Apple House harvest draws lovers of things apple-iscious

Courtney Lewis

The chance to buy apples picked fresh from an orchard was all the incentive Ben and Jen Anderson needed for a half-hour drive to Chanhassen.

This is the first time the Como Student Housing residents visited the University’s Horticultural Research Center – commonly referred to as the Apple House – but they said the fresh apples will bring them back.

Each fall brings a consistent harvest of apples with a loyal following, operations director Peter Moe said. While production and sales have been below average this year, Moe said the most popular apples are still highly sought.

The Honeycrisp apple – released by the University in 1991 – took 31 years to develop, but Moe said they’ve become the center’s most popular.

Honeycrisp apples picked Friday are always gone by Sunday, he said.

“It’s a great-tasting, explosively crisp apple,” Moe said. He also said the apple is unique because its firmness allows large pieces to break off when bitten.

The revenue from apple sales allows the house to continue its research. Grapes are also tested and developed at the center.

“There are three staff members that only work on grape development,” Moe said. “They’re looking at developing a seedless table grape now.” But Moe said demand hasn’t been great enough for public sale.

Wine grapes are another project for the researchers, who are seeking a heartier grape for processing. Frontenac – named after a town near Red Wing – is a red wine University research created.

The University has named 20 apples developed through research. Moe said creating an apple variety can generally take 20-25 years.

After the original cross-pollination, planted seeds can take four years to be fully grown and ready for tasting.

Researchers taste the apples and consider its shape and texture before crossing it with another variety.

Once the Honeycrisp was released, Moe said more than 750,000 of the apples have been planted in the United States, and will soon be more common in grocery stores.

Cold weather last spring and fire blight – a bacterial disease – killed several trees.

John Mazzarella, an assistant gardener and art history major, has worked at the Apple House since 1995.

He said customers’ most common question is which apples are ripe.

Some will ripen as early as late July and last until the end of October. The Honeycrisp and Harrelson apples are at their peak right now.

Cashiers change the center’s voicemail message daily to reflect which apples are ripe.

Part of Mazzarella’s job is to teach new employees how to pick apples. Each apple must be handpicked, using the palm of the hand to lessen bruising.

In the spring, Mazzarella and other crew members will begin pruning the trees to ensure proper flowering.

“But Mother Nature does most of the work,” Mazzarella said.

Once the apples have been picked, they are sorted, cleaned and weighed before being placed on tables for sale.

Honeycrisp apples are the most expensive, retailing for $12.95 for a five-pound bag. Other varieties sell for $6.45 for a five-pound bag.

But the price isn’t an issue for the Andersons, who said tasting the apples before purchase is an added benefit to their visit.

“There’s just something about homegrown apples that tastes better,” Ben Anderson said.