Hippo Manchester
September 15, 2005

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How do you like them apples?

The Hippoís guide to making the most of apple-picking season

By Michelle Saturley

My daughter Molly is an apple snob.

I only have myself to blame for creating such a finicky fruit monster. Even before she had enough teeth to bite into one, we started taking her (along with the rest of our four children) to Mackís Apple Orchard in Londonderry to pick our own apples. Itís one of those yearly family traditions that we just sort of fell into one September, and weíve been doing it ever since.

Molly is so partial to that crisp, snappy taste of a fresh-picked apple that she turns up her nose at the grocery store apples, deeming them ďfake.Ē Her reaction is a bit on the melodramatic side, but the child has a point. With their anemic size and too-shiny skin, they do look a little like wax models of the real thing. Though the grocery store apples are good enough to sustain a desperate fruit lover during the winter months, the truth is, thereís just no comparison to a fresh-from-the-tree, mouth-watering New England apple.

Luckily, you donít have to travel far for the full pick-your-own experience of apple harvest season. Several locally owned orchards in southern New Hampshire will soon be bursting at the seams with dozens of varieties of apples ó good for everything from pies to sauces to just eating plain.

Some of the early-season apples (such as Paula Red, McIntosh and Cortland) will be ready for picking in a matter of weeks, while another crop (including Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Rome) will be ready for picking in mid-September. The last crop (including Braeburn, Granny Smith and Suncrisp) usually ripens in mid October, and then itís another 11 agonizing months until you can once again sink your teeth into the skin of a locally grown apple. My advice is to make the most of this time of year, before itís gone.

Picking: the technique

I know, I know: how hard can it be to pick fruit? Well, there are specific techniques to picking that can help your apples last longer ó not to mention your picking arm. Experts say the proper picker doesnít just yank away at the precious fruit; instead, the apple should be rolled delicately away from the tree branch in a rotating motion. This keeps the apple stem intact, which means your apples take longer to succumb to fruit rot, and it preserves the tree branches for next season.

Also, donít reach too far over your head for apples, especially if youíre up on a stool or ladder. Pick the fruit thatís just at your eye level. The reasons for this rule are simple: you can better inspect the fruit before you pick it, and you wonít lose your balance and topple off the ladder. It will also keep your arm and shoulder from getting sore.

Many U-pick orchards will offer you a paper or plastic bag to carry your apples, but a canvas bag with wide, reinforced handles is more reliable and easier to carry. Some folks, especially those with small children, bring along their own wagon or bucket. If a little one is too weary to walk, simply plop him in the wagon for a while.

Make sure you only pick what you need, so there are still plenty of apples left for other pickers. The paper bag the orchard gives out is a good way to keep track of how many bushels or pecks of fruit youíve picked, so get a good look at the open bag, even if you opt not to use one. Itís easy to get carried away with the picking and end up with more apples than one family can use in a season.

Tips for a good trip

There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing for your day of picking, to make sure everyone involved has a good time. For example, if you have small children with you, keep an eye on how many apples they eat while youíre picking. One year, I kept glancing over at my son Brandon, who was then five. I thought he was eating the same Granny Smith apple the entire time we were picking, but we found out later that it wasnít the same apple ó in fact, heíd consumed about ten apples in the hour we were at the orchard. Without getting too specific, I think you can figure out how we knew the contents of his stomach a few hours later. Itís easy to overdo it with such yummy apples, but itís best for everyone if you pace yourself.

Since the weather in September can range from a stifling-hot 85 degrees to a drizzly raw 40 degrees, check the forecast ahead of time and plan accordingly. If the weather seems iffy, dress in layers. That way, if the temperature rises, you can take off a few layers and still feel comfortable. Old sneakers or boots are the best choices for your feet, especially if youíre going picking after a rainy spell. Hats and gloves are recommended depending on the weather ó it doesnít hurt to toss a few pairs in your trunk before you go.

Bring plenty of water to keep everyone hydrated, along with a few snacks, such as crackers, to cleanse the palate in between apple tasting. Also, leave your pets at home. Most orchards donít allow them in the fields, and dogs arenít big apple fans in the first place.

Where to pick

For best results, call ahead to the orchard and find out which varieties of apples are ready for picking.

