Bushels Of Fun
Think an apple is just an apple? Not true! As sci-fi as it may sound, thanks to advances the past couple of decades in crop science, apples have entered the designer realm. While varieties such as McIntosh and Red Delicious, which have been around for over a hundred years, are still popular, it's the new hybrids that are the up-and-coming superstars.
Designed to bring out the most desirable traits of two apples, hybrids lend versatility to the apple world. For example, many apples these days are being developed to be more bruise-resistant (Spartan, for one), mainly to allow for increases in productivity during picking season. But this trait is also beneficial for parents who put apples in their children's lunch boxes.
One of the newer local hybrids is the Honey Crisp, a honey-sweet, super-crisp cross between the Macoun (a firm apple-- itself a Jersey Black and McIntosh cross) and Honey Gold (an insanely popular sweet, crisp apple) that was developed by the University of Minnesota.
Other advances include apples with longevity on their side; most varieties can stay fresh for up to several weeks in the fridge, but some (Keepsake, Regent) can even last three to four months--an admirable trait considering some summer fruits like raspberries or strawberries tend to grow mold before you even get them home. Other neat varieties include apples that take longer to brown (Cortland, Redcort) making them ideal for salads, apples that are mostly or completely acid-free (Jonafree, Redfree), and even trees that are shorter, making them height-friendly for children and adults wary of ladders.
Which makes this a tidy little place to suggest that the tastiest apples of all are the ones you pick yourself, on a trip outside the confines of the city in fresh air. In addition to having ready access to an astonishing variety of apples--pick a couple of each and conduct a home tasting--Twin Cities area you-pick orchards offer great foliage and a range of family-friendly activities (it's not an apple orchard unless there's a petting zoo or maze of some sort).
EMMA KRUMBEE'S APPLE ORCHARD
501 E. South St., Belle Plaine
This 45-acre orchard offers over 15 different varieties with 6,000 dwarf apple trees for easy picking. Some of the more unique types that should be available this season include the Jonafree (a dessert-type apple), Empire (a mildly tart and juicy hybrid of Red Delicious and McIntosh), Macoun (aromatic and durable), and the all-purpose Redcort. While wandering the area you can explore the Tipi maze, petting zoo, live music, and pumpkin patch. Emma Krumbee's also features a scarecrow festival, with over 100 handcrafted scarecrows on display throughout the orchard. The apple orchard is open while supplies last from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily through October 31. Be sure to call the crop hotline at 952.873.3006 for ripening dates and availability.
AFTON APPLE ORCHARD
14421 S. 90th St., Hastings
This 190-acre farm offers 11 different types of apples growing on shorter trees for easy picking, including Sweet 16 (very sweet and crisp), Spartan (a solid, dark apple), and Connell Red-Fireside (large, red, sweet). Not to be missed is the upcoming Apple Festival (October 9 and 10), which features cider pressing demonstrations, face painting, hayrides, and more. Also onsite is a 10-acre corn maze, comprised of three mazes of varying difficulty. If you make it through all three you've probably covered around six miles of ground! You can even try your luck in the evening--the maze is open Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday. Several other crops are available for purchase at the orchard, including red, yellow, and pink raspberries (usually available through mid-October or until the first freeze), pumpkins, squash, and decorative corn. Afton Apple Orchard is open daily through the end of October from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
6530 Cty. Rd. 26, Minnetrista
This orchard opened in 1976 when the Schaper family planted its first trees. Today the orchard has grown beyond a small family affair, with over 2,600 trees yielding 13 different apple varieties. Early-October varieties will most likely include Haralson (tart, firm, and great for pies), Honey Gold (ideal for fresh eating), and Regent (a bright red pinstriped dessert apple developed in Minnesota). Other crops available in October include winter squash and pumpkins. Although the petting zoo, hayrides, corn maze, and apple barn are open and available throughout the week, weekends at Minnetonka Orchards are even more eventful with face painting, clowns, and live music ranging from jazz to folk to bluegrass. Kiddie activities grow spookier around the weekends of the 23rd and 31st with a graveyard trail and pumpkin-carving contests. Minnetonka Orchards are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in October, then 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in November. Call the apple information line at 763.479.3191 for confirmation on which apples will be available for picking.
FALL HARVEST ORCHARD
345 Cty. Rd. 30, Delano
While Fall Harvest Orchard experienced some hail damage this year, there are still plenty of yummy apples to be had. Of the 15 varieties the orchard offers, early- and mid-October crops include Fireside, Honey Gold, Connel Red (a Fireside variation), and Keepsake (a great eating apple). Other crops include squash, decorative corn, gourds, brown eggs, and pumpkins. One of the unique things about Fall Harvest is that it is actually a small, working farm, so children can interact with animals beyond the scope of the petting zoo by helping with feedings or collecting eggs from the hen house. Children will also delight in the baby piglets, kittens, ducks, and hens that roam free. Fall Harvest is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. until mid-October and 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from mid-October to mid-November.
APPLE JACK ORCHARDS
4875 37th St. SE, Delano
A family business, Apple Jack Orchards is located just 30 minutes west of Minneapolis, on the banks of the Crow River. Starting out in 1983 with a paltry 250 trees, Applejack Orchards now has over 10,000, bearing a whopping 29 apple types. Some of the varieties that should be available in early- and mid-October include Prairie Spy (large, retains shape when cooked), Haralson, Honey Gold, Liberty (a solid red apple with a nice tart/sweet balance), Regent (crisp and juicy), and Keepsake. Items such as pumpkins, squash, and bakery items are sold inside a 100-year-old barn. There are also wagon rides, haystacks for climbing, and a corn maze for the children. Weekends bring live music and animal rides. Apple Jack Orchards are open through mid-October from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6:00 p.m. Sunday.
1080 N. Cty. Rd. 92, Maple Plain
Some of the types of apples available for picking at Homestead Orchard include Regent, Cortland, Fireside, Honey Crisp, Prairie Spy, and Haralson. Also, thanks in part to a 300-gallon cider press, Fred and Gretchen Harvey take pride in their spectacular homemade cider. According to them, that taste of cider is as complex as chocolate, tea, or wine. For example, varying factors such as the weather, apple type, and the expertise of the cider maker affect each batch with no crop tasting exactly alike from year to year. Also at Homestead Orchard is a petting zoo with people-friendly animals that enjoy being hand-fed, wagon rides, and a shop filled with apple items such as chips, pies, sundaes, and doughnuts. There's even a moonwalk where kids can burn off any excess energy while adults pause for a moment to take in the crisp air and lovely fall foliage. Tables and grassy areas throughout the orchard are perfect for fall picnics. Call the Apple Hotline at 612.479.3186 or sign up online for up-to-date info on apple availability. Open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
AAMODT'S APPLE FARM
6428 Manning Ave. N., Stillwater
This apple farm began in 1948 when Thor and Lucille Aamodt planted the first of what are now 6,000 trees on 60 acres. Adding to the old-fashioned charm are apple storage and prep barns, a granary, and a bakery, all open to the public. Of the over 26 apple varieties, October crops include Delicious, Red Fireside, Regent (all great in salads), and Keepsake. Apple tastings are available as well. Other activities include a John Deere trike and tractor farm, petting zoo, and hay bale maze. Be sure to try the popular apple brats with some fresh cider and a slice of pie. Weekends are even more spectacular with hayrides, strolling musicians, and pony rides. The upcoming Apple Harvest Festival will feature family-friendly activities on the first two weekends in October. Aamodt's Apple Farm is open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Call ahead for apple availability.
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