Most of the country is still in the middle of the August heat, but that means that fall is just around the corner, and it will be time for apple picking season. Soon there will be cooler temperatures and autumn colors, making it the perfect time to head to the orchard and pick some delicious apples.
Because they are big and don’t bruise that easily, apples are one of the easiest fruits to pick. And, they are also fantastic to use since you can eat them fresh or cook them, and if you want to wait and use them later you can freeze or can them.
Apples have many health benefits because they are fat-free, cholesterol-free, and low in sodium. They are also number one in antioxidant activity, which means a single serving has more antioxidant power than any other fruit or vegetable to fight cancer, heart disease, and aging. Just one-half cup is only 42 calories, and they are high in fiber, niacin, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C, plus they are a great source of iron and other trace minerals.
The middle of August marks the beginning of apple-picking season for the majority of the United States, and for many people, making homemade apple pie or drinking hot apple cider in the fall is a highlight of the season. Many of those sweet treats get their crisp flavor from hand-picked apples, but while you are visiting an orchard, there are often more things to do.
Some offer tastings of apple butter and homemade jams, while others let you make your way through a maze. At orchards around the country, there are all kinds of fun adventures for you and your family to enjoy, and chances are there is a one close by no matter where you live.
Tips To Make The Most Of Your Apple Picking Trip
When you get to the orchard, it can be tempting to just start grabbing apples from the closest branches. However, if you want to keep the trees healthy and make sure you will have plenty of apples to pick next year, it is best to learn the correct way.
If you are picking early in the season, you want to pick from the outside of the tree because those apples ripen first. To determine if the apples are ripe, simply eat one to make sure the apples on the tree you are picking from are ready. Once you pick them, the apples stop the ripening process, so you don’t want to pick them too soon. Some people choose to open one up to see if the seeds are brown (which is an indication it is ripe), while others judge by the apple’s color. Since neither method is perfect, it is best just to have a taste. If they aren’t ripe, they won’t taste quite right, and they will be much harder to remove from the branch.
The proper apple-picking technique is to twist the apples with the palm of your hand instead of pulling them, and avoid using an apple picker. If you grab an apple with your fingers and forcefully pull it until it comes off, that can damage both the tree and the apple.
And if you are pulling and shaking, that can make other apples drop, which is simply wasteful. When you twist the apple with the palm of your hand, it causes the stem to separate from the branch, and that means no damage to the tree, and the softer grip will avoid damage to the apple.
Apples do not grow on the main tree branches; instead, they grow on spurs, which are short sub-branches. If you are grabbing and pulling an apple, you can easily pull the spur with it, and this will reduce the number of places the tree can produce apples because you eliminated one of the fruit-producing branches.
When selecting apples to pick, it is also smart to check and make sure they don’t have any bruises, are firm to the touch, and fragrant. You also want to avoid bruising them post-picking by placing them gently into your basket or tote instead of tossing them. Bruised apples rot much faster, and one bad apple can spoil the bunch.
All of these tips will help you harvest a crop of tasty apples while keeping the trees as healthy as possible.
Different Types Of Apples Peak At Different Times
As apple picking season begins, there are a few types of apples available mostly from mid-August until early September. Gala apples are ready early in the season, and they are perfect to eat fresh or use for cooking. They make great apple pies, apple cider, apple juice, apple butter, and the best applesauce, but you must keep them refrigerated, and they are only good for a few weeks.
Other August apples include Lodi apples which are great for applesauce or eating fresh, as well as Mollie’s Delicious, Pixie Crunch, Jersey Mac, Earligold, Akane, PaulaRed, and SweeTango. Each type has different tastes and is good for different things, so it is good to know exactly what you plan on using your apples for before you start picking.
Traditionally, sweeter and softer apples like Gala apples are great for applesauce, and varieties like Arkansas Black and Rome — which are harder and dryer — are best for baking and storage. If you are looking for the best type to eat fresh, the tarter and juicier varieties like Honeycrisp are a big hit.
September is a big month in the apple-picking world because there are multiple types that become ripe and ready for you to put them in your basket. McIntosh, Ginger Gold, and Honeycrisp are ready the minute summer starts turning to fall, and each of those varieties is delicious eaten fresh or in cooking.
In mid to late September, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Ultra Gold, Cortland, Jonalicious, Jonamac, Ambrosia, Red Delicious, and Jonagold are all ready for picking. And if you want to make applesauce, these are some of the best options.
