Fall is the prime season to sample the wonderfully diverse array of apples.
SEASON: Midsummer until frost, peaking in fall.
CHOOSING: Select fruit that is not bruised or cut—any injury causes the quality of the fruit to decline rapidly. Buy only what you can easily keep in your refrigerator.
STORING: Though you may be tempted to display apples in a fruit bowl, resist the urge. Store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Apples emit ethylene, a gas that hastens ripening; the bag will help prevent them from accelerating the ripening of other produce. The storage time for apples varies from a couple of weeks to six months: Early, summer apples are best eaten immediately, while later-ripening varieties hold longer.
GROWING: With a reputation for tricky maintenance, apples are not for everyone, but the unique flavors of local, homegrown apples outweigh the eff ort. It takes several years for a young tree to start fruiting, so buy a nursery tree that is two or three years old. If you have room, get at least two varieties—some are better for eating fresh, while others are best for cooking or desserts—since cross-pollination among trees increases production.
Dwarf and semidwarf trees are ideal for home landscapes, producing a remarkable amount of fruit for the space they require—a single dwarf tree can bear a hundred pounds of apples or more. Catalogs and nurseries now list selections that are great for container or patio gardening, too. For the best varieties and maintenance schedules for your area, contact your local Cooperative Extension office. Apples should be chosen based on your climate as well as disease tolerance, so recommendations vary widely. Two apple varieties that don’t require very cold or long winters are Fuji and Pink Lady, while others denote the best home base in their names, such as Arkansas Black.