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Apple picking can save pretty pennies for families

Helen Waite from Stonybrook Orchard goes for a prime pick. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
September 16, 2009
The leaves on trees may not have turned red, yellow, and orange yet, but the apples at local orchards have certainly turned to gold, yellow, and especially bright red hues for the approaching fall season.

Right now it's not too hot and not too cold for apple picking, an old-time family favorite in New England that promises fresh fruit, low prices, hayrides along the way, and maybe a homemade apple pie or two.

This year is not only a great time to find family fun for less, but a great time to own an apple orchard, according to local farmers who find the apples on their trees to be more than abundant this year, larger, and more appetizing than years before. They say this is likely due to the large amounts of rain they received last year and during the peak of summer.

Katie Surowiec from Surowiec Farm in Sanbornton said her crops were more than abundant this year, and that she has been open for a few weeks now selling about seven different varieties of apples at the farm stand.

"We have a super crop this year," she said. "We had very good weather during bloom, and a lot of fruit set we'll have big weekends until Columbus Day."

Surowiec, who finds Macintosh apples to be one of the most popular picks, described apple-picking as "inexpensive fun," and although a lot of grocery stores now work in partnership with some orchards, she finds that a lot of people are seeking out food at its primary and freshest state in order to save money and maintain their health.

"Over the years I have seen people go to buying less and eating fresh," Surowiec said. "I saw last year and the year before that people are not spending as much."

Other than saving money and going for the freshest ingredients, Surowiec said apple picking is still reasonably priced and accessible to families who can take their purchases home and create something more out of them.

"There is a draw to the family outing. A lot of people never picked an apple before. They like that the apple comes right of the tree," said Surowiec, adding that people enjoy seeing the fruit of a farmer's labor at its source.

Surowiec farm offers classic, New England apple varieties from their semi-dwarf trees planted in 1971, including Paul Reds and Ginger Crisps, just about in season, Empires, Macouns, and Ginger Golds.

Rob Richter from Smith Orchard in Belmont opened up last Friday for apple season and said that thanks to the rainy weather, his crop has been abundant in size and color as well.

"We have a wonderful crop. The rain in the beginning of the year made it tough to manage the crop, but it certainly helped the size," said Richter.

Right now Ginger Golds are the most popular at Smith Orchard, as well as the Honeycrisps, according to Richter. Macintosh apples and Cortlands were scheduled to be ready for picking by Sept. 15, said Richter, who finds that most farmers grow "early" Macintosh apples in their Orchards since they are the most popular the beginning of the fall season.

As for choosing between the grocery store and the orchard, Richter said the choice is clear to him.

"I think obviously when people know where fruit comes from they are more content. You can make a choice when picking apples from a tree," said Richter.

Other than the favorite varieties, Smith Orchard will also offer Red Delicious apples, Yellow Delicious, Jona Gold, and Macouns.

Helen Waite from Stonybrook Orchard in Gilford said it looks like it is going to be a great year for apples, although she isn't sure exactly what made the crop so plentiful this year.

"I believe it is the weather. I don't know how else to explain it, but the combination is great," said Waite, who considers the cool air we've seen lately to be one of the factors as well, since it brings out the apples' sweetness.

Waite foresees the season to be busy since the orchard never runs short of people.

"I think people like something homegrown. You sometimes find apples soft at supermarkets and you don't know where they are coming from or how long they have been holding them," said Waite.

Macintosh apples are also the most popular at Stonybrook Orchard as well, and Cortlands are a close runner-up, but they are still waiting for the frost to set in before they hit their peak, according to Waite.

Stonybrook also offers hayrides (weather permitting) on the weekends, as does Smith Orchard.

"Four generations come to the orchard, and they have a blast," Richter said. "We offer wagon rides to the orchard and free face-painting. Families come spend the day here, have a picnic and a lot of fun. It makes the work worth it."

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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