Get Early Season Apples While They’re Hot

RubyMac apples are a newer strain of McIntosh developed for their deep red color and spicy flavor. (Russell Steven Powell)

THERE ARE some outstanding early season New England apples that are already being harvested, or soon to be picked, from Akane to Pristine to Zestar!, plus more traditional favorites like Early Mac, Paula Red, and Ginger Gold.

Many of these varieties have exceptional flavors and cooking characteristics, but they are best enjoyed soon after harvest. Don’t miss out on these apple gems now, as in most cases you won’t find them past September.

The heirlooms Gravenstein and Red Gravenstein, and the newer apple Sansa are ready now at many orchards, and they will be available at others soon. The New England apple season is running a few days behind schedule this year due to the hot summer, so call ahead to make sure your orchard is harvesting the varieties you seek. Visit our Orchard Finder for listings and contact information.

These young Honeycrisp apples have yet to develop their full size and color. (Russell Steven Powell)

Apple color can be deceiving. New England’s cool summer nights are necessary for many apple varieties to develop their full color and to draw out their sweetness. This is particularly true of Honeycrisp and McIntosh.

The more seasonably cool temperatures predicted for this weekend should speed up the ripening process. The fall-like weather is ideal for visiting a New England orchard, and picking peaches, raspberries, and these outstanding, if short-lived, early season apples.

How could such red RubyMac apples not yet be ripe? Try the taste test—or check the seeds. (Russell Steven Powell)

But color isn’t everything. A friend and I stopped in at Foppema’s Farm in Northbridge, Massachusetts, yesterday, where these photographs were taken. My friend could not get over the fact that the RubyMacs, already a rich red hue, are not ready for picking. A bite into the too-tart apples or a test of their seeds would show otherwise; the seeds should be dark brown, almost black, before the apple is ready for harvest.

Zestar! apples, one of the best, and newest, of the early season varieties. (Russell Steven Powell)

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ALMOND EXTRACT pairs beautifully with apples. We often substitute almond extract for vanilla in recipes. It is more concentrated — half or less of the vanilla recommended is usually enough — but the almond flavor adds a sublime accent to the apples.

French Apple Cake with Peaches goes one step further, adding a ripe peach to the mix, as peaches overlap with early apples in New England’s orchards. The two make a great combination spiced with almond extract and cinnamon. This cake is so good it barely survived the photographs.

This is the second recipe in a row that uses almond extract (see Apple Tart with Mascarpone). A third apple recipe using almond extract is in the icing on Peg’s Apple Squares. Like the cake and tart, the squares are outstanding.

French Apple Cake with Peaches

French Apple Cake with Peaches. (Russell Steven Powell)

½ c flour

½ c whole wheat flour

1 t baking powder

¼ t salt

½ c butter, softened

¼ c sugar

1 t almond extract

2 eggs

2 New England apples, chopped

1 peach, chopped

2 T sugar

½ t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8×8 baking dish or deep-dish pie plate.

In a medium bowl, mix together flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, and almond extract. Add eggs one at a time and stir until creamy.

Add in flour mixture and beat until blended.

Gently fold in apples and peach.

Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top.

Mix 2 T sugar with cinnamon, and sprinkle over batter.

Bake for 40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted comes clean and cake is golden.

Let cake cool completely before serving.


  • Patricia Walling

    Are Jonathan’s available? All of my Mother’s early Fall applesauce was made from them. We had them in Ohio but also obtained them from Michigan.

    • Russell Powell

      Thank you for your query! Jonathan remains a popular apple in the Midwest, and its New England fans are devoted. It is grown by fewer orchards in New England, but follow this link to see who has it: As you will see, it is a later season apple, and will not be ready for picking until next month. Good luck in your search!