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Appetites: A bumper crop in store for Minnesota's apple orchards

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Greg Novak of Novak's Orchard
Greg Novak of Novak's Orchard in Woodbury prepared apples for sale in the back of his truck at the St. Paul Farmers Market on a recent Saturday. "We brought six varieties with us today, and we'll probably sell maybe 20 bushels," he said.
Richard Marshall for MPR News

It's going to be a bumper crop for apples this year. 

Beth Dooley, author of "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook," says we've had perfect conditions — a relatively cool summer with even temperatures — and the apples are a little early this year. 

A few picks, tips and related recommendations:

For apples to eat, Dooley suggests apples that are firm and crisp, but not too tart and juicy. She likes Whitney Crabapple, Viking, Zestar, MN55, Honeycrisp, Duchess of Oldenberg and Hazen.

For apples to bake with, Dooley recommends combining a couple varieties. Start with a Sweet Sixteen or Paula Red. These tend to break down when they're cooked and they become "applesaucey." Combine with a harder apple like the Whitney Crab, Duchess of Oldenberg or Viking. This gets you some texture from the harder apples as well as the sauce from the softer apples. It will also add a range of flavors.

Shoppers looked over apples at the Farmers Market.
Customers looked over a selection of apples for sale at Novak's Orchard stand at the St. Paul Farmers Market.
Richard Marshall for MPR News

For finding new and heritage varieties, Dooley suggests visiting farmers markets and orchards. Growers at these locations will often offer samples. It's an easy and fun way to try different apples. 

Here are three orchards that Dooley recommends. All three feature plenty of varieties, apple cider and apple specialties. 

• Aamot's Apple Farm, Stillwater, Minn. (651) 439-3127
• Hoch Orchard & Gardens, La Crescent, Minn. (507) 643-6329
• Sweetland Orchard, Webster, Minn. (612) 252-4337

Sara Yang held a Red Free apple.
Clerk Sara Yang held up a Redfree apple for a customer at the St. Paul Farmers Market in St. Paul on a recent Saturday.
Richard Marshall for MPR News

Recipe: Old Fashioned Apple Butter

Makes about 4 pints

The only trick to making a rich, very thick apple butter is to cook it over low heat for a very long time. A crockpot or low oven works well and will fill the kitchen with the comforting scents of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. There's no added sugar in this luscious spread. It's just naturally sweet.

• 4 pounds apples, about 12 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
• 1 cinnamon stick
• ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
• 2 cloves
• ¼ cup apple cider, or more if needed

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Put all of the ingredients into a large, deep, heavy bottomed pot. Stir and set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the apples are very soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Remove the lid and put the pot in the oven and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reached the consistency of soft butter, about three to five hours. Much will depend on the moisture content of the apples. Add a little more cider if the mixture sticks to the pot.

Remove and turn into clean jars or a large bowl and allow to cool. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze. 

Crockpot directions: To make this in a crockpot, simply cook all of the ingredients on a high setting, covered, until the apples are very soft. Remove the cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is the temperature of soft butter, about five to six hours or overnight.

Recipe: Mom's Apple Pie

Makes one deep dish 9-inch pie

Use a variety of apples — tart, sweet, soft and hard. The softer apples will melt in to a nice sauce as they cook, while the firmer apples will retain their shape, to create a pie with great apple flavor and plenty of texture.

• Pie crust dough for double crust pie
• 4 to 5 pounds apples, about 12 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
• Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out both layers of dough and fit one into a 9-inch deep dish pie pan. In a large bowl, toss together the apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Turn the apple mixture into the prepared pie shell. Set the second layer of dough on top and crimp the edges. Cut slits in the top; place the pie pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until the crust is golden brown, about 50 minutes to one hour. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Map: Explore Minnesota apple orchards

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Recipes courtesy of Beth Dooley