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Minnesota to the Core: A Complete Guide to Picking the Perfect Apple

Take some time to choose the perfect apple


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photo by Dave Hansen

Markets and farm stands are packed with stacks of fantastic apples right now, but choosing the perfect apple when you can't sample can be a bit tricky. Here's an annual roundup of information that can assist your crucial apple selection process.

Choosing Your Apple

Apple varieties have varying attributes, whether they're crisp and sweet, or juicy and sour. Some apples are perfect for packing in a lunch box (Honeycrisp, Zestar!, SweeTango, Haralson), while others are better suited for pies or apple butter (Northern Spy, Prairie Spy, Duchess).  Another attribute to consider is shelf-life; some varieties last longer in storage (Prairie Spy, Keepsake, Honeygold, Sweet Sixteen, Honeycrisp).

Here are the major Minnesota-grown varieties listed by season, in alphabetical order, along with general tasting attributes:

Early Season

  • Beacon (sweet, juicy, good eating apple)
  • Centennial Crabapple (small, juicy, great for kids)
  • Dayton (naturally disease resistant, tart, crisp)
  • Discovery (floral, sweet)
  • Duchess (good for pies)
  • Estivale (sometimes called LaCrescent, sweet, tart)
  • Gingergold (sweet, crunchy)
  • Jersey Mac (sweet, tart, good for applesauce)
  • Lodi (very early, tart, decent pie apple)
  • Paula Red (sweet, tart, bright white flesh)
  • Pristine (disease resistant, crisp, delicate)
  • Redfree (disease resistant, sweet, crisp)
  • Sansa (Gala/Akane cross, crunchy, juicy)
  • Summer Red (similar to Haralson, crisp, tart, juicy)
  • State Fair (tart, crunchy)
  • SweeTango (a personal favorite, crisp, tangy, slightly sweet)
  • Tyedeman’s Red (juicy, sweet, tart, good for apple sauce)
  • Viking (mild, soft, thin-skinned)
  • Wellington (tart, early pie apple)
  • William’s Pride (disease resistant, slightly spicy, bold)
  • Zestar! (large, crunchy, sweet-tart)

Mid-Season

  • Chestnut Crabapple (nutty, smaller, good for sauce)
  • Cortland (bright white flesh, doesn’t brown as quickly, great for fruit salad)
  • Gala (sweet, crisp, yellowish flesh)
  • Honeycrisp (a personal favorite, well balanced, sweet, tangy, crisp, very popular)
  • McIntosh (very tart, juicy, very popular)
  • Red Baron (mild, sweet, juicy)
  • Sweet Sixteen (sticky sweet, crisp, juicy, yellow flesh)
  • Wealthy (tart, medium sized)

Late Season

  • Braeburn (sweet, tart, classic)
  • Fireside (sweet, large, good for baking)
  • Frostbite (very sweet, smaller, juicy)
  • Honeygold (yellow skin, good for cooking, sweet)
  • Haralson (firm, good pie apple, sweet)
  • Keepsake (firm, crisp, yellowish flesh, can store for six months)
  • Liberty (disease resistant, tart, crisp)
  • Northern Spy (tart, juicy, great for pies and sauce)
  • Pinata (orange in color, slightly spicy)
  • Prairie Spy (large, dense, good for baking, long storage time)
  • Red Delicious (very popular, firm, dark red, sweet)
  • Regent (well balanced, good for eating and cooking)
  • SnowSweet (a personal favorite, sweet, slightly tart, white flesh is slow to brown)

Pick Your Apple

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has a list of 116 apple orchards on their website this year. You can search by zip code to find an orchard close to you.

If you’re looking for a referral, some of the most beloved orchards include:

No time for apple picking? Check your local farmers market, which is a perfect weekend outing this time of the year. Doug Bolstorff’s Cedar Grove Orchard stand at the downtown St Paul Farmers Market is a personal favorite. They have good apples, decent prices, and friendly service. Don't miss the Sweetland Orchard stand at the Kingfield Farmers Market where they sell fantastic apple cider donuts. Finally, if you can't make it to the orchard or farmers market, local co-ops can fill your basket with local apples from local organic orchards. Do you research, fill your basket, and when you get home you can sit back and relax knowing you've selected the perfect Minnesota apple.

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