How do you like them apples?

hobbyapplesSome varieties are best for eating out-of-hand, some for baking or making sauce. Here's an overview to help you choose the apple of your eye.

The apples popular at the turn of the 19th century, for the most part, aren't those that are popular today. In the early 1900s, Baldwin, Rhode Island Greenings, and Grimes Golden were the most popular apples in the United States. Today, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Mcintosh are the most popular apples, but they are being replaced rapidly by newer varieties.

Apples such as Mcintosh and Jonathan have stood the test of time, but many of the older varieties worth cultivating and consumption have almost disappeared because they are unattractive, poor keepers, shy bearers, or have some other shortcoming making them unsuitable for commercial markets.

The good news is that many of the best of the older varieties are still grown by hobby orchardists in the region. Spitzenburg (Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple), Snow, Golden Russet, American Beauty, Pitmaston Pineapple, Yellow Newtown Pippen, and Hudson's Golden Gem are among the best of these old varieties for eating out-of hand.

For baking, try older varieties like 20 Ounce and Opalescent (both from the mid 1800s). They are superior to the newer varieties for baking, with the exception of Spigold, which was developed in 1962 at the Geneva Station in New York.

(Approximately) When Local Apples Ripen

  • AUG 10: Transparent
  • AUG 25: Paula Reds
  • SEPT 15: Gala
  • SEPT 20: Mcintosh, Wolf River, and Honeycrisp
  • OCT 1: Snow, Cortland, and Empire
  • OCT 5: Jonathan
  • OCT 8: Opalescent and Macoun
  • OCT 10: 20 Ounce
  • OCT 15: Delicious, Blushing Golden, Jonagold, and Ida Red
  • OCT 20: Spigold, Northern Spy, and Granny Smith

Northern Spy, which dates from 1800, remains the favorite of many bakers. Unfortunately, for the impatient, Northern Spys take 16 to 18 years to produce on semi dwarf or standard rootstock.

The best apple dishes, like the best cider, are made from a combination of two or more different apples. An apple pie made from a combination of Mcintosh and Cortland or Macoun and Ida Reds is almost always superior to that made from a single variety.

Most of the newer varieties shine when it comes to eating out-of-hand. Honeycrisp, which was developed at the Minnesota Experimental Station in the early 1990s, takes top honors here. It's the most widely planted apple in Michigan today. A friend from Indiana, who has tasted more than 750 varieties of apples, says it is the best piece of fruit he has ever had in his mouth.

Gala apples, which originated in New Zealand, were introduced in this country in 1965. They are somewhat similar to Red Delicious, but superior in many ways. Jonagold, a 1968 introduction, is a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious. It has the best qualities of both parents and is an excellent all purpose apple. Currently, it's the most widely planted apple in Europe.

Empire is a cross between Mcintosh and Red Delicious. Developed in 1945, it didn't become popular until the 1970s. It has creamy white flesh that's crisp, juicy, and moderately sub-acid. Mutsu was developed in Japan in the early 1940s and brought to the United States in 1946. It's difficult to grow, but an outstanding apple for almost any purpose.

The bad news? Approximately 90 percent of the apple blossoms in most of the orchards in our region this year froze because of an early bloom and below-freezing temperatures in late April. Some orchards lost 100 percent of their crop. Call before visiting any local orchards this season to check on the availability of their apples.

You'll find that area orchards will welcome you. They're eager to answer your questions, and are proud to have you sample some of the best fruit Mother Nature has to offer. Michigan is the third largest producer of apples (after Washington and New York).This fall, treat yourself to some of the best produce our state has to offer.

HOBBY Orchards

Apple Blossom Orchard: 2581 Wilder Rd, Midland, 989-631-5694. Mid-Sept-mid-Nov. Twenty varieties of apples, pears, cider, caramel apples, doughnuts, honey, and pumpkins.

Apple Valley Orchard: 648 Davis Rd, Saginaw, 989-225-2967. Twenty-five varieties of apples, cider, doughnuts, caramel apples, and honey.

Bayne's Apple Valley Farm: 5395 Midland Rd (M-47), Freeland, 989-695-9139. Baked goods, apples, doughnuts, gourmet caramel apples, and cafe and gift shop.

Eastman's Antique Apples: 1 058 SW Midland Gratiot Co. Line Rd (2 miles west of M-30), Wheeler, 989-842-5576. Over 1 ,000 varieties of apples (40 different varieties of russet apples alone). Perhaps the largest gene pool of apple varieties in the Midwest.

Jacques Orchard: 2275 N Iva Rd, Hemlock, 989-642-3522. Sixteen apple varieties, caramel apples, pears, cider, and jams and jellies.

Leaman's Green Apple Barn: 7485 N River Rd, Freeland, 989-695-2465. Apples, doughnuts, cider, baked goods, gift shop, and tours may be arranged.

Moore Orchards: 1629 Sasse Rd, Midland, 989-832-3560. Last weekend in Sept- last weekend in Oct. Some 100 apple varieties on 2,500 apple trees; doughnuts.

Red Stem Orchard: 3464 E Monroe Rd, Midland, 989-631-5662. Sept- Oct. Forty-five apple varieties.

Tiny Apple Store: 2282 E Salzburg Rd, Bay City, 989-671-0613. May- Nov. Apples, caramel apples, pumpkins, doughnuts, and 100 kinds of ice cream.

Witzgall Orchard: 5179 Two Mile Rd, Bay City, 989-684-4993. Sept- Nov. Forty apple varieties, caramel apples, cider, doughnuts, honey, and adjoining flower garden.

Please call the orchards before visiting to verify seasonal hours.