October has always been my favorite month. When I was younger it had a lot to do with the fact the month coincided with my birthday and Halloween. Now it’s more about appreciating the transitional nature of Autumn with its crisp air and the multicolored trees… The coziness is lovely and the fact that it’s apple season is also a HUGE plus.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about apples and orchards and I have a lot of opinions. Here are some of my Golden Rules for apple season:
Check orchard calendars.
Some apple varieties start ripening up as early as late August, but most varieties take longer to develop. Depending on your favorites and if you want to go apple picking in an orchard, you should research the peak weeks for your variety of choice. Honeycrisp, for example, came into season the last week of September and are really popular. If you go to an orchard next week expecting to pick Honeycrisps, you’re probably going to leave disappointed.
Find heirloom apples.
Spending time in the Hudson Valley definitely spoiled me when it came to heirloom and truly varied orchards. Some of my favorite apple varieties--Esopus Spitzenberg, Braeburns, and Northern Spy--can be quite difficult to find in the Midwest. I did a lot of research last year trying to find orchards within an hour’s drive and found very very few that had these. However! my local farmer’s market vendors did! I would highly recommend checking out farmer’s markets. Heirlooms are worth the hunt. It’s stunning--in the most literal sense of the word--that I can eat a Newton Pippin in 2015 and know that Americans like Thomas Jefferson were eating the same thing centuries ago. How often can you participate in culinary tradition like that?
Avoid highly-commercialized pick-your-own orchards.
Most of the time, super commercial orchards suckkkkk. Not only are pick-your-own orchards generally overpriced, but the apple varieties they prioritize aren’t anything thrilling. If you’re at an orchard with hayrides, corn mazes, a pumpkin patch, and oodles of kids, you’re probably not going to run into heirloom variants (aka the heroes of apple season). Instead you’ll have variants like Golden Delicious, Ida Red, and Jonathan. While there’s nothing innately bad about these apples, you’re paying a premium for varieties you can oftentimes pick up at a half-decent grocery store.
Play around with variants.
Apples are such a fucking awesome fruit. I feel like so many people get caught up in the trap of the Honeycrisp and don’t explore much from there. That’s such a bummer because IMO Honeycrisps are the milk chocolate of apples. It’s all right and good, but simple and there there’s so much else out there that’s tastier and more complex.
When in doubt, make pie.
Did you buy a variety that's not doing it for you raw? Cover it in cinnamon and sugar and BAKE IT. Whether it's enveloped in the buttery goodness of pie crust or humbly baked with a few spices...nothing quite says fall like warm, soft, and sweet apple goodness. I'll be sharing my apple pie recipe from my undergraduate thesis later this month so keep your eyes (and apples) peeled.