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Pick 'em: 'Super' apple crop awaits as Minnesota orchards open

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Harsh winter? Late spring? Bah!

Neither could put much of a dent in Minnesota's crunchy, juicy, tasty apple harvest that will mark its unofficial opening this weekend as dozens of orchards begin welcoming visitors.

Charlie Johnson, the president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association, says in a state Agriculture Department announcement heralding apple season: "The harsh winter weather has affected some varieties, in some orchards, but most producers have come through the winter with an excellent crop!”

That's consistent with what a University of Minnesota fruit breeder told the Pioneer Press.

"The (apple) quality this year is looking just super," said Jim Luby. "With this nice mild weather, the quality of what we've been eating is so good."

Not that eating apples is the only reason to visit an orchard. The Pioneer Press notes that as a day trip to an orchard has become a more popular autumn outing for urban families, apple growers have extended the list of available activities.

These days you might be able to ride a pony or a hay wagon, get lost in a corn maze, or even taste some local wines.

And they also have apples.

The official state fruit, the Honeycrisp, is not quite ripe yet (the late start to the growing season has pushed some varieties later into the season) but experts say several other kinds of apples are ready now.

Madison.com says the USDA has estimated the nation's apple crop will come in just a little shy of 11 billion pounds this year. That kind of supply is large enough to keep prices lower than growers would prefer, the Houston County News reported last week.

How to make use of these ripe red beauties? Well, you can consult this chart from the Apple Growers (we like the ones in the "eating" column):

Or, like WCCO, you can see what the chef at the St. Paul Grill suggests.

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The growers also offer a tool to help you find an orchard near you.

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Orchards are open and apples are abundant

Minnesota’s apple orchards are open for business, and some early varieties are available. But you may have to wait for some, like the best-selling HoneyCrisp. The Agriculture Department says many varieties are ripening later than usual due to the cool weather this spring.