Apples for eating out of hand, apples for baking and cooking, apples for sauce and juice, apples to serve with savory dishes and apples for dessert: there is an apple for every use. Apples that ripen early, apples that ripen mid-season, and apples that ripen late for eating right into winter: there is an apple for every season.
Apples range in color from yellow to bright yellow-green to green to almost every shade of red. Apple textures range from tender to crisp. Apples can be sweet or tart or range in flavor complexity from simple to complex. The flavors of an apple can vary from pineapple to bananas, apricots, strawberries, roses, cloves, spices, wine, nuts, and berries.
There are apples that actually taste like where you live. The flesh of an apple can be cream-colored or white or yellow.
n the course of a year, there are actually three apple harvests: an early-season harvest, a mid-season harvest, and a late-season harvest.
- The harvest for early-season apple varieties begins in mid-summer and peaks in late summer.
- The harvest for mid-season apples begins in late summer and peaks in early autumn, and the harvest for late-season apples begins in early autumn and peaks in late autumn–and sometimes runs right into winter.
- Late-season apples can be stored at cool temperatures and stay fresh right into spring.
Cookbooks sometimes divide apples into those that are juicy and eaten out of hand (usually the early- and mid-season varieties) and those that are dry and used for baking and cooking (usually late-season varieties). The apple growers in your region can recommend specific varieties for the use you have in mind. Here’s a short guide to choosing apples:
• Firm, juicy, crisp, and sweet to sweet-tart tasting apples are right for eating out of hand.
• Sweet but firm apples that will not disintegrate in the oven easily are great for baking or cooking whole.
• More dry than juicy apples with a slightly acidic flavor are best for pies.
• Acidic but juicy apples are well suited for jellies.
• Sweet to tart apples that do not discolor easily are best for applesauce, cider, or juice.
Just remember that as a general rule: sweet apples are eaten out of hand while tart apples are used for cooking.
The apple is a pome fruit with a fleshy outer layer and a paperlike core that usually contains 5 to 10 seeds in its center. Apple trees can grow to 40 feet tall and flowers in late spring with blooms that look like tiny pink and white roses. The apple fruit is ready for harvest 140 to 170 days after pollination. Apples are a temperate region fruit that requires a period of cold and dormancy each year in order to thrive.
One of the rules of good fresh apple eating is to know the varieties that grow in your region. An apple that is tasty in one region may not be tasty in another. The key is to appreciate the subtle flavors of apples and the soil and climate where they grow. Choosing a great apple is not just about appearance.
Local season. The peak harvest season for apples varies by variety. The earliest apples are ready for harvest in mid-summer and the last is ready for harvest in winter.
Choosing and Preparing Apples
Choose. Select smooth, clean, firm, brightly colored apples free of bruises or soft spots. If the apple yields under pressure of the fingers, the apple will be mealy. Choose apples specifically for their use:
• Eating out of hand: Choose a firm, juicy, crisp fruit such as Golden Delicious (gold), Granny Smith (green), Newtown Pippin (green), Jonathan (red), McIntosh (red to green), Red Delicious (red), Stayman (red), or Winesap (red).
• Pies and Applesauce: Choose a dry, tart, slightly acidic variety: Gravenstein (yellow-green with red stripes), Grimes Golden (gold), Jonathan (red), McIntosh (red to green), Newtown pippin (green), Northern Spy (red); Rhode Island Greening (green), Stayman (red), Winesap (red), or York Imperial (red).
• Baking. Use firmer fleshed, slightly acidic varieties over 3 inches in diameter: Northern Spy (red), Rome Beauty (red), Winesap (red), or York Imperial (red).
Amount. One pound of apple (4 small, 3 medium size, 2 large fruits) yields 3 cups diced fruit or 2½ cups peeled, sliced fruit.
Store. Apples will continue to ripen if left at room temperature. To keep apples crisp place them in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator where they will keep for up to 2 weeks. Apples can be stored in a cellar at 32º to 40º F: place them in a plastic container and cover them with a damp towel to prevent moisture loss. Sort out damaged or overly ripe apples before storing them.
To freeze apples, peel and core and then freeze in light syrup.
Dried apples will keep indefinitely when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Prepare. Rinse apples before eating out of hand. Use a vegetable peeler or sharp knife to peel apples for cooking. Cut into quarters and remove the core from each section.
To core without slicing, push an apple corer through the center of the fruit from the bottom and pull out the core from the stem end.
Coat or sprinkle peeled or sliced apples with lemon, lime or orange or vinaigrette juice to prevent discoloring
Cook. Suitable for a variety of cooking techniques. For cooking, use firmer textured apples such as Rome Beauty or Cortland. Cook gently in just enough liquid to prevent the fruit from sticking to the pot.
- Baking. Peel and core apples; quarter lengthwise. Glaze and bake until hot (about 20 minutes).
- Grilling. Core and cut small to medium-size fruit in half lengthwise; cut large apples lengthwise into ¾-inch wedges. Grill until hot and streaked with brown (about 6 minutes for wedges, 10 to 12 minutes for halves).
- Poaching. Peel and core and sprinkle with lemon juice. Simmer in poaching liquid until tender when pierced (10 to 12 minutes for 4 or 5 medium-sized apples).
- Sautéing. Peel and core apples; cut into ½-inch-thick slices. Sauté until hot and tender when pierced (3 to 5 minutes).
Serve. Apples can be eaten raw, cooked, dried, or candied.
- Slice to add to cereal.
- Sauté in butter to accompany pork sausages and waffles or pancakes.
- Add to fruit, tuna, or chicken salads.
- Serve alongside savory foods: soft-ripened cheese, meat, poultry, and wild game.
- Make into applesauce, jelly, jam, marmalade, syrup, butter, chutney, or vinegar.
- Use in pies, cakes, crisps, cobblers, strudels, tarts, muffins, crepes, flans, strudels, clafoutis, charlottes, pies, and puddings.
- Core and fill the center with raisins, coconut, nuts, and honey and bake.
- Use to make cider and apple juice.
Flavor partners. Apples have a flavor affinity for allspice, apricots, celery, cinnamon, clove, curry, ginger, green onions, nuts, onion, pork, poultry, and vanilla.
Nutrition. One large raw apple contains about 125 calories. Apples provide bulk and aid digestion.
Apple facts and trivia. The apple is native to the region of modern Kazakhstan which stretches from Central Europe to Central Asia. It was first cultivated least 3,000 years ago. The ancient Romans spread apples to England and parts of Europe. American colonists brought apples to the western hemisphere from England. The word apple can be traced back to the name of its Indo-European ancestor, the abel. The apple’s Latin name pomum means fruit. The French word for apple is pomme.
There are more than 7,000 varieties of apples. The most popular ones, you know: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and McIntosh, are shipped around the country and around the world. But, there are many little known but delicious regional favorites available at farm stores or farmers’ markets.
Sierra Beauty, Rhode Island Greening, Arkansas Black, Gala from New Zealand, Fuji from Japan: if you really want to appreciate fresh apples, get to know the apples that grow in your region.
The botanical name for apples is Malus pumila.
Also of interest: Apple Recipes