University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Whether thinking about apple trees to buy for planting next season, or buying apples from local farm stands and pick-your-orchards, there are selections for all manner of tastes and uses. If you’re looking to pick your own, most states have a listing of orchards (for Vermont check out 

If you’re new to growing or picking apples, the first question you may ask is, when is it ripe and ready to pick?  Like many fruits, if it separates easily with a slight tug, it is ripe and ready to pick. If in doubt, cut an apple open.  The seeds should be brown and not still white.

 If you’re picking apples slightly green or unripe, such as to use in cooking or for storing (it is best to pick slightly unripe for storing), lift sideways and upwards with a twist.  Make sure not to damage any of the short stems (spurs) from which fruit next year will be produced. 

Ripe apples should store in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks.  The early apples tend to store for shorter periods than the late ones.  Refrigerate soon after picking, as apples will ripen 6 or more times faster if left at room temperature.  Don’t cut apples until ready to eat or cook, as all but a few selections will turn brown within an hour or two.  You can delay this by soaking slices in an anti-browning product available at most grocers, or using a mixture of one part lemon juice to 3 parts water.

For fresh eating-- the “dessert” apples-- try Fuji, Gala, or Golden Russet for a sweet flavor.  For tart apples try Granny Smith, Northern Spy, or Winesap. Some taste both sweet and tart such as Jonagold, Honey Crisp, and Mutsu.  Since taste is quite personal, you’ll want to try various ones to see which you find best.   Some like juicy or dry or mealy or crisp or all sorts of textures, aromas, and other qualities they feel make an apple perfect.  If you don’t already have favorites, don’t get too worried about which apples are best for which purposes, as many do well with multiple uses.

Some of the best for baking uses (pies and other desserts for instance) are Cortland, Empire, Golden Delicious, Idared, Jonagold, Jonamac, Jonathan, Liberty, Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, and Stayman Winesap.  For sauces, some make a more chunky sauce such as Cortland, Empire, Gravenstein, and Jonathan.  Others make a more smooth applesauce, such as McIntosh and its types, and Yellow Transparent.  Cook a red apple with the skin on to make the sauce pink.

For making cider, your selection will depend on whether you like it sweet or more tart.  Cortland, McIntosh, and Idared make a more tart cider, while Red or Golden Delicious or Empire make a more sweet cider.  For a sweeter aroma from cider, try Jonathon and Baldwin.  Try some Rhode Island Greening or crabapples for more astringent cider.  While much store cider may be only one cultivar, making your own you can experiment and try various combinations.

For making a hard (fermented) cider, you’ll want to combine several apple selections for the best flavor.  My local homebrew club worked out a recipe with a local orchard.  While it varies year to year depending on the harvest, generally there are 2 to 3 parts each (by volume) of Cortland, Ida Red, Liberty, McIntosh, and Northern Spy.  To this combination several other crabapples or heirlooms (antique or older selections) are added.  Often these include at least one part each of Empire, Greening, Jonagold, Russet, and Tolman, but if these aren’t available to you, experiment with others.

If you’re looking for certain apples and don’t find them, call around to several orchards and markets.  Perhaps the apples have gone by, or are not yet ripe, as different cultivars (cultivated varieties) ripen at different times between mid-August and October in the north.  Some early to ripen include Earligold, Gala, Ginger Gold, Jersey Mac, Lodi (very early), Paulared, Pristine, and Redfree.  Some mid-season cultivars include Cortland, Empire, Freedom (the tree is free of many diseases), Golden or Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Jonathon types such as Jonafree, Macoun, McIntosh, and Priscilla (pineapple hint in flavor, stores well).  Late apples to look for include Baldwin, Granny Smith, Mutsu, Northern Spy, Rome, and Stayman (Winesap).

Fall is a great time to visit local roadside markets throughout New England, as you may get lucky and discover fruit of some of the less common or heirloom cultivars. If you’ve discovered the many uses and tastes of apples and would like to grow your own, including trying ones you can’t find fruit of locally, you can do research in fall and winter for ordering through catalogs and online.  While you can buy more common apple tree cultivars locally, unless you are fortunate to have a specialty nursery nearby, you may need to order small trees to be shipped in spring.  Search online for such fruit nurseries ( 

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