Apples are ripening in many Illinois backyards and commercial pick-your-own orchards this month and most types soon will be ready for picking, preserving and eating out-of-hand.

When selecting the cream of this year's crop, keep in mind the particular attributes of various varieties and how they suit your intended uses.

Remember, some apples are best for eating fresh while others are best for cooking. Some varieties can do double duty.

Red Delicious apples are easy to identify by the five distinct bumps on the blossom end of each fruit. This sweet, crisp, juicy, low-acid apple is tasty when eaten raw but is not a good choice for cooking.

Golden Delicious apples are full and round and have firm, crisp flesh that is sweet and juicy. This all-purpose apple is good for eating, cooking and baking.

Jonathan apples are generally small to medium in size and dark to bright red. Their flesh is yellowish-white, occasionally with red veins and they are crisp, tender, juicy, aromatic and moderately tart. Jonathan apples are another all-purpose apple for cooking, baking or fresh eating.

The Winesap apple is solid and has a deep red color. It tastes winey and tart and is good for cooking and eating but not especially satisfactory for baking.

Rome Beauty apples have a mild flavor that is best savored after cooking or baking.

Timing is everything in attaining optimum quality apples.

When normal, unblemished fruits start to drop, the time is just about right plus the "under color" or "ground color" is a clue to maturity or ripeness.

The "under color," that is the same color as the peel in yellow or gold varieties and can be seen around the core or stem cavities in red varieties, changes from green to yellow or greenish-yellow as apples mature. Watch for that color change to make sure you're picking apples that are ready to use.

Ripe apples should be easy to pick with stems attached.

You should be able to roll or twist the apple so it's stem separates from the tree – not from the fruit and remains on the tree. Handle fruits carefully after picking to avoid bruising.

Once you've made a decision on which variety you need and have picked them, you're entitled to enjoy at least a few as low-calorie snacks or desserts before getting to work with those you plan to preserve and enjoy later.

Going to an apple orchard can be a pleasant and educational experience for you and your family. The following tips will help to make that experience a great one!

Take advantage of the accessibility and availability of fresh apples before the growing season ends!