Minnesota fall apple harvest now well under way

Published 8:59 am Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

There is nothing much tastier than a freshly picked apple, and Minnesota in recent years has led the way by developing some of the most popular varieties of apples — most notably the honeycrisp in 1991, followed by the zestar, and more recently the sweetango in 2009. The honeycrisp is now grown worldwide, but Minnesota and surrounding regions of the upper Midwest produce some of the best quality honeycrisps.

Verlys Huntley

Apples, known as the king of fruits, are probably the oldest fruit known to man. They are believed to be the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and grew wild for centuries before being cultivated. An interesting characteristic of apples is that they do not grow true to variety by planting apple seeds. Therefore, many new varieties came about by planting large numbers of apple seeds, and then selecting the seedlings that could survive the winter temperatures and that produced the most desirable fruit. Peter Gideon developed the wealthy apple in Minnesota after many years of dogged tenaciousness. At one point he had lost all his trees except one Siberian crab apple. After becoming discouraged and impoverished, he used his last $8 to send to Maine for more seeds and scions, which ultimately led to the development of the wealthy apple in 1868.

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Today apple trees are reproduced by grafting a branch or scion from the variety desired onto a root stock. Different root stocks can be used to produce dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard size trees. Most commercial orchards grow the smaller trees because they are easier to care for, and bear fruit earlier. However, many dwarf trees do not have as sturdy a root system and may need to be staked up.

In 1907 the Minnesota Legislature established a fruit breeding farm near Chaska, currently known as the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center. This research center has become world famous for developing many popular varieties, including haralson, beacon, sweet sixteen, state fair, honeygold, regent, fireside and honeycrisp.

Growing apples commercially involves a lot of work. Our first apple trees at Huntley Gardens orchard were planted with about 12 trees from Wedge Nursery, intended to be just a home orchard. However, in 1991, we started selling produce at local farmers markets, and decided to add to our orchard. From 1991 to 2000, we planted about an additional 100 apple trees. Many of the trees we planted were developed by the University of Minnesota, but we also planted some other varieties that were more resistant to apple diseases, or had other characteristics that we liked.

Each October for the last three years we have held an orchard open house, which includes a demonstration on making apple cider with an old wooden press, a display of some antique garden/farm equipment, and an opportunity to see our orchard and gardens. Hot cider and a few refreshments are served, and you will have an opportunity to purchase fresh apples and fall produce. This year our open house will be Sunday, Oct. 10, from 2 to 5 p.m.

Farmers market notes

Our local Albert Lea Farmers Market celebrated our 30th anniversary this year. We have several vendors whose families have been involved in the market for all 30 years. We are proud of our past, but excited about our future. Farmers markets are becoming more and more popular as consumers become aware of the benefits of buying local. If you haven’t visited our market, you are missing out on many exciting and interesting things. You will now find lots of late season produce, fall decorative items, meats, eggs, baked goods, jams, jellies, honey and maple syrup, some really neat crafts, and much more. We are open on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturday morning from 9 to noon. See you there!

Apple recipes

One bushel of apples weighs 40 pounds.

Two pounds of apples will make one 9 inch pie, or approximately one quart apple sauce. Apples are best when freshly picked. When storing apples, keep refrigerated in a perforated polyethylene bag to maintain quality, as they will lose crispness in a few days at room temperature. Many apples are sold in these bags.

To keep cut fresh apples from darkening, you can dip them in a solution of one quart water and one tablespoon of lemon juice. When freezing sliced apples for pies, etc., I use a solution of 2 tablespoons salt and 2 tablespoons vinegar in one gallon water. You also can use ascorbic acid powder, or six 500 milligram tablets of vitamin C dissolved in one gallon water.

Apple dip

8 ounces cream cheese

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix thoroughly. If necessary, add one tablespoon of milk. Very good with apples, but can also use with grapes, bananas, or other fruit.

Fried apple slices

1 apple, peeled & sliced (use apple that holds together when cooked)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon dash of nutmeg (optional)

Melt butter in frying pan along with brown sugar. Add apple slices and cook until tender. Add cinnamon and nutmeg if desired, and stir. Serve warm with main meal or as dessert with whipped topping or ice cream. (I also use these same basic ingredients and cook them in a microwave, cooking for about 4 or 5 minutes, and stirring about halfway through.)

East apple scones

1 cup Bisquick

4 tablespoon soft butter

2 tablespoon very hot water

Beat these ingredients into smooth dough. Flour hands and spread dough in greased and floured 9-inch pie pan.

Sprinkle on 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup jam (any flavor) dropped by spoon. Top with one large peeled and cored apple, sliced very thin. Bake 425 degrees for 25 minutes, until golden. Dust with mixture of sugar and cinnamon.

I’m hoping all of you who had water damage have been able to get things cleaned up. The weather prediction for this coming week sounds much better. The farmers and gardeners need some nice drying weather now to get everything harvested and ready for winter.

Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.