The Ultimate Apple-Picking Guide

When to go, what to pick, and what to do with all those apples!

Apple picking is one of the highlights of any fall season for me. I love the slight chill in the air as you bundle up in your favorite plaid shirt and the boots that have been stuck in the closet for months. I love hopping on some giant tractor as it carries you to the apple fields at a slower pace than you’d be able to walk it. And I love exploring the rows upon rows of apple varietals, hoping that your favorite type hasn’t been picked clean. It’s important to plan your apple picking adventures wisely. There’s only so much room in your bag, and it’s a terrible thing to go all the way out to the orchard only to realize that your favorite type isn’t ripe for another month. With a little bit of timing and strategic planning, you can make the most out of your apple-picking experience. Below, I’m going to discuss the most favorable times for some of the most beloved types of apples along with some general tips and tricks to keep in mind when you’re out in the orchards. Keep in mind, some of these ripening dates may differ depending on factors like weather and location, so it’s always best to double check on your local orchard’s website before heading out. There are two basic types of apples: cooking apples and eating apples. These aren’t, however, hard and fast rules. You can bake with eating apples and snack on cooking apples. Everyone’s tastes differ!   Braeburn Available In: Early October Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces This apple has a crisp and spicy-sweet flavor that works as both an eating apple and baking apple.   Cameo Available In: Late September/early October Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces Cameos are crunchy with a sweet-tart flavor. The flavor is brighter than a Red Delicious with a firm texture.   Cripps Pink Available In: November Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces, Freezing Otherwise known as Pink Lady, this is a gorgeous-looking apple that has a lot of versatility. It has a sweet-tart flavor with a crispy, crunchy texture.   Fuji Available In: Mid–late October Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces, Freezing This is another versatile apple type derived from the Red Delicious and Ralls Janet apple varieties. It’s known for its sweet, juicy, and crisp flavors.   Gala Available In: Mid–late August Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces Galas are one of the sweetest apple types with lovely pink-orange stripes on top of a yellow background. While this is best for eating, it works well in baking too.   Golden Delicious Available In: Mid–late September Good For: Salads, Baking, Sauces, Freezing While you can certainly snack on this apple, it’s one of the better picks for baking. It has a mellower sweetness than other apples.   Granny Smith Available In: Late October Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces, Freezing This variety of apple is tarter than many others with a distinct crunch. It’s a favorite type of apple for pie bakers though they have versatility as well.   Honeycrisp Available In: Late August/early September Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces This is one of the most popular types of eating apples (and my personal favorite). It’s a juicy apple that’s sweet but not overpoweringly so.   Jonagold Available In: Mid-September Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces As the name suggests, this apple variety is a combination of Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples. It has a honey-tart flavor with a crispy, juicy flesh and works well for both eating and baking.   Jonathan Available In: Early–mid September Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces These are medium-sized, sweet apples that have a touch of acidity. They’re also particularly juicy, so keep a napkin handy!   McIntosh Available In: Early September Good For: Snacking, Salads, Baking, Sauces This is a crispy, juicy, and tangy apple that’s great for snacking on and to use in sauces but can lose its shape when cooked, so cut thick slices if you’re using it to bake.   Red Delicious Available In: Mid–late September Good For: Snacking, Salads This is the classic snacking apple that’s known for its crunchy texture and mildly sweet flavor. Enjoy one with your lunch or chop it up to throw into a salad!   How to Make the Most of Your Apple-Picking Experience:
  1. If you have a particular apple variety in mind that you’re looking to pick, try to go in the early part of the picking season. Many of the popular varieties get picked through quickly, so you want to be sure you aren’t scrounging around trying to get the last of the bunch.
  2. Wear boots. Depending on the weather and how much foot traffic has been going through, the ground might be soft and muddy. Plus, you’re going to be tramping through undergrowth and stepping over fallen branches and apple cores. It’ll be messy! Tuck the bottom of your pants into a pair of sturdy boots for maximum comfort.
  3. Wear a coat with large pockets. Alright so this tip might not be on the up-and-up, but in my experience, apple orchards will allow you to fill a provided bag or bucket with apples, and that’s all you get. They’ll occasionally check purses to see if you’ve snuck extra apples out, but they don’t usually pat down pockets if you want to sneak out a few extra.
  4. Don’t fill up your bag on just one type of apple. While the Honeycrisps are my favorite, orchards tend to have a pretty wide variety of apples available—many of which aren’t commonly found. Take your time and try as many as you can! You never know what gems you might find.
  5. Be realistic about your expectations. Sure, it might be a steal to get a full bushel at an extra 10% off. And yes, I’m sure you do have ten different apple recipes you’ve been meaning to make. But be honest—what do you actually have time for? Fall is a busy time of year, and you might not get to recipe #5 on your wish list. It might be that you wind up snacking on your apples more than you wind up baking with them, so keep that in mind when you’re picking out the quantity that you need and the types that you pick.
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