It's prime time for apple picking so round up the family and get out to the orchards. There's a bumper crop of apples this season at County Line Orchard, said Ryan Richardson, the orchard’s owner and manager. The Hobart orchard opened for the season on Sept. 4.
This year, the orchard added more than a half-dozen new varieties of apples to the collection, bringing the total number of apple varieties to more than 30.
The new apple varieties include Ruby Jon, Spartan and Braeburn. They also are adding Snowsweet, which is a cousin to Honeycrisp, but keeps better and is extremely tasty.
Richardson said there will also be limited quantities of the Wolf River, Red Harrelson and Grimes Golden varieties.
After unpredictable weather created a poor 2012 season for fruit farmers around the Region, Richardson said 2013 has proved to be the perfect growing season.
“Spring was back to normal, the bloom was around mid-May, with a perfect amount of rain and plenty of sunshine,” he said. “The apples are ripening right on time. They will be sweet, juicy and delicious.”
The first varieties that were ready opening weekend were galas, Honeycrisp, Jonathon and McIntosh, with Snowsweet, Jubilee, Fuji and Golden Delicious available shortly after.
At Garwood Orchards in LaPorte, the apple crop is extremely healthy this year as well.
"It's the best ever," said Julie Laymon, a sales associate at Garwood Orchards. She said the owner hasn't seen so many apples in a long time. The apple crop is so good now, Laymon said, the price is economical at $1 a pound.
Currently at Garwood Orchards, Fuji, Golden Delicious, and Honeycrisp along with MacIntosh and Jonathon are available.
County Line's Richardson said the pumpkin crop also looks great, with 30 acres of pumpkins -- weighing an estimated 500,000 pounds -- grown this year.
The Corn Maize is always a popular attraction at County Line Orchard, Richardson said, and this year both mazes are dedicated to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory. Visitors to the orchard enjoy the many other varieties of entertainment at the venue. It's all a great part of the apple-picking experience.
County Line Orchard has been under its current ownership for the past 8 years, and was purchased from long-time owner Dave McAfee.
Each year, the orchard hosts about 250,000 visitors, including about 30,000 school children.
“Mr. McAfee built a solid foundation from which we have added more than 5,000 apple trees and built the new barn,” Richardson said. “We hope to continue to offer high quality family entertainment for years to come.”
Picking apples is something that appeals to everyone, Richardson said.
“Something about picking a fresh, local apple straight from the tree with your family draws folks from all backgrounds,” he said. “With the bumper crop of apples, we expect a great crowd this year.”
According to Laymon, "Apple picking is a great family thing and a wholesome experience."
Try the following recipe from the U.S. Apple Association's website.
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
11/4 cup water
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup raisins
4 large baking apples
1/4 cup 100 percent apple juice or cider
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the water, rice, allspice, and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover the skillet. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender but not soft. Stir in the raisins. Core the apples, leaving about 1/4-inch of flesh at the bottoms. Scoop out approximately 1/4-inch of flesh from the centers. Chop and add to the rice mixture. Place the apples in a baking dish and spoon the rice stuffing into and on top of the apples. Add apple juice. Cut the remaining tablespoon of butter into small pieces and dot over the rice mixture. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.
Eloise Marie Valadez contributed to this report