By Betsy Peirce
Crunching leaves, crisp air, skies bluer than blue and the red gems that taste like fall – apples. We are fortunate to have three great local orchards from which we buy our apples sold at Oneota Community Food Co-op.
Peake Orchard, run by Al Peake and family, is on a beautiful piece of land near Waukon off Highway 9. They practice IPM – integrated Pest Management – which means they monitor their orchard for pest outbreaks with pheromone traps and they only spray if there is a significant outbreak. This year Al tells me they have not had to spray much because the pests have been very minimal. Peake Orchard grow many varieties of apples and keep up with the trends by planting popular new favorites next to old stand-bys.
Their first apple to come due is the Cortland. They are a big, deep-red apple with a pinkish white interior. They are very flavorful, leaning toward the tart end of the spectrum. They make amazing apple sauce that’s pink. They are also an excellent baking apple. They are good to eat as well, although they do not stay crisp for long.
Everybody’s favorite apple in the fall is Honeycrisp, another early apple. We’re happy to report that Peakes have a great crop this year. Since Honeycrisp became available on the market in the late 1980’s, there has not been enough supply to meet the demand for this “perfect” apple. It’s tart, yet super sweet and crisp, and the juice is bountiful. Hence, the perfect apple. However, they are not a good storage apple – so eat them while they last. Other varieties coming from Peakes: Regent, Connell Red, Haralson, Yellow Delicious and Enterprise.
Countryside Orchard in Lansing IA, owned by Jaime Bjornsen, grows apples without the use of pesticides. They are able to call them organic because the orchard falls under the income level required to go through the certification process. Jaime specializes in apples that are disease-resistant for our climate. Her apples are unique and very flavorful. She expects a bumper crop this year as well.
Jaime’s early varietals are not as well-known. The Priscilla apple she calls the “school apple” because they are ready when school starts and the kids love them. They are a Red Delicious cross characterized by their conical shape and bumps at the base of the fruit. Their flavor is candy-sweet with a spicy aftertaste. Some other favorite varieties include Liberty and Valstar apples. Liberty apples are a deep dark red with a white interior and are usually on the small side. They are a crunchy sweet/tart apple with big flavor. This variety makes for great eating and baking apples. Valstar apples are crunchy, juicy and sweet, but with a brightness to it that rescues it from being cloying. Valstar reminds me of a Pink Lady apple, only not as hard – in other words these babies seriously pack big flavor that can really impress and they are an excellent all-around apple – eating apple, sauce-making, baking, you name it.
Countryside also grows: Red Free, Priscilla, Haralson, Honeycrisp, Dayton and Gold Rush varieties.
Sliwa Meadow Farm grows many of the varieties of apples that Jaime sells and they grace our shelves on good years. Perry-o and David Sliwa also have a growing fleet of pear trees in their orchard. This year was not so lucky. They were hit by a May frost that killed many of the early flowers. We may see a few pears from Sliwas this year (Warden Seckle and Golden Spice), but not as many as usual. The apple crop, on the other hand, looks great. David grows Honeygold – a yellow apple with Yellow Delicious heritage. They taste sweet crisp. Good for eating or baking. He also grows Regent, Golden Russet, Snow apple, and Fireside.