Michigan apples are world-famous for flavor and appearance. Our philosophy is to produce the highest quality fruit possible by focusing on a few select varieties that do especially well in this region. Betsy says the world can be divided into two kinds of apple lovers; those who like pies made with McIntosh and those who prefer pies made with the firmer Northern Spy. Once she knows which you are, she can always recommend the right Michigan apples for that time of season.
We ship the very best of our harvest every year to customers across the country, beginning in September. To learn more about our apple shipping, please visit our King Orchards online store.
Heritage apples, sometimes called heirloom or antique apples, are the old varieties that have stood the test of time. Each variety represented here has been in cultivation for at least 75 years, and represent the best of the old-time apples our grandparents and great-grandparents knew and loved. McIntosh, Jonathon and Northern Spy have consistently ranked at the top of the list of most popular varieties in Michigan for over 100 years, and are still going strong today.
“Spys for pies!” says Nan, the pie baking champion of Central Lake. She should know, as she has been cooking apple pies for the swiss steak dinners at the Methodist Church every third Saturday of the month for years and years. Up here, people know their pies and endurance and competence are synonymous when it comes to baking. This famous 200 year old variety has been considered by some experts to be the best apple ever produced in the United States. If you like an old fashioned apple, bite into one to find out why our ancestors went to so much trouble growing fruit. Last fall, Betsy saw our local photographer rummaging around in the cooler and asked him what he was looking for in there. When he said he was trying to find a good looking Spy, she replied that there was no such thing. He kept searching anyway, and the result proves that besides being the best cooking apple, and a tangy, juicy eating apple, the Spy can even on occasion be a “looker”.
A surprisingly good eating, tangy old fashioned apple, Cortland is also famous for cooking and baking. Many of our customers prefer this apple for sauce, running it through a food mill, (skins and all for a nice pink color). A cross between McIntosh and Ben Davis, Cortland is especially favored for salads due to its resistance to browning. It is a large apple that ripens mid-season. It was developed in New York in 1898.
The incomparable and venerable McIntosh is our favorite traditional apple. Here in northern Michigan with our warm, sunny fall days and cool evenings we grow the best Macs in the country. It originated in nearby Ontario, and has historically been a strong regional apple. We grow more of this variety than any other. Excellent for eating fresh, in pies, salads, and sauce, you can’t go wrong with the McIntosh.
These apples are the newer varieties that have been developed specifically for what in the old days was called the dessert trade, as opposed to culinary or market trade. In modern parlance dessert trade means fresh eating. The exception to this statement is the Ginger Gold, the result of a fortuitous accident of nature, rather than intentional cultivation. It certainly ranks right up there with the best of modern high quality eating apples, however. Many old time apple lovers have been pleasantly surprised by the flavor of these new varieties, especially Ginger Gold and Gala.
Honeycrisp is a newer variety, but it is quickly becoming our top fresh eating apple. It is very crisp and juicy and has a sweetness reminiscent of honey. Honeycrisp is an exceptionally good keeper. Honeycrisp was created at the University of Minnesota in 1960 by cross-pollinating Macoun and Honeygold varieties. It does best in northern regions and is now the most popular fresh-eating apple in the Midwest.
Oh, do we love this early-ripening apple. A sweet, firm Golden Delicious-type variety, everyone loves this new gourmet apple. They aren’t the best keepers, so we have to enjoy them while they are around. This variety came from a seedling that apparently was the result of a seed washed into the orchard of Clyde and Ginger Harvey (near Charlottesville, Virginia) by Hurricane Camile in 1969. It was named, of course, for Ginger Harvey.
Another high quality gourmet dessert apple with an outstanding flavor. Gala has added a new dimension to the apple season, giving us a sweet early apple that has a beautiful appearance and keeps all season long. It ripens along with McIntosh, giving us two different superb choices to offer customers early to mid season. It is a great eating apple and cooks well, too. (The apple pie that took first prize at the Michigan State Fair last year was made with Gala). This is one of the varieties we have chosen for our high density orchard.
Jonagold is a newer variety that is a cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathon. A unique combination of Jonathon tartness and Golden Delicious sweetness, these are large apples that are beautiful in appearance. Juicy and crunchy, they are great for eating and are a good cooking variety, as well.
Year after year customers come back asking for that “mitzoo” or “muloo” or “isuzo”; they may not remember the name but they do remember the apple. It is the apple we recommend for those who want “hard and tart”. When first picked they are green and hard like a Granny Smith, only better with more flavor. A Mutsu is also one of our best keepers. If stored in a cool basement or refrigerator they will keep past Christmas. However a Mutsu will change as stored to a sweet yellow apple and resemble a Golden Delicious. Mutsu is a newer variety that we are very excited about. It is a cross between Golden Delicious and Indo, and was developed and introduced in Japan. Similar to Golden Delicious, it is firmer, and tarter. Mutsu is a large apple that keeps extremely well and sweetens as it ages while remaining firm.
The most popular 20th century American apples feature sweetness, consistent visual appeal, and widespread consumer acceptance. Since the 30’s the two varieties Red and Golden Delicious have represented as much as 90 percent of all apples grown in this country. Both first appeared early in the century and have steadily risen in popularity. Paula and Ida are two relatively newer cultivars, appearing in 1960 and 1942 respectively. Empire was first cultivated in 1966 and Jersey Mac in 1971.
Paula Red is a beautiful variety that originated right here in Michigan. It is an early McIntosh type apple. Hard and tart to start the season, it sweetens and softens as it ripens. It was discovered in 1960 as a chance seedling near Sparta, Michigan, and is thought to be descended from McIntosh. This is the best early season snacking apple, perfect for back-to-school lunches.
This a great kid’s apple. It juicy and crunchy and not too big (perfect for small hands). Empire is a cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh, with the mild tartness and juiciness of McIntosh and the sweetness of Red Delicious. The popularity of the Empire is steadily growing in the United Kingdom, and the bulk of the demand is being met by Michigan growers. Developed in New York State, and named for the Empire State.
Sweet, oh so sweet! Golden Delicious lovers swear by the sweet taste of this, the second most popular American apple. It comes from a chance seedling in West Virginia and its parents are thought to be Golden Reinette and Grimes Golden. There is very little not to like about this apple. Thin-skinned, crisp, firm, juicy flesh, with a unique aroma and flavor. Many cooks use it extensively because it’s natural sweetness allows them to use less sugar in recipes.
Hard and tart, big and red; that describes this apple. It is an exceptional variety for it’s keeping quality and wonderful for cooking. True Ida fans are faithful and prize it for both eating and baking. We have one customer who travels down from the U.P. (the upper peninsula of Michigan for you out-staters) every year to pick up three bushels to see her through the winter (not just any old apple will see you through a yooper winter).
“He who knows the apple tree knows also its region. The landscape is his in every blessed year; he sees the chariots of the months come down from the distances and pass by him into the twilights. Clouds are his and the repeating shadows on the hills. The morning when the blossoms are laden with the fragrance of the night, high noon when the bees are busy, the gloaming when the birds drop into the boughs, these are his by divine right. The smell of the new-plowed fields is his, with the urgent promise in them. Seed time and harvest, as old as the procreant earth and as new as the latest sunrise, are his to conjure. The verities are his for the asking, the strong things of the cultivated fields and of wild places. And mastery is his, that comes from the amelioration of the land and the education of the tree. All these are everyman’s, and yet they are his alone.” -Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Apple Tree, 1922