Autumn welcomes the heavy boughs of apple trees, spotted with green, red, and yellow fruit. We celebrate the season with trips to the apple orchard, apple pies and crisps, bobbing for apples, apple cider and caramel apples, and homemade apple sauce. It’s no surprise that this not-so-forbidden fruit is Michigan’s largest crop, with our state ranking third on the list of apple-producers and over 950 family-operated orchards calling the Lower Peninsula home.
Red delicious, golden delicious, gala, mutsu, fuji, granny smith, honeycrisp, mcinstosh, empire… Mentioning your favorite variety could start a heated debate! There are about 2,500 apple varieties in the United States with over 7,500 internationally, each with its own unique flavor and texture. In general, red apples offer a sweet flavor while green varieties are tart and tangy. For a great description of Michigan apple varieties and their recommended uses (whether it be fresh off the tree, baking, cider or sauce), visit www.michiganapples.com/varieties.html.
Apple trees can thrive in a wide range of soils, but do particularly well in West Michigan’s sandy loam where you’ll find the highest concentration of orchards. Full sun and quality air circulation are also key, especially in terms of keeping the morning dew from sitting too long on the leaves and fruit, which can lead to decay and disease.
Apple season begins in spring when the trees are ornamented with delicate white and pink blooms, Michigan’s state flower. Depending on friendly bees for pollination, only 7% of the blossoms will become fruit during the fall.
A ripe apple will be firm and rich in color with a juicy flesh. If an apple is not ready, it will have a starchy taste, while overripe fruit will be mealy and soft. Not every apple on a tree will ripen at the same time, so be patient and leave those that don’t detach on the tree until it’s ready.
To harvest by hand, cup an apple into your palm and gently twist. It will release easily from the branch when ripe. A wire harvester is helpful when reaching for higher boughs, but a ladder may be necessary. Use caution and care for the sake of your safety and the fruit’s!
Apples bruise easily, so treat them gently. They store well in cool temperatures in a well-ventilated bag away from strong odors, which may be absorbed. Apples ripen up to ten times faster when stores at room temperature.
How true is the old adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Apples truly contribute to a healthful lifestyle at only 80 calories in a medium-sized fruit. They contain a combination of antioxidants, boron, phytochemicals, phytonutrients, complex carbohydrates and pectin – a soluble fiber. Apples are also sodium, fat, and cholesterol free. Just don’t peal the skin: it contains more antioxidants and fiber than its flesh in addition to the anti-inflammatory and antihistamine quercetin, which studies show may aid in the prevention of cancer.
Did You Know?
- Michigan has more than 7.5 million apple trees in commercial production.
- Sixty percent of Michigan apples are processed into another product, including apple pie filling, applesauce and apple cider.
- China produces the most apples in the world, with the United States coming in second.
- The earliest evidence of apples dates to around 6500 BC.
- The apple tree originated between the Caspin and Black Seas.
- European settlers introduced apples to New York in 1600s, while John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, brought the fruit to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois in the late 1700s.
- Apples have five seed pockets.
- Fresh apples float because 25% of their volume is air.
- The most popular variety in the United States is the Red Delicious.
- The largest apple ever picked weighed three pounds, two ounces.
- The only apple native to North America is the crabapple.