Apples Picking, A New England Fall Tradition

Ask a New Englander where they are headed on a nice weekend in September and October and their answer will probably be “apple picking”. The air is crisp, the sky is blue, leaves are turning golden and orchards welcome families to pick their apples, purchase apple cider doughnuts and a jug of cider.

Driving Along The Winding Back Roads Of New Hampshire On A Fall Day

Autumn is the season for apple picking in New England. On a nice weekend, families love spending a day driving the winding back roads enjoying the beautiful fall scenery as well as stopping at one of the many orchards to pick a peck or perhaps even a bushel of their favorite apples.

Apples ready for picking
In A Good Year, Big Juicy Apples Are Ready To Start Picking In September

As a former New Hampshire apple grower, I can assure you that eating a ripe apple just picked off a tree is a memorable experience that everyone should try if you live in or visit an apple growing region. Most orchards will have a dozen or so well known varieties but antique varieties are rarely found except at specialty orchards. Our orchard, Orchard Hill Farm, was one of the exceptions as its eight acres were originally planted with almost a hundred different varieties of heritage apples, sometimes called antique or heirloom varieties, many known for being perfect for making cider. Not only did we grow apples, we also had pears, peaches, plums, cherries, and even a quince.

Everyone has probably tasted a Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apple but what about Esopus Spitzenbergs, one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite varieties of apples. New England orchards may sometimes sell apples with names you have never heard of or flavors you have never tasted before such as Ashmead’s Kernel or Cox’s Orange Pippin, a rather gnarly looking English apple that people love after having their first crisp, sweet bite. The heirloom apples usually cost a little more but they are definitely worth seeking out. I used to always add one of our heirloom varieties that a customer had never tried to the bag of apples they were buying. Once they tried it, they would be back for more.

apple tart with lattice crust
Apple Tart With Lattice Crust

When apple season came around and people wanted to head out into our orchard to pick their own apples, I would always ask what they were going to use the apples for then show them the trees where they should pick. If they wanted tart apples that would hold their shape for buttery, rich desserts such as pies and tarts, I would suggest Arkansas Black, Bramley, Granny Smith, Newtown Pippen, Northern Spy, Rome, Roxbury Russet, Stayman Winesap, Calville Blanc, Rhode Island Gteening or Esopus Spitzenberg.

If they wanted a firm yet slightly sweeter apple for cakes or baked apples, I would suggest Ginger Gold, Golden Delicious, Baldwin, Jonagold or my personal favorite apple in our orchard, a large Japanese apple called Mutsu.

If my visitors were planning on canning several jars of apple sauce, I would suggest a tart tender apple that would not only be good for eating out of hand but would break down quickly during cooking and be good for sauces, pancakes and muffins such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Empire, Fuju, Jonathan, Gravenstein or New England favorites such as Cortland, McIntosh or Macoun.

For eating out of hand or using in a salad, Cortland, Empire, Fuji, Gala, Ginger Gold, Golden Delicious and Stayman Winesap were good choices as they didn’t turn brown as quickly when sliced.

People love a day out picking apples because it’s something the whole family, from grandparents to young children, can do together. They get to spend time outside on a pretty fall day as they walk through the orchard picking their favorite apples straight from the tree. Many times, New Englanders have a favorite orchard they return to year after year because some orchards not only have PYO (pick your own) apples but attractions such as hay rides and petting zoos that are especially fun for young children.

Besides letting you pick your own apples, lots of orchards sell already picked apples as well as cider donuts, pies, jams and jellies, vegetables and flowers if they have gardens, and small gifts. After a wonderful day of outdoor fun in an orchard, families return home with a car full of goodies to enjoy. Soon their kitchens are filled with sweet aromas from making apple sauce, baking pies and there is usually be a bowl of apples sitting on the kitchen table for snacking.

****

I grew up on a ranch in Texas and didn’t know a thing about growing apples. After buying and renovating an historic 1730’s home in New Hampshire I soon became an orchardist as our beautiful home came along with an orchard filled with heirloom fruit trees. Up until then, I bought red, green and yellow apples from a grocery store. I soon learned apples come in a range of colors from yellow, orange, brown, dark burgundy and dark purple, almost black. They all have different textures, some are sweeter or juicier than others and some of those that are grown strictly for cider were so acidic that you want to spit them out. While many varieties looked perfect in size and shape others are naturally lumpy or odd shaped. Some of our ugly looking apples were actually some of our best but it took a little convincing to get customers to try them.

If you get the opportunity to visit an apple orchard during harvest season, you will get enormous pleasure from eating a just picked ripe apple off the branch of a tree…especially an unusual looking heirloom apple that you have never heard of before. While maybe not the prettiest apple, they will make up for that in their amazing taste.

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I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

34 thoughts on “Apples Picking, A New England Fall Tradition

  1. Oh Karen… I can smell the Apple Pie Baking! It is Apple Picking time here in Pennsylvania as well. And we hope to get a few picked before we head to Arizona.
    Thank you for sharing such lovely pictures. Your home in New Hampshire was gorgeous!
    Have a beautiful Sunday my friend!

  2. Lovely to read about all the different apples, Karen. Cox’s Orange Pippin is a favourite of mine and easily available here in UK at this time of year. My 6-yr-old grandson has two little ‘trees’ growing from pips from an apple he ate a few months ago. He asked me to grow them and I didn’t think anything would happen but they’re now almost two feet high! Not sure if we’ll ever get any apples but it’s fun.

