During October, you’ll find loads of family fun during Apple Fest at Afton Apple. Activities such as cider pressing demonstrations, a balloonologist, cow train rides, corn mazes, hayrides, live music and chainsaw carving demonstrations, will keep the young and old happy.
All those outdoor activities can make a group hungry, so head into the orchard and start your apple picking! This year the apple orchard has plenty of varietals ready for picking.
“People may be unaware of this, but last year, we had a total crop loss throughout the whole orchard due to an ill-timed hail storm,” said owner and operator, Cindy Femling. “We had to ship in Minnesota grown apples from other orchards so that our visitors could buy apples.”
Femling, and her husband Frank, have owned the apple orchard for the past 22 years. Their children, Mike and Sarah, are now part of the orchard operations. They all have a keen sense for when a tree’s apples are ready for picking and direct visitors to those parts of the orchard.
Although now through the end of October is peak picking time for Minnesota-grown apples, it doesn’t necessarily mean all the trees are ripe for picking. To determine the exact day of when a tree’s apples are ripe, the Femling crew uses its years of expertise in looking for specific characteristics from the apples.
“First, we look at the color of the apple on its outside and if we like what we see, we pick one. Next, we cut into it and look at its texture, the color on the inside of it and of course, its taste,” said Femling. She added that if the apple doesn’t fit their criteria, they note it, look at the future weather forecast and then mark down when to recheck those trees again.
If you’re looking to pick the best apples for baking, Femling’s personal preference is the Regent varietal, since it’s a sweeter tasting apple. “Many people prefer the Haralson since that varietal is a little more tart in flavor, but if you use a sweeter apple like the Regent, you get the added benefit of using less sugar in your recipe,” said Femling.
What’s the secret in knowing when the apples are done baking in a recipe? “The fork test,” said Femling. “At the end of the recommended baking time, stick a fork into your pie or whatever it is you’re baking, and if the fork goes into an apple slice easily, it’s done.”
According to Femling, one of the more popular apple varietals is the Minnesota grown Honeycrisp apple. “Due to its popularity, the Honeycrisp varietal is now being grown in states other than Minnesota,” she said. “The original Honeycrisp varietal was bred to withstand the Midwest winters and growing conditions."
She pointed out there’s a distinct difference between the taste of local Honeycrisp apples and those grown outside of the Midwest. “Out of state Honeycrisp apples have a softer texture and tend to be not as crispy as the Minnesota grown,” said Femling. If your palate prefers local Honeycrisp apples, simply look for where the apple is grown when at the market.
Before you leave, don’t forget to make a stop at the Cafe à Là Apple inside the Apple Shack. Kids will love the selection of hot and cold apple cider, sweet apple fritters and doughnuts, gooey caramel apple sundaes and other yummy food treats. Create your own apple fest at home and pick up bake-at-home, apple pies and bags of apples for homemade oatmeal apple bars and applesauce. Recipes can be found on the Afton Apple website.
For more information regarding the Apple Fest, apple picking, varietals, recipes and hours at Afton Apple, please visit their website at www.aftonapple.com or call 651-436-8385.
Afton Apple is located at 14421 S. 90th St. in Hastings, MN.