Apple Acres, 52 Searles Road, Windham, 893-8596

Apple Hill Farm, 580 Mountain Road, Concord, 224-8862

Brookdale Farms, 38 Broad Street, Hollis, 465-2240

Carter Hill Orchard, 73 Carter Hill Road, Concord, 225-2625

Currier Orchard, 9 Peaslee Road, Merrimack, 881-8864

Deerview Orchard, 64 Old Center Road, Deerfield, 463-7549

Elwood Orchard, 54 Elwood Road, Londonderry, 434-6017

Lavoieís Farm, 172 Nartoff Road, Hollis, 882-0072

Mackís Apples, 230 Mammoth Road, Londonderry, 434-7619

Mapadot Orchard, Route 13, New Boston, 487-5521

Maplevale Farm and Orchard, Route 107, 14 Depot Road, East Kingston, 642-3381

McLeod Brothers Orchards, North River Road, Milford, 673-3544

Sunnycrest Farm, 59 High Range Road, Londonderry, 432-9652

The multipurpose fruit

Do you know your Braeburn from your Fuji? Which apples are the best for pies, and which ones are best fresh off the branch? With more than 25 varieties of apples cultivated in North America alone, a trip to the local orchard can be more complicated than you might imagine. When in doubt, ask a farm or orchard employee for an opinion on which type best fits your apple plans.

Baldwin: Mottled red skin, mellow, mildly sweet fruit. Good for eating fresh and excellent for cooking. Ripens late in the season.

Braeburn: Rich, red color with white flesh; best for eating straight from the tree. Ripens late in the season.

Cameo: Yellow skin with a red blush stripe; tart taste. Ripens late in the season.

Cortland: Red, round apples with white flesh and sweet-tart taste. Good for eating fresh, but too soft for baking. Ripens early in season.

Crispin: Light green in color; sweet, rich flavor. Best for eating fresh. Ripens mid-to-late season.

Empire: Resembles McIntosh; red skin with juicy white flesh. Best for eating fresh. Ripens early-mid season.

Fuji: Yellow-green with red blush stripe; very sweet with a dramatic aroma. Best for applesauce. Ripens in late season.

Gala: Heart shaped, reddish skin with yellow stripe. Very good for applesauce. Ripens early to mid season.

Golden Delicious: Golden yellow skin with firm white flesh; good for salads and applesauce. Ripens in early season.

Golden Russet: Tawny red skin, sweet flesh. Store well after picking. Ripens in late season.

Granny Smith: Bright green skin with white flesh; very sour taste. Good for eating fresh and for applesauce. Ripens mid to late season.

Gravenstein: More abundant in northern N.H., but still available in southern areas. A round, red-over-yellow skinned apple thatís very good for pies. Does not keep well over time. Ripens early in the season.

Jonathan: Red, round apple with sweet-tart taste. Good for eating fresh or baking. Ripens early in season.

Macoun: Red apple with white, juicy fruit. Highly resistant to disease. Best for eating fresh, applesauce and fruit salads. Ripens in early to mid season.

McIntosh: Very popular red-skinned apple. Best for eating fresh, also good as applesauce when blended with a more tart apple.

Northern Spy: Red blush over yellow-green skin, yellowish flesh. Very good for pies. Ripens late in season.

Paula Red: Red, sweet apple that ripens early in season. Good for cooking and eating.

Pink Lady: Light red skin with white flesh, very sweet flavor. Best for eating fresh or makes a very smooth, sweet applesauce. Ripens late in season.

Red Delicious: Very popular, rectangular-shaped, red-skinned apple. Bruises easily and doesnít have a very long shelf life. Ripens early to mid season. Very good in Waldorf salads.

Rhode Island Greening: Also known as Burlington, Ganges or Green Winter Pippin. Greenish-yellow skin, tart flavor. Keeps well in storage. Very good for pies and eating fresh. Ripens early in season.

Rome: Red apple with white flesh, sweet tart taste that is good for baking and eating fresh, but not for applesauce. Ripens mid to late season.

Suncrisp: A hard, tart apple with red-over-orange color in skin. Best for baking; keeps for a long time. Ripens late in season.

Stayman-Winesap: Rich red color with white flesh; best for pies and cooking. Ripens mid to late season.