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September 18, 2013

Soup to Nuts: From tree or market, time is ripe for Maine apples

Whether you like getting your Maine apples at your farmers market or a grocery store, or you prefer harvesting your own at one of the many pick-your-own orchards, no time like the present.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

It's that time of year when food manufacturers are already putting pumpkin flavoring into everything, and it just makes you want to say whoa, wait a minute.

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The weather has been much more friendly to apples this year than last, which is why Maine’s growers say it’s going to be a good season. These beauties were picked at Hansel’s Orchard in North Yarmouth.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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A group of college friends from Massachusetts, picking poles in hand, sets off at Hansel’s to pick their own.

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Click here for the 2013 Maine Apple Guide

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Apple season isn't over yet.

And it's going to be a good one, according to Maine orchardists.

"Last year we not only had a freeze, but we had hail in June, so this year is 100 percent better than last year," said Ellen McAdam of McDougal Orchards in Springvale. "But even if we had had a good crop last year, this year is looking beautiful. The size is great, the color is great, the apples taste really good. It's a wonderful year."

Steve Maheu, manager of Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, said many southern Maine orchards hit by the frost last year have rebounded, and while there is not necessarily a bumper crop this year, there are still a lot of apples to be picked. And all the rain over the summer "helped make some pretty good-sized apples."

"Everything looks great," Maheu said. "We've been having those nice cool nights and warm days, making things ripen faster."

Ricker Hill is one of the few Maine orchards that has organic apples available -- McIntoshes, Cortlands and, later in October, Jona Golds.

A trip to the orchard is about more than just apples these days. A lot of growers have other pick-your-own fruits, attractions for children, and special activities to lure apple lovers to their orchards. (The biggest bait is usually apple cider doughnuts).

McDougal's also grows peaches, nectarines, plums and pears. Ricker Hill has pick-your-own grapes, as well as bounce houses, corn mazes and tractor rides to keep the kids busy.

Thursday, Pietree Orchard in Sweden, which grows 48 varieties of apples, will give a $3 discount to apple pickers who come to the orchard dressed like a pirate. Why? It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

If you choose to get your apples from the farmers market, the array of apple varieties on display all in one place can be overwhelming.

Elise Richer, author of the new farmers market cookbook "Always in Season: Twelve Months of Fresh Recipes from the Farmer's Markets of New England" (Islandport Press, $26.95), suggests thinking about the texture and taste that you want for whatever apple dish you're making, then talk directly to the farmer for advice.

"I remember when I was growing up, people would give you these very specific ratios: When you make a pie, you need to have one-third Cortland, one-third Mac, et cetera," Richer said. "It really depends. Most of the time, I try to choose some that will hold their shape while cooking and some that will be very soft while cooking. That way you get a lot of apple flavor, but it's not just mush."

Her favorite apple variety for straight eating is the Macoun.

"I just love how crisp they are," she said. "They have to be in season. There's no point buying them in March to eat out of hand. But to me, they're like the platonic ideal of an apple. They're crispy, but there's a tartness. They're juicy. I love them."

Richer likes the Northern Spy for both eating and cooking, and she likes to use Baldwins for baking. If you're baking a sweeter pie, throw in some slices of Gravensteins for a tart note to balance the flavors.

Richer says all the choices can make apple season exciting, but for some people it may be just too much.

No worries. The most important thing, she said, is to just get in the kitchen with your apples and make something. Make an apple pie with the kids, and that will put everything into perspective.

"It will be totally messy," Richer said. "It will not be Julia Child quality, and it will be so delicious. You don't have to worry that the edge is not crimped.

"All you have to do is picture a hot apple pie coming out of the oven," she said. "How bad is it going to be?" 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Kami Leroux, 2, of Peaks Island totes her own basket – and a friend.

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A picking pole enables visitors at Hansel’s Orchard in North Yarmouth to snatch the hard-to-reach fruit.

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The basket runneth over for Meaghan Robinson of Gardiner during a productive picking session at Hansel’s.

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