1052 Julian Orchards Dr., Julian
At 107, a Gravenstein apple tree is the oldest at Peacefield Orchard, which promises “free rein to experience hand-picking your own fruit right off the tree” and features a Meditation Garden and labyrinth.
3803 Wynola Rd., Julian
Pears, which like the same climate as apples, are the attraction at O’Dell’s Organic Orchard, yet another destination for those
hankering to pluck some serious fruit straight from the tree.
O’Dell’s Organic Orchard
1095 Julian Orchards Dr., Julian