State of the Apple

Maybe it's the Eden thing, but an apple orchard in autumn radiates a particular security. A walk among ageless trees laden with the mythical fruit is a trip through a special kind of garden. Apples come in many varieties, each cultivated for its own purpose. All have one thing in common; they are good for you. Apples are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which reduces cholesterol, aids digestion, and prevents certain types of cancer. Research indicates that, because apples contain flavonoids, they may reduce the risk of lung cancer and generally improve lung function.

More than half of New Jersey's apples ripen in September. Visitors are often content to roam traditional orchards. Some include wagon rides to the picking area and shops filled with baked goods; a few with fresh homemade cider.

Growing apples is always an adventure. Sometimes, extraordinary warm weather in March coaxes early blossoms from the trees. Then, an April frost threatens the orchards, and not all of the open flower blossoms survived the freezing nights. A hot, dry summer might follow, slowing the apples' growth, in between, violent hail storms that pummel the trees. Thankfully, the dry weather minimized disease and blight, and most local growers manage to survive. But be sure to call ahead to confirm an adequate supply of apples at your orchard of choice.

Of the thirty different apple varieties grown in New Jersey, the Winesap is the oldest, dating back to the late 1700s. Other popular varieties grown in New Jersey include Red and Golden Delicious, McIntosh, and Granny Smith. But to give consumers a larger assortment of this popular fruit, researchers are always testing for new varieties. Here are varieties you'll find this fall at Skylands farms.

  • CORTLAND: Slightly tart taste. Excellent for eating, salads, sauces, pies, baking. Good for freezing.
  • EMPIRE: Blend of sweet-tart taste. Excellent for out of hand eating, salads. Good to use in baking, pies, sauce, freezing.
  • FUJI: Very sweet taste. Excellent for fresh eating and salads. Good for sauce.
  • GALA: Mildly sweet flavor. Excellent for fresh eating and salads.
  • GOLDEN DELICIOUS: Sweet taste Excellent for eating out of hand, salads, sauces. Good to use in pies, baking, freezing.
  • GRANNY SMITH: Tart tasting Good for all-purpose use.
  • JONAGOLD: Sweet with a hint of tartness. Excellent for fresh eating, salads, sauces, baking. Good for use in pies, freezing.
  • JONATHAN:Slightly tart taste. Good for all purpose use.
  • MACOUN: Very sweet taste. Excellent for fresh eating. Good for sauces and salads.
  • McINTOSH: Sweet with a slightly tart taste. Excellent for eating out of hand and sauces. Good in salads and pies.
  • RED DELICIOUS: Sweet taste. Excellent for fresh eating and salads.
  • STAYMAN/STAYMAN WINESAP: Slightly tart taste. Good for all purpose use.

Tips for picking:

  • Choose apples that are bruise-free and firm to the touch
  • Handle gently to prevent bruising
  • Store in the refrigerator
  • To prevent them from ripening too quickly, store apples in a plastic bag
  • Coat apple slices and dices in a mixture of 1 part lemon juice to 3 parts water to prevent them from browning
  • Gently wash apples before eating

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture provides all kinds of useful information for your autumn picking pleasure through a series of brochures and at their website. The department's marketing efforts include the nationally-recognized Jersey Fresh marketing program which works throughout New Jersey's growing season to remind shoppers that the freshest, locally-grown products are waiting for them at supermarkets, farmers' markets and roadside stands around the state.

Pick Your Own Farms

  • Brook Hollow Farm
  • PYO apples, several varieties including semi-dwarf trees (great for kids). Peaches from our orchards, pumpkins, farm market. Wagon rides on fall weekends. Near the beautiful Delaware Water Gap, Rt 80 ex 4 to Rt 94 N, 3 1/2 mi to Frog Pond Rd. You?ll be glad you found us!

    Frog Pond Rd., Columbia 07832, 908/496-4577

  • Ochs Orchard
  • Homegrown fruits and vegetables available when in season. Honey, peanut butter, jams and jellies, homemade ice-cream. Cider made on site from Red Delicious for sweetness, Winesap for tang, McIntosh and Empire for body. Market open year-round.

    4 Ochs Ln, Warwick, NY 10990, 845/986-1591

  • Pochuck Valley Farms
  • Peaches starting in July, home-grown fruits and vegetables, deli and home-made pies and baked goods. Pick your own apples, pears, and pumpkins in fall as well as our own cider. Pochuck Valley farm-raised pork and chicken.

    962 Route 517, Glenwood 07418, 973/764-4732

  • Riamede Farm
  • Pick your own apples and pumpkins at our 250 year old farm. Simple, authentic and without the carnival. Thirty varieties of apples, traditional, heirloom and your modern favorites. Free hay rides on weekends through the scenic old orchards out to the pumpkin patch. Cider, donuts, jams, local honey & more. School harvest trips.

    122 Oakdale Rd, Chester 07930, 908/879-5353

  • Sussex County Strawberry Farm
  • Pick your own strawberries. In-season produce, local milk, honey and maple syrup, pottrery, flowers, outdoor furniture and more.

    565 Rt 206 N, Andover 07821, 973/579-5055

Pressing Engagements

The cider you find in the supermarket is "flash pasteurized" and often loaded up with preservatives and sweeteners to extend shelf-life. But you can still find fresh cider here and there at local farms. Even more unusual is the local farmer who makes his own. Making cider is relatively simple but has always required skilled craftsmen. Picking apples at the right time, storing them properly, and processing in a timely fashion are all critical. And a skilled cider miller might blend a variety of fruit--one for sweet, one for tart, one for fragrance--to create cider to write home about. Fortunately there are a few fine local cider-makers in our area.

Ochs Orchard, just over the Sussex County line in Warwick, NY (845/986-1591), makes cider until their supplies of apples run out, usually well into the winter or early spring. It takes one bushel of apples to make three and a half gallons.

The process is pretty much the same as in the "old days." The apples are sorted and washed, ground into pomace and pumped into frames. The cheeses are stacked fourteen high in hydraulic, rather than purely mechanical, presses. And the cider squeezes out into stainless steel tanks. On a fast day these local presses can put out 1,000 -2,000 gallons, most of it available only for their own customers.

At Ochs Orchard the new cider is pumped into a filter system and passes through an ultra-violet processor to kill any possible bacteria. The UV also kills some of the yeast in the apples yielding 8 to 10 extra days before fermentation. At Pochuck, the cider is pumped into a holding tank with no other processing. The entire process is done cold to preserve the taste and flavor of the apples and to inhibit fermentation. Even so, it takes three weeks before hardness starts.

Fresh local cider gets tastier as fall progresses, as more kinds of apples become available, and as they sweeten in storage. For example, Winesap, introduced to the mix for tang, doesn't ripen until later in the fall. Among others, Red Delicious is added for sweetness, McIntosh and Empire for body. In any case, you'll get the best cider after Halloween.

Stay in the Loop!

Get our newsletter, This Week in the NJ Skylands, with updates, special offers and good ideas!

Read current newsletter

Privacy Statement