From applesauce as a toddler to apple slices packed for middle school lunch to apple pie à la mode every year at Thanksgiving, apples are without a doubt one of the A-list celebrities of fruits in America. Beloved by many for its sweet taste and crisp texture, the apple boasts so many health benefits that it earned its own well-known adage: an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

This time of year, as the blazing heat of summer in the Midwest begins to give way to cool breezes and milder temperatures, St. Louisians love to go apple picking. Last weekend, I had the chance to pick my own apples for the first time and after taking a juicy bite of one, while standing amongst the apple trees, I can testify that foodies and non-foodies alike can enjoy this fresh fall tradition.

Here are 5 reasons to go apple picking the next time you’re looking for a delightful and delicious afternoon outside:


1. Farm-to-Mouth (skip the table)


Photo by Sean Koetting

There is simply no better way to ensure that the apples you’re eating are free of wax coatings, preservatives, and those grimy germs from people’s hands at the supermarket.


2. Take a break from technology

Apple picking is a perfectly pleasant alternative to spending the day staring at a screen or stressing over a pile of books. As cliché as it sounds, standing amongst rows of apple trees takes you back to a time with a much slower pace of life.


3. Enjoy the sweater weather


Photo by Maggie Gorman

In the Midwest, many would argue that there is no better time to be outside than in the few weeks that mark the seasonal change from summer to autumn. In just this past week alone, St. Louis has experienced a fairly drastic drop in temperatures compared to what is usually expected for mid-September, transitioning from stifling near-100-degree days to mild days in the 70s. Not only does apple picking allow you to take advantage of this refreshing sweater weather, but apples trees reach their peak ripeness at this time of year.


4. Everyone’s doing it


Photo by Erica Sloan

Okay, so it might not seem that cool to do something because of tradition, but apple picking has been a mainstay in Midwestern history since the mid-1800s. If you go to Eckert’s, the most popular apple-picking destination near WashU, you’ll meet the sixth and seventh generations of the original planters.


5. There’s always extra perks

Whether you go to Eckert’s or one of the several other destinations for apple picking near St. Louis, you’re sure to find much more than just apples. Many of these places have country markets with homemade jams, jellies, salsas and butters, as well as petting zoos and even carnival rides, if you feel like releasing your inner child.


Apple Picking Tips

There are a couple obvious things to look out for when picking apples – they should be firm, round, unbruised, and insect free (the only thing worse than finding a worm in your apple is finding half a worm in your apple, am I right?). Besides those, here are a couple key pointers for choosing the best apples for eating and baking:

  • For eating: ripe apple, more sweet than sour

    • Keep in mind that apples on the outside of the tree will tend to be more ripe, due to more exposure to the sun
    • An apple is ripe when you can pull it off the tree with one twist/tug (if you have to tug more, it is not ripe yet)
    • Try to keep the stem of the apple on when you pull it from the tree, or else the apple may rot easily in this area
    • Place the apples gently in the bag once picked to avoid easy bruising
    • Refrigerate (but do not freeze) apples to increase shelf life
    • Best varieties: Red Delicious, Royal Gala, Russet, Lady William, Empire, Fuji, Discovery and Braeburn
  • For cooking/baking: overripe apple, more sour than sweet

    • When selecting apples from the tree, some softness and/or bruising is okay
    • Often apples will fall on the ground when overripe, so it may be useful to choose apples that either appear to have just fallen or that fall to the ground when you shake the tree slightly
    • Best varieties: Grenadier, Newton Wonder and Bramley
  • Apples that are equally good for eating and cooking/baking: sweet and sour

    • Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Pink Lady, Jonagold, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Spartan and Rome.

Photo courtesy of Free People Blog


Now put those fresh picks to good use: