Have you crunched into a sweet, juicy apple yet this season? Branches are heavy with yellow, green, and red fruit, so get your baking pans ready for a fall workout.
MacQueen Orchards in Springfield Township is open year round, but its 60 employees are working harder than ever during the peak season.
Red and yellow apples are good for sauce and pies, says Marlene MacQueen, who owns the orchard with her husband, Bob. In general, red apples are firm, thick-skinned, and a bit tart. Most yellow apples are softer, thinner-skinned, and mellower-flavored than red apples. Green apples tend to be thicker-skinned and more tart than red apples.
"Some people like the McIntosh because they are a bit softer," Mrs. MacQueen says. "We use Jonathan to make our pies and caramel apples. But when I am cooking at home, I like to use Jonathan and Yellow Delicious together."
There are about 25 species in the Malus genus, which includes apples and crabapples. The fruit grows on hardy deciduous shrubs and trees that are related to roses. Mrs. MacQueen says the orchard has a bumper crop this year, and that red apples are requested more than green apples.
"You always have your McIntosh, Red Delicious, and Jonathan apples," she says. "People seem to pick the same apple. We like to have them try a few new varieties."
She says Gala and Melrose varieties are gaining in popularity. "They are newer apples. We have been growing the Melrose for about five years," Mrs. MacQueen says. The Melrose was introduced a few years ago by a scientist from Wooster, Ohio. It is a cross between the Jonathan and Delicious.
Honeycrisp apples seem to disappear first in my house. They are sweet and crispy, just like their name. "Honeycrisp are hard to grow," Mrs. MacQueen says. "We have had them for the last two years and they are really starting to pick up production. Sometimes it takes three or four years for a tree to start to produce a good crop. They have some disease problems and production is lower because they don't have as many apples on each branch. But people really love them."
Golden Delicious is the most popular yellow apple, and Mrs. MacQueen says it is a great variety to combine with others when you are cooking. "They are one of my favorites because they are acid-free, and that is better for people with stomach discomfort," she says.
That big bowl of apples on your kitchen table may look pretty, but it isn't a good way to store them, Mrs. MacQueen says. "They need to stay cool. We keep ours at a constant 35 to 40 degrees in our coolers and also add in some humidity. You should store them with your lettuce in the refrigerator."
Constant temperature change can spoil apples. They will also start to shrivel in the refrigerator if they don't have moisture. Keep a wet paper towel or cloth in the crisper drawer of your fridge if you don't have climate control.