Posted by By Merrilyn Tauscher, FoodE Manager
Monday, October 24, 2011
Many years ago my dad planted eight apple trees at our cabin in Buffalo, MN. He joked that someday he was going to sell his apples at a roadside stand. Although that never happened, my mom still hikes up to the orchard and picks apples for apple sauce and her famous pies. The mix of Haralson, Cortland and other perennial apple favorites (link to our chart) have not been pruned or sprayed for many years, but still provide bumper crops of beauties, well not too beautiful, but very tasty.
If you want a real apple orchard and breathtakingly beautiful apples, look no farther than Lake City. Nestled on a bluff overlooking the lake is Minnesota’s largest apple grower ~ Pepin Heights Orchard. Our FoodE Experts got a firsthand look on a recent trip and followed the apples from being hand-picked to hand-packed.
The first thing we noticed was how short the trees are kept for easier picking and how slowly the trailers gently transport their passengers to the processing plant. HoneyCrisps are especially vulnerable to bruising. Each stem is cut below the apple “shoulder” to prevent a stem tearing the skin of a neighboring apple. Have you noticed this special trim?
You might have also noticed how Minnesota grown HoneyCrisp apples have the true attributes we love in this variety…exceptionally crisp and juicy. That’s because of the terroir. The Lake Pepin area has the perfect climate and soil for achieving these traits and the same variety grown in Washington just won’t be the same.
The next step is to wash and sort the apples by size; meanwhile a camera detects skin tears or bruises and moves those apples into the “cider line”. Apples are hand inspected, buffed lightly, waxed and packed in boxes. They ship out to our stores the same day or just 24 hours later.
Pepin Heights also partners with the University of MN on planting new apple varieties. These experimental trees are left on their own to see how they adapt to our climate. They are systematically tasted throughout the season to spot when the flavor is best. Wish I could tell you the name of the next HoneyCrisp or SweeTango sensation, but right now they are all just “numbers”.
Autumn heralds the arrival of Minnesota grown apples. Enjoy them out of hand and in our recipes for Apple Pie, Cranberry Apple Crisp, Spinach Salad with Apples and Maple Vinaigrette and many others on our website.
Hmmm….maybe I’ll think about pruning and spraying our apple trees next year. What’s your favorite apple variety?