By the time we get into October, there are still more varieties ready and waiting at your local orchard. They include: Jubilee, Crispin, Keepsake, Northern Spy, Shizuka, Braeburn, Cameo, Rome, Sundance, Blushing Golden, Stayman, Enterprise, Melrose, Stayman Winesap, Granny Smith, Macoun, Liberty, Pink Lady, Jazz, Suncrisp, Yates, Fuji, Black Twig, and Arkansas Black.
There are definitely variations for each apple season because of region, rainfall, and temperature. These factors can affect ripening dates, so it is always a good idea to call ahead when planning your orchard visit to find out exactly what is available near you.
How To Store Your Apples
Once you get your apples home, do not wash them right away. Instead, to prevent spoilage, wait until you are about to use them. You can keep the ones you plan on eating in the next few days in a bowl on the counter, but to store them correctly for an extended period of time, keep your apples cool. The best place is in a basement or in the fruit/vegetable drawer in your refrigerator — so you can keep them fresh for weeks. Apples will ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature.
Refrigerators are great for small quantities, but if you have boxes, it is best to keep them in a cool, dark, and dry place where they won’t freeze. When an apple freezes, it ruptures all of its cells, and that turns into one big bruise in a matter of hours. If you do want to intentionally freeze them for later use, cut them into slices first, lay them on a sheet tray, freeze, and then store them in a plastic zip-top bag.
It is important to note that how long an apple stays fresh does depend on the variety. Red and Yellow Delicious apples don’t keep well for long, but Rome apples will seemingly last forever. High humidity will also help keep apples from shriveling, but you don’t want them to actually get wet.
Whether in the fridge or a basement cellar, be sure to keep your apples away from your other fruits and vegetables. Since apples produce the natural plant hormone ethylene gas, it can cause other fruit to ripen quicker.
If you are storing apples for the winter, it is also a good idea to wrap them individually in sheets of newspaper before stacking them.
Turn Your Apple Haul Into These Delicious Recipes
While apple pies, applesauce, cider, and apple butter are all great uses for the delicious fruit, there are also a plethora of creative recipes that are perfect for your hand-picked apples. In addition to sweet desserts and fritters, there are also soups and salads. So, once you finish your apple picking, quickly get them into the kitchen so you can try some of these recipes.
It is always a challenge to find a healthy dessert that tastes good, but this apple crisp comes pretty close because of the low sugar recipe. It doesn’t matter if you are a master chef or a first-time cook, this is perfect for a holiday dinner or any occasion.
A deep-fried donut filled with apples? Yes, please! Just make sure to schedule that workout after you enjoy this incredible treat.
A spiced apple cake with a magical taste that features a rich and dense texture. You get a taste of apple in every bite, and when you finish your first piece, you will quickly go back for more.
This mildly sweet soup goes well with sautéed greens, and this recipe gets naughty thanks to the creme fraiche. However, you can lighten it up with a few adjustments, and if you are vegetarian or vegan, you can alter this recipe to fit your diet.
To help you transition from summer to fall, this lighter version of the Waldorf Salad features plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise and chickpeas for protein, giving it a balance of savory and sweet, plus a bit of crunch.
Crispy Turnovers with Apple, Bacon, and Caramelized Onions
If you are looking for a great brunch idea, nothing compares to this indulgent treat. What other food can hit the spot like this buttery, flaky masterpiece?
Apple, Cheddar, and Chicken Melts
When the fall weather settles in, it is common to crave something warm and gooey. A great solution for that craving are these melts because these hot and toasty sandwiches bring together some of the best fall flavors.
Spelt Crust Pizza with Fennel, Prosciutto, and Apples
Before the summer comes to an end, try this quick, yeast-free pizza dough dressed up with a topping of fennel, prosciutto, and apples. You will be surprised how good this treat tastes.
These are fun to look at on Pinterest, but how easy are they to make? It turns out, making Mini Apple Rose Pies is not that difficult as long as you have a mandolin.
A perfect snack for any craving, you pack these chewy, buttery granola bars with apples, oats, and spices. They can also be a perfect on-the-go breakfast or lunch box treat for your little one. It is incredibly simple to make, and you can adapt the recipe if you want to add nuts or dried fruit.
Apple Cinnamon Mini Monkey Breads with Lemon Glaze
These pull-apart treats of buttery, cinnamon goodness are a mouthful of joy. You can easily eat them while you are on-the-go because you bake them in muffin cups. They are not too sweet, and a great option for a nice breakfast with the family.