Applause for apples: Bountiful year in Minnesota orchards

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There's apparently no bad apples spoiling any of the barrels in orchards in Minnesota this fall.

The Winona Daily News published a story tracking the harvest in the southeastern corner of the state and in western Wisconsin, where growers reporting high yields.

The paper visited Southwind Orchards near La Crescent, where the warm, sticky weather before Labor Day gave the crop a boost. Southwind sells wholesale to farmers markets, grocery chains, and grows 34 varieties at the orchard, including Honeycrisp.

Owner Byron Hechter said the moisture and cool temperatures this are ripening the Honeycrisp variety up to two weeks ahead of schedule.

“I really don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s something special about Minnesota apples,” he said.

MPR News reported that the apples in the metro area are also ready ahead of schedule, thanks to a relatively cool summer that featured even temperatures.

"Everything is about seven to 10 days early, as far as ripening goes," J.P. Jacobson, president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association told the Pioneer Press.

Jacobson expects the SweeTango apples to be a favorite with consumers. (SweeTango is a Honeycrisp hybrid variety developed by the University of Minnesota. It's described as being as crunchy as the Honeycrisp, but with more tartness).

Author of "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook," Beth Dooley gave MPR listeners some tips about varieties to purchase.

For eating, Dooley suggests Whitney Crabapple, Viking, Zestar, Honeycrisp, Duchess of Oldenberg and Hazen. For baking, Dooley recommends combining varieties, like Sweet Sixteen or Paula Red that break down when they're cooked, then combine them with a harder apple like the Whitney Crab, Duchess of Oldenberg or Viking to vary the texture and flavor.

The harvest is expected to wrap up by Halloween. The Pioneer Press published a list of places where apple-lovers can pick their own or buy locally grown pre-picked apples.

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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.