Apple season has arrived, and in Central New York, the apple-picking experience won’t be one of disappointment – apple growers have been preparing all year to make sure pickers receive the taste he or she expects.
The apple-picking season runs from mid-August to mid-October. Apple growers suggest that pickers plan a visit based on their favorite type of apple.
“People still think all of the apples are ready on one day and think they could come anytime and get their favorite variety, but you can’t,” said Warren Abbott, an apple grower at Abbott Farms.
“People don’t realize that all apples don’t ripen at the same time,” said Candace Morse, the Retail Manager of Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette. “Different ones ripen early or late.”
Apple orchard guide talks to visitors about rules and where to go to pick the best apples. (Photo: Taylor Baucom)
Morse said the apples that mature early in the season tend to taste more tart than those that ripen near the end of the season. For instance, for a sweet apple pie, it’s best to go apple picking later in the season.
“They say make a pie with a Northern Spy,” said Liz Madison, an employee of Belle Terre Farm. “They are an old-fashioned variety that are great for pies.”
A Northern Spy is a late-season apple that matures in October.
Abbott said that each variety of apple is actually “really nice” for about a week or less. He recommends people find out when their favorite variety of apple is ready for picking. He wants his customers to enjoy the apples at their finest.
On the Abbott Farms’ website, Abbot provides a chart that shows all the apple varieties he offers, when each variety matures and how each variety tastes at its finest.
Abbott plants the apple tree varieties in their order of maturity: at one end of the orchard, there are apple trees that mature in August, such as the Ginger Gold and Sansa, and at the opposite end there are apple varieties that mature in October, such as Fuji and Northern Spy.
Between the two ends of the orchard are apples that mature in September, such a McIntosh and Empire.
“We move the people through the orchard as the season progresses,” said Dee Abbott, Warren’s wife. She said this method helps to ensure their consumers do not pick the wrong apples.
“An apple with red color doesn’t always mean that they are matured and ready for picking,” she said.
Ty Buza picks an apple out of the tree while his dad holds him at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard. (Photo: Taylor Baucom)
Abbott uses red tape to block off trees that have unripe apples. He also gives consumers a sheet of paper that shows which trees have matured apples. Yet, he finds that some pickers ignore the red tape and pick unripe apples anyway.
“They tend to misunderstand us and think we are trying to rip them off,” said Abbott. “As soon as consumers eat the wrong apple, they’re disappointed in the taste, which skews their perception about apples.”
Those with skewed perceptions tend to pick only their favorites every year. Therefore, sampling is usually offered at the orchards to encourage people to taste all apple varieties.
At Abbott Farms, you are allowed to taste the fruit right off the tree; and at the Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards, a patio overlooks the hill valley orchard where you can enjoy the scenery while tasting the selection of wine and apple cider.
The taste of the apple cider depends on the time of the season. Apple cider offered early in the season is more tart than cider made later in the season. “The same goes for our Vodka, Gin and Hard Cider,” Morse said.
Some apples trees need more attention than others.
For example, a Honeycrisp apple tree needs more hand thinning than a McIntosh apple tree. Hand thinning is a process of de-crowding an apple branch by picking off unripe apples.
The apples are dropped to the ground and left there to decompose. This process allows more space and room for the apples left on the branch to grow to an attractive size and develop a sweeter taste. A McIntosh apple tree doesn’t need hand thinning, since the apples fall off the branch naturally.
“We want it to be in perfect condition and so we put more care and attention in the harvesting,” said Madison, of Belle Terre Farm.
Ty Buza takes a big bite out of a McIntosh apple while visiting Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard with his family. (Photo: Taylor Baucom)
The differences in the amount of labor in cultivating and harvesting affect apple prices. For example, Northern Spy and Honeycrisp cost more than McIntoch.
Sharon Piepho, who was shopping at Wegmans, said that prices of the apples do matter to her “a little bit,” saying she usually buys the apples that are packaged in bags, because she finds them cheaper than those that are sold individually. She said she likes Pink Lady, and her daughter likes Gala.
The most popular apples at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards are McIntosh, Empire, Macoun, Honeycrisp and Northern Spy.
The orchard charges by the pound.
The most popular apples at the Abbott Farms are McIntosh, Empire, Courtland, Honeycrisp and Gala. This orchard charges by the size of the bag one selects.
According to the U.S. Apple Association, New York State is one of the top five Apple-producing states, so keep those eyes peeled for an abundance of apples over the next few months.
Click on an apple below to find local apple growers and markets near you.
Map produced by Max B. O'Connell