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Take Your Pick, It's Apple Time

Cheney's Orchards aims to provide its customers with a wide choice of new and old varieties

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GOODBYE, Red Delicious. Hello, Fuji, Mutsu, Akane, and more? The popularity of America's No. 1 apple has probably peaked, say several apple growers. Consumers are looking for apples with more flavor and texture, rather than perfect, bright-red specimens like Red Delicious. Growers, meanwhile, want varieties that keep longer, stay crisper, and are easier to grow.

``The whole apple industry is in transition,'' says Doug Roberts, a marketing specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. ``We're growing more different varieties than ever, and consumers want diversity as well as more flavor,'' he says.

Diversity has long been a trademark of Massachusetts apple growers like David Cheney, a fourth-generation orchardist who grows 35 varieties of apples on an 80-acre orchard about 75 miles west of Boston. It was started in 1911 by his great-grandfather, William Cheney.

Visitors to Cheney's Orchards can pick their own apples, or collect a mixed bag of five or more varieties from 15-bushel bins in the salesroom: McIntosh, Macoun (pronounced Muh-COW-en), Cortland, Spencer, Milton-McIntosh, Empire, Akane (uh-KAHN-ee), and others are available according to season. There are peaches, pears, apple products, herb teas, jellies, jams, and free apple recipes, too.

When he has time, owner David Cheney likes to drive visitors through the orchard in his red Model A fire truck. His wife, Vickie, and her mother, Betty Heino, recently joined Mr. Cheney and a reporter for a drive over pastures filled with trees loaded with fruit - row upon row, as far as the eye could see.

``Down close to the water of the pond on the left, we have three sour cherry trees, and here's a white peach tree, a very old one. ...We have a few blue prune-plums and several kinds of pears,'' Cheney explains. ``But apples are our main crop. These are McIntosh and Red Delicious trees, and some Cortlands, which are my favorite apple.

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