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‘The Best Way To Experience An Apple’: Eckert’s President Offers His Picks, Insights

Jonathan apples are just one of many varieties available for picking at Eckert’s this season.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Jonathan apples are just one of many varieties available for picking at Eckert’s this season.

The year 2020 has taken plenty of well-deserved criticism, but its pumpkin harvest is actually looking pretty good. That’s according to Chris Eckert, president of Eckert’s, which operates pick-your-own operations in Belleville, Grafton and Millstadt, Illinois.

“Mother Nature didn’t get COVID,” Eckert told St. Louis on the Air. “We’ve been blessed with a very good crop this year, so that’s great.”

Pumpkin picking at the Eckert farms began this past weekend, with apple picking also well underway for the season. And if you ask Chris Eckert, there’s “no better way to grocery shop” right now than going outside and choosing produce straight from the source.

Of course, Eckert’s operations all look a little different this year, given various coronavirus-related policy changes and reservation systems in place. So far, Chris Eckert says, most visitors have cooperated with the changes.

On Friday’s talk show, he joined host Sarah Fenske to share some of his favorite apple varieties and discuss the company’s involvement with the Midwest Apple Improvement Association, a breeding program that develops apples specially designed to thrive in the region’s climate.

The colder weather in recent weeks has been “really conducive” for a lot of crops this year, Eckert said.

“It is good for pumpkins, but it’s especially good for apples,” he explained. “Apples really love cool nights, because it puts that red pigment in the skin of the apple, so you get a much darker-color Red Delicious, more color on the Fuji, and all the apples just love soaking up the sunshine during the day.”

When Fenske asked why apples seem to taste so much better during this time of year, Eckert pointed out that “once something is picked, it’s not going to taste any better over time.”

“When you come right to the farm and pick it directly off the tree, that’s going to be the freshest, juiciest apple that you can get,” he said. “So I think that makes this time of the year the best time of the year to eat apples, because they’re just fresher. The apples that we were eating in August were harvested last fall, so they’ve been in coolers for 12 months. And that is great that we can do that, but it’s not the best way to experience an apple.”

The broadcast also included some farm-focused audio and visitor comments gathered at the Millstadt Fun Farm last weekend — plus some listener picks when it comes to favorite apples.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.