Though apple picking season has ended, local apples are a great fruit for winter because they store so well. Big apple growers have found ways to keep apples fresh all year long.
There are a ton of local apple varieties out there, not just the few you find at the supermarket. I encourage you to look for some new types to try!
Enjoying Local Apples
Apples have a complex taste, which differs from variety to variety. You can find them crisp, crunchy or mealy. They can be sweet, tart, or a mix. Apples come in yellows, greens, reds. Their skins might be thin or thick, or russeted.
The apple varieties you find in the supermarket have been bred for longevity and appearance. They were not bred for taste. Names like Red Delicious are marketing ploys. Most people have no idea how good a fresh local apple can taste and how complex the flavors can be from a different apple varieties.
Apples have been bred for eating fresh, for storing, for cooking, or for cider. You can find local apples that are good for many things.
Local apples are delicious fresh or in sauces. You can chop them into salads, or add to baked goods or oatmeal. Dried apples are a great snack, and can be added to cooked dishes as well.
Growing Local Apples
Local apples are harvested anywhere from mid August to early November in Maryland. Each variety has a specific harvest range. So you may see fresh Ginger Golds and Honeycrisps in August, but Fujis and Pink Ladies don’t show up until October.
Usually, the earlier apples don’t store as well as those that ripen later in the season. Tarter and thicker skinned apples keep best. Usually those you find in the supermarket tend to be good keepers.
There are so many more local apple varieties out there that it is worth it to seek them out. At the market, local apples will be picked ripe and fresh, and grown for taste, not appearance. There will be varieties you never see in stores.
Apples grow on trees that have been grafted onto a rootstock. That means someone cut a branch off of a particular apple tree, then bound it to another type of young tree that was growing in the ground.
Apples are grafted because they do not breed true. You can take a seed out of a Jonagold and plant it, and a tree should grow. In a few years, you will have apples. But they won’t be Jonagold. They might not be edible, and only good for cider.
Commercial apples are grown as clones of the original parent tree, on a rootstock that tells the tree how big to grow and how to fight disease.
Apples in Maryland are subject to a variety of pests and diseases. Two of the worst, the oriental fruit moth and plum curculio, make it difficult to grow local apples without pesticides. There are pesticide free ways to combat them, so you may want to talk with your farmer about how they use pesticides.
Local Apple Varieties
Larriland Farms, a pick your own farm in Howard County, has a great list of what they grow and when it can be harvested. They have a good variety of apples that grow in Maryland.
There are a lot of local apple varieties available out there. The ones at Larriland are probably a good representation of what you might find in Maryland. Those of you with home orchards, however, have a lot more choices out there!
Apples are one of those crops that take a lot of development to grow a commercially viable product. “Commercially viable product” is business speak for an apple that keeps well, looks good, grows consistently, and probably tastes pretty good.
There are many apple varieties out there that are not commercially viable. Maybe they have spots, or are misshapen, or they don’t keep as well. But they may taste amazing! It’s worth it to seek out rarer apples that might not look as pretty on the shelf but will be worth eating.
Don’t ignore those supermarket varieties at the farmers market. At the supermarket, they might have been picked at the wrong time and might be older because they have been kept in special storage for a long time.
A Fuji bought at a farm stand could be much better than those from the supermarket. If you can find them locally, they will be picked at the right time and be fresh. Personally, I like to buy as many varieties that I can and enjoy a taste test with my kids.
If you are interested in growing your own apples, a great resource to read is The Apple Grower, by Michael Phillips. It is aimed at those who want to sell their apples, but the information is sound for anyone who wants to grow organic apples at home.
Preserving Local Apples
Local apples are a great crop for the root cellar, if you have one. They require 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 80-90% humidity. Late fall apples store best in these conditions.
Yet apples last a while even without ideal conditions. If you can keep them as cold as possible and find a way to keep them humid, you could be eating apples for some time in the winter.
Local apples are great for canning. Applesauce and apple butter are delicious treats you can make yourself. I make applesauce out of a mix of different varieties, with no added sugar, and it is incredible. Sugar isn’t needed when you have all the flavors from local apples. Store bought applesauce is so bland in comparison.
Food mills are great tools to help making apple sauces and butters. They puree apples and remove skins and seeds. That way you can process a lot of apples without having to peel and core them first.
You can also dehydrate apples. Then they become a delicious healthy snack, and can be rehydrated or added to oatmeal or baked goods.
If you don’t have a way to store fresh apples long term, you can try freezing them. They won’t be fresh when thawed, but can be used in cooked dishes easily.
Local Apple Recipes
Local apples pair well with squash and with meats. They are fabulous sliced fresh and used in a salad. And, of course, you can make cider with them!
John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, was a real person. He really did tote a bag of apple seeds, and his goal was to grow from seed, not graft. This meant most of his trees were destined for hard apple cider, not fresh eating.
You can grow more than one variety of apple on a tree by grafting them on. A man in England has a tree with 250 apple varieties growing on it!