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Orchard Gems: The 5 Best Vermont Apples To Pick This Fall

  • 9 min reading time
Vermont McIntosh Apples

Apples are the cornerstone of our business here at the Mill and we’re proud to support local Vermont apple orchards all year long. While it’s hard to choose, there are 5 varieties of our favorite fruit we can’t get enough of. McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Empire, Gala, and Cortland apples have a special place in our hearts.

It’s a true sign of autumn in New England when apple tree branches begin to lean heavily with crisp, juicy fruit that’s begging to be picked. Apple picking is one of our best seasonal traditions. Here in Vermont, we love this time of year so much that we made apples our official state fruit! 

There are many varieties of apples growing in New England and each one varies in use. Vermont apple orchards grow more than  150 varieties of apples that we eat, bake with, and use to make cider.  

Apples are the cornerstone of our business here at the Mill and we’re proud to support local Vermont apple orchards all year long. While it’s hard to choose, there are 5 varieties of our favorite fruit we can’t get enough of. McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Empire, Gala, and Cortland apples have a special place in our hearts.

McIntosh Apples: Vermont’s Main Squeeze

The McIntosh is one of the most iconic apples grown in Vermont and a variety we are particularly loyal to. It has deep roots in our state’s apple-growing history and has been a staple for generations. The McIntosh makes up about 50% of Vermont’s apple crop

John McIntosh first discovered this tasty apple in Canada in the early 19th century. Here in Vermont, our cool nights and warm, sunshine days create the ideal conditions for McIntosh apples to grow. This climate develops McIntosh's signature balance of sweet and tart.

McIntosh Flavor Profile → Known for their distinctive red and green skin, McIntosh apples are prized for their sweet yet tart taste. Their juicy, aromatic flesh has just the right amount of tartness to complement the apple’s natural sweetness.

McIntosh Apple Uses → Vermont McIntosh apples are an all-around versatile fruit! Use them for making applesauce, baking pie, or simply crunch into one straight off the tree. Here at the Mill, McIntosh apples make up about 80% of our fresh apple cider. These exceptionally juicy apples are perfect for fresh juice. We use about 36 McIntosh apples to make one gallon of cider! The McIntosh is also our preferred option for almost all our baking, especially apple pie.

When to pick McIntosh apples in Vermont→ These mid-season apples are ready to be picked a few weeks into September.

Honeycrisp Apples: A Sweet and Crunchy Favorite 

Honeycrisp apples capture the hearts of Vermonters with their sweet and juicy crunchiness. The name alone says it all – it's a beloved apple with a perfectly sweet, crisp bite. 

Developed at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s, this modern apple variety is a crossbreed of the Macoun and Honeygold apples. The Honeycrisp apple tree loves cold winters, which helps it produce high-quality fruit. During the growing season, Vermont’s warm and sunny days also boost the apple’s sugar content, making it super sweet.

Honeycrisp Flavor Profile → These blushed scarlet apples have a sweet, honey-like flavor with just the tiniest bit of tartness. They also have the best crisp bite with crunchy, satisfying chunks.

Honeycrisp Apple Uses → Their signature sweet crunch makes Honeycrisp apples perfect for snacking with cheese or serving in a salad. They’re also fantastic for baking. Like McIntosh apples, we also blend Honeycrisps into our apple pulp to make both fresh cider & hard cider

When to pick Honeycrisp apples in Vermont→ Honeycrisp apples are ready to pick when September rolls around!

Empire Apples: The Regal Apple on the Orchard

With a vibrant red color and crisp texture, Empire apples are a beautiful, shiny variety that reigns over the orchard. 

Empire apples were developed at Cornell University in the 1940s as a cross between Red Delicious and our beloved McIntosh. Today, Empires dominate apple production in the United States (especially with our neighbors in New York). Our similar climate in Vermont makes them a staple here too.    

Empire Flavor Profile → Empire apples have a sweet, slightly tart taste with a uniquely crisp, bright white flesh that’s firm yet juicy. It always tastes the best straight from the tree!

Empire Apple Uses → As simple as it sounds, one of the best ways to enjoy Empire apples is as-is. They’re often considered the ultimate snacking apple! Their beautiful balance also makes Empire apples great for apple crisps, salads, and making fresh apple cider.

When to pick Empire apples in Vermont → Empire apples ripen in September and are at their prime by the end of the month.

Gala Apples: A Colorful and Sweet Delight

This beautifully colored, bright red and yellow apple only recently made its way to New England. Now it’s a staple!

Originally developed in New Zealand, Gala apples have a uniquely creamy yellow flesh and multi-colored skin. Galas are also the perfect medium-round size for picking and storing. Their mildly sweet flavor often makes them popular with pickier apple eaters. 

Gala Flavor Profile → Gala apples have a very mild honey-like flavor. It’s more sweet than tart, while still being quite mellow. A simple eating apple!

Gala Apple Uses → The mild sweetness of Gala apples makes them a great choice for many things! Use them to make applesauce, slice them into salads, or press them into cider. The soft, creamy texture and mild flavor of a Gala apple make it much less desirable for baking, however.

When to pick Gala apples in Vermont → You can come to Vermont to pick Gala apples in September.

Cortland Apples: The Ultimate All-Purpose Fruit

The sweet and slightly tart Cortland apple is a fantastic all-purpose fruit and Northeast orchard staple. They have beautiful bright red skin with yellow streaks and green blushes or specks. Cortland’s also have a bright, snowy white colored flesh that’s tender and juicy.

Named after a county in New York, this apple was created in 1898 by crossing McIntosh and Ben Davis apple trees. The result was a sweet, tart fruit that could also withstand the cold hardiness of winter. That’s one reason why Cortlands grow well here in Vermont!

Cortland Flavor Profile → This naturally sweet apple also has a hint of tartness.  Its balance makes it well-suited for many different culinary creations. 

Cortland Apple Uses → The bright white flesh of a Cortland apple does not oxidize (aka, turn brown) as fast as other apples, which makes it great for fruit salads or cheese boards. It’s also a fantastic baking apple, boasting that perfect blend of sweet yet tart. We love Cortland apples in a coffee cake or baked whole and served with a dollop of ice cream.

When to pick Cortland apples in Vermont → Like many other Vermont apples, Cortlands are ready to pick in September.

When is apple picking season in Vermont?

The best time to pick apples in Vermont is late August through late October. Over these months, many different varieties of apples will ripen on the trees. 

Apples like Jersey Mac and Paula Red ripen in the orchard first come August. Other varieties like Northern Spy or Macoun apples aren’t ready to pick until later in the season. Whenever you go apple picking this fall, there are sure to be plenty of delicious Vermont apples to enjoy!

The new fall apple crop also kicks off our freshly pressed apple cider production here at Cold Hollow. We source between four and six million pounds of locally grown New York and Vermont apples to make our famous cider. In the fall, we use as many as two tractor-trailer loads of apples a day! Stop by the Cider Mill sometime to see it all in action.

Still Hungry? Check out some of our other articles!

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