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Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005 02:58 pm

Time to pick and eat apples

Varieties for every taste available at area orchards

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We marked the first day of autumn just last week, but plenty of signs of the new season have been appearing — not the least of which the fact that the local Starbucks is featuring pumpkin-spice lattes. The number of vendors at the downtown farmer’s market is dwindling. Tables that featured fragrant white peaches and juicy tomatoes this summer are now selling pumpkins and spaghetti squash — and Gayle Johnson is up to her ears in apples. During a busy morning of pressing ripe, juicy apples into cider, Johnson pauses to talk about the popular fall fruit. “There are so many varieties, whether you like something sweet or tart — there are all kinds, for every taste,” says Johnson, who owns the Apple Barn in Chatham with her husband, Dean. They grow and sell 17 varieties of apples, including Gala, Jonathan, Yellow Delicious, Mutsu, Winesap, Braeburn, Fuji, and Blushing Golden. The Johnsons pick apples until the end of October, and new varieties are available each week. Although the Delicious varieties and the Jonathan are customer favorites, Johnson says, people are trying other kinds, such as the Mutsu, a large, sweet Japanese cross between the Golden Delicious and the Indo. The business also sells a variety of baked goods, including pies, caramel apples, apple-pie bars, and turnovers, made by Johnson’s 81-year-old mother, Pearl Rank. Apples, which are actually members of the rose family, are one of the most popular fruits in the world, second only to oranges. These wonder fruits — called “winter bananas” in colonial times — are not just delicious: They’re also a good source of potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C; low in calories, and cholesterol (81 calories for a medium-sized apple) and devoid of fat; and high in fiber and flavonoids, antioxidants that improve immune function and prevent heart disease and some cancers. Medical experts credit the pectin in apples with helping decrease levels of cholesterol and blood sugar. In addition to green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower, fall means the arrival of freshly picked Empire, Golden, and Red Delicious apples at Jefferies Orchard, says owner Ruth Jefferies Anderson. The orchard, which produces about 10,000 gallons of apple cider each season, once grew 33 varieties of apples but now specializes in a few customer favorites.
“We pick them when they are ready to eat. We don’t pick them green and don’t ship them. Everything we raise here, we specialize in being fresh and ready to eat and good quality,” she says. Both orchards sell cider made the old-fashioned way. “We don’t pasteurize or treat it. Most people have quit making it this way,” says Anderson, who uses a family recipe with a blend of several apples. “The taste,” she says, “is unbelievably different. It’s like the difference between pasteurized milk and milk straight from the cow.”

Area orchards: the Apple Barn (2290 E. Walnut, Chatham, 217-483-6236); Harmony Hill Orchard, featuring pick-your-own organic apples (Rural Route 2, Virginia, 217-458-2260); Jefferies Orchard (1454 Jefferies Rd., 217-487-7582); Malham Orchards (17218 Shipman Rd., Carlinville, 217-854-2815); Broom Orchard (12803 Broom Rd., Carlinville, 217-854-3514, 217-856-6501).
For more information on apples, plus recipes, visit the University of Illinois Extension Web site “Apples & More,” www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/apples.
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