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Ag Briefs: Taste test new apple varieties at Arboretum

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the Horticultural Research Center (HRC) are all about apples this time of year! Every day, HRC scientists are out walking the orchards, checking and taste-testing the fruit, in the ongoing, lengthy quest for the next Honeycrisp, Beacon or Haralson, popular University of Minnesota introductions that have gained worldwide appeal.

Now the public can help judge the fruits of their labors at apple tastings every Saturday and Sunday in October, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Arboretum -- free with gate admission. Master Gardeners will conduct the tastings in the Oswald Visitor Center and the public will be invited to share their apple evaluations on brief comment cards. A different apple variety will be taste-tested each weekend. Tasting dates are: Oct. 4-5, 11-12, 18-19 and 25-26.

Apple tastings are all in a day's work for HRC research scientist David Bedford, who estimates he bites into as many as 600 apples a day! He shares a few pointers on how to evaluate apples and "pare" the great from the so-so.

n Color: Look for a healthy red hue. But more importantly, check the background color, which is typically a pale green or yellowish color. "The background color should be turning from pale green to yellow. The more yellow the background color is, the riper the apple," says Bedford.

n Texture: The preferable texture is hard and crisp. There should be a noticeable "crunch" when you bite into the apple. All apples tend to get "mealy" and soft eventually, but the better apples retain their crispness much longer.

n Flavor: The best apples contain a high level of sweetness balanced with a high level of tartness. This combination of natural sugar and acid makes the flavor much more interesting. "A too-sweet flavor is insipid, boring and bland. It makes the apple taste like Kool-Aid," says Bedford.

Apples are in great supply and available for purchase the at the Arboretum AppleHouse market, which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and located one mile west of the Arboretum at the corner of State Hwy. 5 and Rolling Acres Road in Chaska.

Selections include old-time favorites as well as popular varieties that were developed by the university. Proceeds from sales are used to support fruit and vegetable research at the HRC. Call 952-443-1409 to learn which varieties are currently available.