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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Apple time

Sunday, September 21, 2003

(Photo)
Time Lett, an employee of Diebold Orchard in Benton, bags apples for shippin to customers in the area.
BENTON -- It may not be a bumper crop, but the quality and size of this year's apple supply is enough to leave smiles on the faces of producers and consumers well through the end of fall.

"We're having an excellent season," said David Diebold, owner of Diebold's Orchard in Benton. "This is the biggest crop we've had -- not the most -- but the biggest."

Apples are weighing in at and above 1 pound, Diebold said. Three Molly's Delicious apples weighed over 4 pounds, he noted. Red and Golden Delicious are also approaching a pound, he added.

Excellent growing conditions contributed to the large apple sizes, Diebold said. Cool, cloudy and rainy conditions in the spring, much like that in Washington-state, where more than half of U.S. apples are grown, helped the fruit grow, he said.

"A lot of times we don't get the weather like Washington does. It takes cool weather in early May to get the points in apples to strengthen, and then it takes cool summers to get the red color," explained Janet Johns, co-owner of Cates Orchard in Dudley.

The season started out wet, and then it was dry, Johns recalled. Since Cates Orchard irrigates the crop, the dry weather didn't affect them this year, she said.

Hail storms in May created plenty of apples for making cider, Johns said.

However, Diebold said he hasn't seen too many cider-grade apples. Cider-grade apples aren't apples that are bad, but apples that may not have as great of a color as others, he explained.

Like Diebold's, Cates Orchard is having a really good season, Johns said.

"We're maybe two-thirds of the way through our apple harvest. And we'll have apples to sell through Thanksgiving, and we'll sell apple cider through Christmas," Johns said.

Mid-September through October is the busiest time for apple growers, Johns admitted.

"We've been selling a lot of apples lately. A lot of people use apples for pies, apple butter and apple cakes," Johns said.

One church in Essex bought lots of apples because they're making pies and cakes to sell for a fund raiser, Johns said. And many people buy apples just to eat them, she added.

Apples are also made into applesauce, juice, canned or frozen apple slices, apple jelly, cider vinegar and other products. According to the state Department of Agriculture, Missouri's two most common apple varieties are the Jonathan and the Red Delicious, followed by the Golden Delicious, Gala, Rome, Winesap, Empire, Fugi and Braeburn.

Johns said the Red Delicious variety is having a great season.

"My dad has been in this business for 50 years and he said this year yielded the most beautiful Red Delicious apples he's ever seen," Johns said, who's been operating the orchard with her husband since her father's retirement 20 years ago.

But it's the Fugi variety that is the No. 1 seller at Diebold's. Fugi is a sweeter apple and doesn't ripen until mid-October.

"If you haven't tried one, it's your loss," Diebold said. "When we started selling them, people would come in here to get their Fugi-fix."

Diebold said a doctor from St. Louis drove down to Benton to purchase Fugi apples. Diebold said Fugis are special because they're a perfect blend that meets every tastebud zone. Fugis also keep a lot longer in the refrigerator than other varieties.

"A customer came into the store in May and told me they still had Fugis from last year," Diebold recalled.

No matter which variety of apple someone prefers, Diebold recommended storing apples in a loosely tied plastic grocery bag to keep them fresh.

And apparently consumers can't go wrong when picking their apples this year.

"It's just been an excellent overall crop," Diebold said. "They're an excellent size, an excellent color -- and most of importantly, they've got an excellent taste."