In August and early September, many of us – including some apple enthusiasts – are still celebrating the bounty and beauty of late summer.

Take David Buchanan, of Portersfield Cider in Pownal. Though he is checking on the health of his apple trees, his mind is elsewhere.

“I’ve been sweeping through my trees every week or so, tasting fruits that are coming on, and most just don’t grab my attention all that much,” he said. “This to me is peach and blackberry season.

“Isn’t that the problem right there?” he added.

Summer is so fleeting in Maine, is it any wonder we want to extend it for as long as we can? You won’t find me at orchards on opening days; I tend to scour the farmers markets for any last remaining peaches and blueberries. It’s a coping mechanism to stave off the fast-approaching reality of another cold winter, bereft of summer’s beautiful flavors.

But this preoccupation with summer may be misguided, because apple season is actually in full swing long before the leaves begin to turn. The earliest apples, like Lodi, start to fall off the tree in July. By the end of August, so many varieties are falling off trees that they can quickly overwhelm the senses. What starts as a trickle – apple curiosities that portend what is to come – quickly turns into a deluge as thousands of trees start to bear.


But though the evidence is right in front of ours eyes in nearby orchards, fields and backyards, I’ve talked to many Mainers who are either ambivalent or unaware that so many amazing apples are available throughout the state long before we put away the grill for the season.

There’s another reason early season varieties get scant attention: They’re no good to commercial growers, pickers and shippers. You will rarely see them at the grocery store, because they neither ship nor keep well. They rot quickly. They bruise easily – just picking them off the tree can be enough to damage their tender skin.

“Because these apples need to ripen in two-and-a-half months, they need to bulk up really fast, and to do it they will be less dense and be made up of more water and air,” according to John Bunker, Maine’s pre-eminent apple historian and enthusiast. “These summer varieties will have very little quantitative substance to them. There is just less to them because they need to develop in half the time.”

Another apparent knock is that the flavor of early-season apples is far more subtle than that of later season varieties, which have, over time, come to dominate our sense of what an apple should taste like. We modern apple-eaters often judge apples solely on how they taste when eaten out of hand – what experts call fresh-eating or dessert or eating apples.

“Marketing over the past 70 years has convinced the modern consumer that an apple needs to taste a certain way,” Bunker said. “It needs to be slightly high in acid, very high in sugar, crisp, and juicy. These early apples are softer and they don’t have that ‘yummy’ flavor that has been marketed to us for decades.”

But despite their handicaps, early-season apples are definitely worth your attention.


They have a “tender, delicate beauty,” according to Laura Sieger, a Maine Heritage Apple Orchard employee and self-professed “huge fan.” Later in the season, as apples get more hardy in order to cope with the increasingly cold temperatures, that flavor vanishes.

The trick to appreciating early-season apples, experts say, lies in learning how to use them. As Todd Little-Siebold, a College of the Atlantic history professor and an ardent apple lover said, “The folks who don’t know what these early apples were used for and how to process them would not find them to be their favorite.”

The Yellow Transparent epitomizes the some of the challenges that early-season apples face. It is mealy. Even with the gentlest handling, it bruises. And its mild flavor pales next to that of most dessert apples, which are those we’re accustomed to tasting from the grocery store.

But when cooked, the Yellow Transparent is exceptional. Its subtle, pear-like flavor and the ease with which its skin dissolves makes for a luscious, creamy applesauce that no later season apple can even come close to. In August and early September, Bunker takes advantage of the unique nature of early-season apples by making small batches of applesauce every morning. His daily applesauce allows him to enjoy these apples’ delicate texture and taste and, at the same time, appreciate the changes in their flavors as the season progresses.

Sieger takes another approach. She puts her Yellow Transparents to use before they liquefy by drying them in a dehydrator, which preserves their flavor and makes them “delicious and spongy, while helping them to retain the pale yellow in their skin.” Drying, in general, is a great technique to preserve apples with short seasons or when the season is in full force and you can’t possibly eat all the apples in your home. (Plus, if you dry apples in a dehydrator, you can avoid turning on the oven in the already hot late summer and early fall.) These dehydrated apples will keep well into winter, so you can savor their special flavor far beyond the end of the season. Cammy Watts of Super Chilly Farm in Palermo, Maine uses a dehydrator to create apple fruit leathers, a process that, in her experience, “intensifies the flavor, making the tart ones a little sweeter and the sweet ones a bit more complex.”

So rather than eat early-season varieties out of hand, rather than disparage their soft texture and delicate flavors, consider embracing their apparent “flaws” as the very characteristics that make them worth seeking out – and seeking out right now.

Sean Turley is a lifelong fruit enthusiast and an amateur apple picker and sleuth. Every fall, Turley dedicates himself to locating and devouring as many of Maine’s heritage and wild apple varietals as possible. Sean posts his finds on Instagram @therighteousrusset and can be contacted at

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