Get (apple) juiced for fall and pick at local orchards

By Natalie Bell

Just call me Johnny — er — Jane Appleseed.

From the time I was a wee babe, toddling… Just call me Johnny — er — Jane Appleseed.

From the time I was a wee babe, toddling through the muck of rotten grounder apples, to now, reaching up past my mom to pluck the highest fruits from the tree, I’ve picked apples in the fall. My parents — clearly trendsetters up on the local food movement before its popularity peaked — took my brother and I fruit picking in strollers.

Apples, unlike cherries and blueberries, ring in a new season. If there’s nothing more American than apple pie, then there’s nothing more autumn than apple picking.

Last weekend, on our yearly trek, I noticed a serious increase in people at our usual orchard — and I’m not the only one. Craig Senovhich, part owner of Half Crown Hill Orchard in McDonald, Pa., has noticed, too. While I’m never a fan of my music or hobbies gaining popularity — oh, to be disenchanted and young — I think fruit picking is a worthwhile way to get in the fall spirit.

“I think there’s more of a local movement, get your food locally so you know where it’s coming from,” he said.

To start your own apple-picking adventure, call the orchard you want to go to and make sure they’re still allowing people to pick their own. Apple season can last through November but the varieties of apples change, so it’s important to ask if you’re looking for a particular kind for eating or baking. Some apples work better for baking, but it’s up to you if you like things tart or sweet. For example, all of Monongahela’s Triple B Farms’ varieties are what they call “dual purpose.”

“Our varieties, all of them are really dual-purpose apples. You can, number one, eat them fresh. Some are semisweet, some are sweeter, but they’re all firm and crisp and fresh right off the tree. Dual purpose, as in eating as well as baking and cooking,” said Sue Beinlich, manager of Triple B Farms.

The orchard’s season ends Oct. 31, so they won’t have Pink Lady apples available for picking, which become available in late October/early November, said Beinlich.

And on your way out the door, be sure to dress appropriately — that means dressing for the weather, as you will obviously be picking outdoors. I’d suggest wearing old clothes. In my experience, grass and tree stains don’t always come out in the laundry. And, very importantly, wear sturdy shoes. Some people wear flip-flops and do just fine but there are fallen, rotting apples that can cause pickers to slip.

Once you’re at the orchard, most times you’ll follow the signs for “U-Pick,” “Pick Your Own” or some variation of the phrase, grab your container and go. Depending on how the orchard works, you may pay ahead for a certain amount — like a half-bushel or bushel — or you may pay by the pound afterward.

Many orchards now cultivate dwarf trees, Senovhich said, which allow more intensive growing but also make for easy picking for children — or short friends — without the aid of ladders.

The big conundrum with fruit is when it’s “ripe,” which is when the sugar content is at its highest, according to Beinlich.

Megan Stern, store manager of Simmons Farm in McMurray, Pa., explained that despite most apples being ripe at this point in the season, it’s important to know what to look for in a ripe apple.

“A lot of times people don’t know how to pick the right one. It is nice when it sort of just comes off when you’re handling them right away, then you know it’s a good apple. It’s ripe, it’s ready to go,” she said.

She also suggested “protecting” the apples by using both hands to pick them. Sometimes when you pull on one apple, several other ripe ones shower down, so try not to pull on the whole branch along with the apple. Fallen apples won’t just bounce off your noggin, they’re also wasteful for the orchard.

As for other etiquette, Senovhich just suggested that visitors respect the orchard rules and trees. That means not climbing up the branches for high apples.

Once you’ve picked, you’re ready to take your apples home and enjoy them, whether crisp and fresh or baked into a delectable dessert — like Senovhich’s and my personal favorite, apple dumplings.

Orchards

Half Crown Hill Orchard

600 North Branch Road

McDonald, Pa., 15057

412-913-4981

Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Tuesdays and Thursdays Noon to 6 p.m.

Hours may vary depending on

apple availability.

Triple B Farms

823 Berry Lane

Monongahela, Pa., 15063

724-258-3557

Wednesday-Friday 4 to 7 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Simmons Farm

170 Simmons Road

McMurray, Pa., 15317

724-941-1490

Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m,

Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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