  3. When I was a kid we would eat as many apples as we possibly could right off the trees and leave the core hanging. Eventually you would have thought we would have learned from the upset stomachs and the butt whippings, but it remained a cherished tradition of our youth.

    And fresh berries … but that is a different story I suppose.

  4. I always thought pictures and scenes of fall trees in films were just shot at sunrise or sunset to get such a beautiful golden colour …until I saw them in the flesh. It’s such a beautiful time in America.
    I’ll have to introduce you to my farmer if you come to England in the future – he collects rare breed English apples and does a large display on his stall at the market.

  5. I didn’t know you use to own an orchard! In NC we would always go to our favorite orchard several times in the fall. I love real apple cider.

  6. I grew up in Connecticut and one of my favorite memories is going to the local road side stand for apples and cider in the Fall. How wonderful to have had an orchard and grow so many different kinds of apples! There is nothing prettier than New England in the Fall…
    Jenna

  7. I grew up in Bucks County surrounded by apple orchards. But, I never knew the difference between one apple over another. Thanks for this post because I will now be an educated buyer. I just made Jewish Apple Cake over the weekend. Just love this time of the year.

  8. Reading your lyrical essay and seeing your gorgeous photos, awakens memories of favorite times in New England. Fall festivals, plain cider donuts at the county fair, the first frost on a silent still morning, the foliage, the scent of apples in a basket stored on the back porch, and that general yearning to be outdoors a bit more before winter takes hold. Thanks for sharing and stirring the pleasant recollections.

  9. Such a wonderful post! Much as I love the berries and stone fruit of summer, it’s the apples and pears and grapes of fall that I really cherish. Apples in particular. So wonderful that you had so many different varieties when you lived in New England! Really fun read — thanks.

  10. I’ve so many wonderful apple picking memories here in Vermont. My childhood, my kids and grandkids, and friends and other family. So much fun, and great to have that quickly picked bounty of wonderful apples. I haven’t been picking yet this year, the weather has been too hot or rainy! But we’ll go, and make some of our favorites.
    Your orchard sounds like it was a wonderful place to live.

  11. I knew you had fruit trees but had no idea it was such a large orchard! What a lovely way to spend a day and it must have been enjoyable for you advising customers and families on their choices. We have quite a few apple trees, including Cox’s, but when they were planted the labels were inadvertently removed! We had our first harvest from a few trees last year, but this year most are fruiting, so we hope to get those we can’t identify analysed so we can put a name to them. 😃 An enjoyable post Karen!

  12. It sounds so idyllic as you describe the joys of apple picking, Karen. I wonder if you’d be surprised to know that we have beautiful apple picking opportunities in Southern California as well. We have so many mountain areas, and the elevation supports apple orchards. We typically create time to visit and do our own picking, but of course last year that was not possible. I am so glad to read your beautiful essay and it reminds me that perhaps we can once again travel to “Oak Glen” and come home with our local apples. I am hopeful! 🙂

  13. It’s definitely apple season here in NH, and I’ve been enjoying some, but I’m still waiting for my favorite, Macoun, to come in season. That apple pie not only looks delicious, but it’s a work of art. Nice to see photos of your lovely NH home.

  14. This is a marvelous post and I want to go to an orchard and pick apples right now! With the leaves about to change colors and the bright sunshine it is a perfect autumn activity – beautiful post Karen!

  15. We haven’t been apple picking in years, with just the two of us, it’s is usually just too much. I’m definitely bookmarking your post for reference on which apple is good for what. Hope the people you sold your beautiful home to know about apples too so they can continue your lovely tradition.

  16. I think its the same tradition here in New Zealand, we have tons of apples here too and during autumn it is qutie bountiful. But I am in the other side of the world so at this moment we are at mid spring so its a different fruit to pick, its all about stone fruits and near summer it will be strawberries and blueberries, another tradition here

  17. These photos are beautiful!
    Here in Canada we’ve enjoyed visiting “pick you own apples” orchards for 8 years in a row. It’s an ultimate autumn experience. And I love those pumpkin patches most farms offer as well. But I’ve never seen more like 15 varieties of apples on our farms – it would be nice to try some of those heritage varieties you mentioned. Yay to apple season! 🙂

  18. Apple picking is a fun family tradition here in Pennsylvania (Bucks County) too. We usually go with the grandkids and it’s a memorable experience. I think it’s good for this generation to actually see fruit growing and what it is like to actually pick it from a tree not just from the supermarket.

    Judee

  19. I bet you miss having the fruit from all od those fruit trees, but then you probably don’t miss the labor. 🙂 What an assortment of apples you had,. I’ve never heard of most of them. And yes, there is nothing like eating a fruit that you just picked off the tree. We used to have nine fruit trees on our little city lot and much of the fruit never made it into the house. Truely enjoyed this post and what lovely pictures.

  20. What a beautiful photos (fall photo is perfect)! Also apple season and damson plums season just begining here. Apples turn to apple-pies in our kitchens and damson plums turn to marmalade or jam in our kitchens.

  21. This brings back so many wonderful memories of apple picking in New England – such an iconic tradition! As you can see, Markipedia (comment 10) loved this, as well. And, as you see from C&L, I am in a real apple mood these days with more to come!

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