Apple picking is next to pumpkin spice and football on the list of fall favorites, and most Minnesota orchards are now fully stocked with apples ready to be plucked from trees.
“Everybody should get out to their local orchard when they can, because it’s a short season,” said Fred Kappauf, who with his three children operates Sekapp Orchard in Rochester. He said most orchards are open at least through Halloween, and Sekapp is open until Christmas.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says early season apple varieties like Zestar, SweeTango, Sweet Sixteen and McIntosh are available for picking now. Honeycrisp, Haralson, Regent and Honeygold will ripen throughout the month.
Sekapp Orchard has been run by the Kappauf family since the early 1960s, and they’ve since joined the Minnesota Apple Growers Association and have planted several new varieties of apple trees. Kappauf said the orchard is having a good start to the season, and the abundance of rain was actually good for finishing apples.
At Sekapp Orchard and several other orchards across the state, an excitement can still be sensed from the debut of a new apple variety, called First Kiss.
First Kiss is the brand name for apples developed by the apple breeding team at the University of Minnesota, Agri News reported. The variety was developed to ripen about a month earlier than Honeycrisp apples, while still providing a similar texture and taste for which university-bred apples are known.
First Kiss apples made their debut at this year’s Minnesota State Fair.
“With First Kiss, we got the best of both worlds,” said David Bedford, a research scientist in the university’s Department of Horticultural Science. “Its crisp texture and spritely flavor make it an excellent choice for fresh eating and its early harvest date means Minnesota apple lovers can enjoy their favorite Minnesota grown fruit sooner than ever.”
University researchers have been developing apple varieties since 1878, and First Kiss is the 27th apple to be released by the breeding program. Eighteen of the varieties are still available today, including Honeycrisp.
First Kiss dates back to the late 1990s when breeders David Bedford and Jim Luby set out to create an apple with the taste and texture of a Honeycrisp that would be ready to harvest by Labor Day weekend.
Sekapp Orchard planted about 300 trees with the First Kiss variety this spring and it’ll be a few years before the orchard has a big enough harvest to sell.
Kappauf said his taste test of First Kiss revealed a mildly tart flavor, not like Honeycrisp. He’s heard some reaction about First Kiss being too sour or tart, but said that might be due to people misunderstanding that First Kiss would taste just like Honeycrisp.
“They look really nice, with a real similar look to a Honeycrisp,” he said. “But when you bite into them, don’t expect a sweet apple.”
As more First Kiss apples are harvested in the next few years, Kappauf said customers will learn to appreciate what the variety has to offer. He said First Kiss has the same crispness as Honeycrisp, and a similar thin skin.
“There’s lots of tart apples, but they don’t have that crisp, lively snap like this one does,” Kaupauf said. “I think it’s going to be an apple that’s going to be around for a long time.”
Patty Eckdahl, who with her husband Steve, run Northwoods Orchard in Oronoco, agrees.
“It is developing a flavor that has been described by those tasting it as an early SweeTango,” Patty Eckdahl said. “A bit acidic, and with the texture of HoneyCrisp.”
She said Northwoods’ customers at the Rochester Farmers Market have already been asking about when they’ll be available. Again, with trees planted this year, widespread availability is a few years off.