Apple Season’s A’Peeling

Temperatures have dipped, the front lawn is quite dry, it’s early September now, and apple season is nigh. I was concerned about Minnesota apple season this year—that sudden cold snap in May wasn’t great for apples. So last week I was downright giddy when I saw a stack of gleaming Zestar! apples at the farmers’ market. And when I get giddy, I do roundups. So here’s my Minnesota apple roundup to help you choose ’em, find ’em and enjoy ’em!

Naturally, varieties of apples have seasons, and each variety has a peak season and specific attributes. Some apples are great for eating plain (Honeycrisp, Zestar!, SweeTango, Haralson), while others are better suited for baking or sauce (Northern Spy, Prairie Spy, Duchess). Some apples are naturally disease resistant, which means growers can use fewer chemicals in the orchard (Dayton, Pristine, Redfree, William’s Pride, Liberty).  And certain varieties can be stored for a long time (Prairie Spy, Keepsake, Honeygold, Sweet Sixteen, Honeycrisp). That’s a lot of information to sort out, so I’ve got the major Minnesota-grown varieties listed here by season, in alphabetical order, along with their general attributes.

EARLY SEASON Mid-August to Early September
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! (a personal favorite, large, crunchy, sweet-tart)

MID-SEASON Early September to Late September
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 (a personal favorite, sticky sweet, crisp, juicy, yellow flesh)
Wealthy (tart, medium sized)

LATE SEASON Late September to Late October
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 6 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)

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has a list of 112 apple orchards on their website. You can search by zip code to find an orchard close to you. If you’re looking for a referral, some of the most popular you-pick orchards include Aamodt’s in Stillwater, Afton in Hastings, Apple Jack in Delano, Applewood in Lakeville, Baker Orchard in Centuria, Wisc., Deardoff in Waconia, Emma Krumbee’s in Belle Plain, Havlicek’s in Veseli, Minnetonka Orchards in Wayzata, Sponsel’s in Jordan, and Pine Tree in White Bear Lake (read a Minnesota Monthly review of Pine Tree Apple Orchard here).

All kinds of farmers’ markets have an apple vendor or two—my go-to apple stand is Doug Bolstorff’s Cedar Grove Orchard stand at the downtown St. Paul Farmers Market. They’ve got good apples, decent prices, and friendly service. I also like the Sweetland Orchard stand at the NE Farmers’ Market (he’s got those apple cider donuts that make me swoon on Saturday mornings). 

Don’t have time to hit the farmers’ market, a farm stand, or the orchard? No problem. Co-ops have it covered with collections of local apples from local organic orchards like Hoch Orchards. In fact, Hoch Orchard produced the best apple I tasted last fall. I remember it well: It was a lovely SweeTango…on a clear and cool afternoon in mid-September, and guess what? I bought it at the co-op.

I eat at least one apple a day this time of year. They’re just that darn good. Sometimes I take my apple experience to the next level by whipping up homemade applesauce. This rosemary applesauce recipe is killer with smoked pork chops.

Rosemary Applesauce Recipe (6 servings)
Core and cut up 8 medium sized apples—a rough, large dice will suffice. Place them in a sauce pan with a ½ cup of ginger beer (or water). Turn the pan on medium high, stirring occasionally. When the apples start breaking down, add 1 Tbsp. of cinnamon and 1½ Tbsp. of finely chopped rosemary. Mash the apples if necessary, but they should break down pretty well on their own after about 15 minutes. When the sauce is ready, add 2 Tbsp. brown sugar just before serving.

Just can’t get enough of this apple stuff? It’s time to party. The 64th Annual Applefest is taking place in La Crescent Minnesota September 13-16. There’s a carnival, a pageant, trivia, refreshments, a flea market, a classic car show, music, a poker tournament, big wheel races, and the King Apple Parade featuring tiara bedecked Applefest Royalty.