Popular varieties of apples such as Honeycrisp and Cort-land labeled as “cosmetically challenged” are sold along with those that made it through the 2016 growing season unscarred at the quaint Door Creek Orchard in the town of Cottage Grove.
Unlike some orchards that prefer not to sell apples with blemishes — they go to the pile used to make cider or pies even though the blemishes don’t affect taste or quality — those with slight blemishes have a place of honor at Door Creek. Customers that don’t pick their own from trees can pick their own — blemished or not — from barrels inside the store.
Some apples for sale are ringed with a thin russet stripe courtesy of a hard frost in mid-May that affected fruit across parts of the southern half of the state and 30 percent of Door Creek’s apple crop. The orchard also sells apples blemished from harmless diseases with scary names like Sooty Blotch because of the orchard’s reduced use of chemicals. “They might not be as cosmetically pleasing as the ones you see at Woodman’s but we are proud of them,” said Tom Griffith, who co-owns Door Creek with his wife, Gretchen.
Door Creek, which grows 88 varieties of apples, has embraced an “eat-ugly-apples” campaign that explains to consumers that a blemish on an apple is normal and not an indicator that there’s a worm inside.
The orchard is running a contest for the best photo of a customer posing with an ugly apple purchased at the orchard that is posted on Facebook or Instagram with a @doorcreekorchard tag and an #eatuglyapples hashtag. The winner gets a gallon of cider and a five-pound bag of apples.
“We respect your choice not to buy them but we just want everyone to know that most cosmetically challenged apples are totally fine,” said Liz Griffith, the daughter of the co-owners who helps run the orchard. “Flavor and integrity are affected in some badly damaged apples and we don’t sell those.”
There are plenty of ugly apples in Wisconsin this fall because of the hard frost that struck last May. But, overall, the quality of the apples is excellent across the state and the harvest is on schedule, according to Amaya Atucha, an assistant professor in horticulture for UW-Madison and the state fruit specialist for UW Extension.
“There’s a good crop out there. You can find the apples you are looking for,” Atucha said.
State apple growers need a good harvest. In 2015, state apple production dipped 5.5 percent to 51.5 million pounds and the price per pound also dropped 5.5 percent to 57.8 cents in 2015, which led to a 10.8 percent drop to $27.8 million in value of utilized production, according to a report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Cortland, Gala, Fuji, Haralson, Empire and Honeycrisp are all in prime picking condition right now while Macintosh, another favorite, is coming to an end, according to Rami Aburomia, the manager of Eplegaarden orchard in Fitchburg. Consumers should have no problem finding pick-your-own apples.
“The recent rain has really helped,” Aburomia said. “The apples size up the last two weeks of ripening and when you get lots of rain in that period they size up quite nicely.”
A rainy August also led to more blemishes on apples in organic orchards or others, like Door Creek, that weren’t sprayed for harmless summer diseases, Aburomia said. “It doesn’t affect taste, it just affects the look,” he said. “But you can’t sell those apples to the grocery store. They won’t buy them.”
Aburomia, who also owns an organic orchard near Mount Horeb, is a big fan of the eat-ugly-apples campaign. He pointed out that consumers buy other fruit and vegetables, like cucumbers, that are blemished or discolored, “but an apple, for some reason, has to be absolutely perfect. I don’t get that.”
The eat-ugly-apples campaign was started by Eliza Greenman, a grower in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia who wrote in her blog that Americans need to be untrained from eating beautiful fruit and rejecting blemishes. “Because we fear these harmless blemishes, millions of gallons of fungicides are sprayed on apples (organic and conventional) every year across the United States to make them go away,” Greenman wrote.
Greenman told NPR that she conducted an unofficial experiment testing scabbed and unscabbed Parma apples, which are native to Virginia, and found the scabbed apples had a 2 to 5 percent higher sugar content than the unblemished ones from the same tree.
Thus, scabbed apples produce a tastier hard cider because more sugar means a higher alcohol content once fermented.
She also pointed to a study that shows blemished apples are more nutritious and have a higher antioxidant content. “I believe stress can help create a super fruit,” Greenman said.
Aburomia agreed and said trees release antioxidants when challenged by a frost or disease and that leads to a higher number of antioxidants in their apples. “They’re very good for you,” he said.
Some of Eplegaarden’s apples were damaged by the frost last May, too, Aburomia said.
The orchard bags the apples not picked by customers, separates the blemished ones and sells them at a slightly reduced rate.
John and Karen Jaeschke, of Verona, bought a 20-pound bag of blemished Macintosh apples that Karen, 75, planned to use mostly for baking. But she also planned to eat a few for a snack because blemished apples don’t scare her.
“We’ve been buying them for a long time,” she said, “and we’re still living.”