Fall’s crisp air and changing leaves evokes thoughts of steamy apple cider, warm, gooey apple dumplings and family frolics through orchards. Luckily, for those of us living in and around Pennsylvania, there are countless opportunities to enjoy its orchards and apples. Even if you fancy apples in the fall, you may not realize Pennsylvania’s powerhouse status within the national and global apple industry. What better time to explore Pennsylvania and Eastern Apples than in October, which is celebrated as National Apple Month.
Pennsylvania is the fourth largest apple producing state in the nation—behind only Washington, Michigan and New York. The Pennsylvania apple crop typically yields between 10 and 11 million bushels annually, meaning the crop weighs in at more than 440 million pounds! As the state’s fourth largest commodity, apples are key to making agriculture Pennsylvania’s top industry. The state’s climate and topography, especially in the Fruit Belt of Adams County, provide the perfect growing conditions for more than 100 varieties of delicious apples. The rolling hills of Pennsylvania boast more than 20,000 acres of apple bearing land across all 67 of its counties. Each individual acre can produce an impressive 23,000 pounds of apples. Each and every one of those apples is carefully hand picked by a skilled workforce. Though apples are grown in every county, nearly 70% of Pennsylvania’s apples are grown in Adams County. Franklin, York and Bedford counties round out the top four apple producing counties in the state.
As home to Knouse Foods, one of the largest food processors in the country, it should come as no surprise that nearly 60% of Pennsylvania’s crop is used for processing into applesauce, juice, cider and more. Though only 30-35% of PA apples are used for the fresh market, 70% of the total national apple crop goes for fresh market and only 30% is used for processing. Some of those processing apples are now hitting the press with fermentation as their final destination. The time-honored craft of making hard cider is having a resurgence in Pennsylvania with close to 20 producers in the state, some of which are grower-producers, and many of whom are returning to traditional craft practices using cider apple varieties for a product with a sharper taste and dryer finish.
Cider apple varieties make up only a tiny portion of the portfolio of apples grown in Pennsylvania. With more than 100 delicious varietal options, it’s easy to find one pleasing to the palate. There are about 20 commercial varieties grown by most growers that are easy to find at your local grocer. Gala and Fuji are among the most popular varieties in PA, with Honeycrisp quickly edging out other tried-and-true favorites like Red Delicious. Pennsylvania’s harvest season begins in mid-August with early varieties like Ginger Gold, a mellow, great all-purpose apple and continues through to mid-November with the tangy Pink Lady being one of the last fresh varieties to be harvested. The heart of the harvest season is late September through mid-October when most commercial varieties are carefully plucked from the trees. Golden Delicious, Cameo, Jonagold, Cortland, McIntosh, Idared and Granny Smith represent only a handful of varieties that reach perfect ripeness during that harvest window. Be sure to explore varieties beyond the classic favorites. Farm stands and farmer markets grow and sell countless varieties with varying flavor profiles and textural differences to suit the most discerning apple fan. Newer varieties names like Zestar and Autumn Crisp may placard bushels while resting next to unfamiliar heirloom or vintage varieties like Smokehouse and Winter Banana.
Though Pennsylvania’s apple harvest occurs over the span of approximately twelve weeks, Pennsylvania and Eastern apples can be found and enjoyed nearly year round. Pennsylvania growers and shippers use some of the most advanced cold storage practices making it possible for you to enjoy fresh, crisp Pennsylvania and Eastern apples well into Spring and beyond. In some cases, certain varieties like Red and Golden Delicious can be found just about up until the next harvest begins. Apples can and should be enjoyed and worked into your favorites dishes year round.
To learn more about Pennsylvania and Eastern apples, where to find them, how to use them and more, visit: PennsylvaniaApples.org.