Apple picking: How to choose the ideal apples for your needs

Basket of apples

Every September my daughter’s grandma takes her and her cousins apple picking. The first few outings didn’t return much. Then from about four to six years old, she brought back more apples than we could ever hope to eat before they’d go bad, in a variety of sizes, colors, types and stages of ripeness. Each bag was a true variety pack with a lot of sorting involved. In recent years, she’s relaxed a little, been more selective and only come home with exactly what she wants.

Honeycrisps are her favorites — thin-skinned, crunchy and sweet. She tends to pick mostly those, with some tart Granny Smith apples mixed in for a little variety.

Kids apple picking

Her refined choices work better for us than the bushels she used to bring home. I’m not much of a baker, and I don’t preserve a lot of food, so the supply of crunchy sweet and tart apples she returns with now is perfect for snacks and lunches.

Types of apples

Before you plan a visit to an apple orchard, consider what types of apples meet your needs. Certain types are better suited to snacking, others baking and others preserving. Consider what you plan to use your apples for and then set out to find those types of apples at the orchard. The farm owner or manager will be able to point you in the direction of specific varieties.

Sweet and crunchy apples. Honeycrisp, as I mentioned above, belong in this category. Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Red Delicious, Braeburn, Pink Lady and Crispin/Mutsu are other sweet and crunchy options. These apples taste great raw. They are good for snacking, packing in lunches and cutting up into salads. Some can also be used for baking, depending on how dense the flesh of the apple is. However, some are not suited to baking. Galas and Red Delicious, for example, break down when cooked and are not ideal varieties for baking. Honeycrisp will hold up well when used for baking, but it’s more expensive than other apples you can choose to bake. Golden Delicious and Crispin are the most frequently used baking apples in this category.

Sweet-to-tart and crunchy apples. If you’re not the biggest fan of sweet apples, but don’t want lip-puckering tart either, these apples might be right for you: Jonagold, Ginger Gold and Empire. This category of apples is considered all-purpose apples because of their flavor balance. They are frequently used to bake pies.

Tart and crunchy apples. If you’re not interested in sweet apples whatsoever, Granny Smith, Goldfish, Paula Red and Northern Spy might be the right varieties for you. They’re typically used for baking because they soften, yet, hold their shape when baked. However, you might also eat them raw if you enjoy their tart flavor.

Sweet and tender. Jonamac and Cortland apples have a tender texture, which makes them ideal for snacking if you’re not a fan of crunchy varieties. They’re not used for baking because they breakdown rapidly, but they are ideal for making applesauce.

Tart and tender. McIntosh, Macoun, Jonathan and Mollie’s Delicious are tart and tender apples that make great snacks and applesauce. Like the tender-sweet varieties they breakdown too quickly to be used in baking. However, they are ideal for a mild applesauce.


Apples stop ripening once they are picked, so apples picked before they are ripe will never reach their full flavor potential. To ensure you’re picking the ripest apples, start by picking apples on the outside of the tree. Apples ripen from the outside of the tree towards the center, so the ones on the outside will ripen first.

Other tips

  • To extend the life of your apples after they’ve been picked, try to leave the stems on your apples when you pick them.
  • Don’t throw apples into baskets, buckets or bags when you’re picking them to avoid bruising them.
  • Don’t wash your apples until you plan to use them to prevent spoilage.
  • Store apples in a cool, humid location — the fruit and vegetable drawer of you refrigerator, a fruit seller or a dry area in your basement will work.

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