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It's apple-picking time!

By Jennifer Fishburn, University of Illinois Extension

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[September 04, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- What tastes better on a cool fall day than an apple plucked right off the tree? Well, maybe a fresh apple pie, homemade applesauce or apple butter. This month the fruit is ripening in many backyards and commercial pick-your-own orchards.

Besides tasting good, apples are also good for you. They're fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free. A medium-sized apple has about 80 calories and 5 grams of dietary fiber. With more than 2,500 varieties in the United States alone, there is an apple to suit nearly every taste bud. Local orchards offer several varieties, including:
  • Braeburn. Tangy, large red from New Zealand; good for eating; stores well; ripens in October.

  • Empire. Juicy, crunchy, mildly tart, medium-sized red developed in upstate New York; available in mid-September.

  • Fuji. Very sweet all-purpose red; one of the best for keeping -- will retain its crisp, juicy texture for several months of cold storage; available in mid-October.

  • Gala. Small, crisp eating apple with a well-balanced flavor of sweetness and tartness; stays firm in the refrigerator; good raw in salads.

  • Golden Delicious. Large yellow, sweet and good for eating or cooking; available in early September. Be gentle: tends to bruise easily.

  • Granny Smith. Tart, crisp, very firm, green; excellent for baking; ripens in October.

  • Honey Crisp. Crunchy, both sweet and tart; stores well; can ripen in September, but best in October.

  • Jonagold. Large cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious; well-balanced blend of tartness and sweetness; ripens in October.

  • Jonathan. Crisp, tender, juicy and moderately tart; good for eating and cooking (retains shape when baked); medium-sized dark to bright red.

  • McIntosh. Small- to medium-sized spicy, mildly tart; can often be soft; good for eating, sauces and juice.

  • Mutsu (Crispin). Sweet, firm and crisp green; good for eating and cooking.

  • Red Delicious. Common sweet, crisp, juicy eating variety available in mid-September; medium- to large-sized red; easy to identify by its five distinct bumps on the blossom end.

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  • Suncrisp. Sweet all-purpose yellow with orange blush; a good keeper.

  • Winesap. Crisp, juicy apple with a wine-like, spicy, tart flavor; a sweet cider favorite; medium-sized violet red; available in mid-October; good for long-term storage.

Ripe apples should be easy to pick with the stems attached. Roll or twist the apple so its stem separates from the tree. Handle fruits carefully to avoid bruising. With refrigeration, firm, unbruised apples will keep from several weeks to several months.

Here are a few tips for picking apples: Be sure to call ahead to confirm the orchard's hours of operation, availability of apples and apple varieties currently available. Wear clothes that you can get dirty. Avoid picking apples from the ground. Watch out for yellowjackets! If you're planning to bake, you'll need about 2 pounds of apples to make one 9-inch pie.

This fall try at least one new variety. To learn more about apple varieties, recipes, festivals, growing and storage, visit the University of Illinois Extension's Apples and More website at

It's a fact -- local produce is fresher, more nutritious and better-tasting than food picked before it's ripe and shipped long distances. Check out a local apple orchard or visit a vendor at one of the farmers markets.

[By JENNIFER FISHBURN, horticulture educator, University of Illinois Extension, Logan-Menard-Sangamon Unit]

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