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I’m always a bit sad when the fruit of summer fades. I make peach jam and chutney, pickled plums, bake pies, freeze summer berries and do everything possible to try to hold onto the sweetness of the season. But then I remember that, of course, autumn means the arrival of apples, and when they’re in season they are every bit as great — if not better — than any other fruit.
Apples also happen to be good for you. Very good. Rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, apples are considered one of the healthiest foods you can eat.
And there are so many to choose from. Turns out there are more than 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the U.S., not to mention the countless number of heirlooms — or antique apples — that grow in smaller numbers on orchards dotted across the country. Heirlooms are worth seeking out at orchards and farmers markets.
When cooking with apples, it’s important to know which varieties hold up to heat and won’t turn to mush, and which are best enjoyed raw in salads or for eating out of hand. Apples can range from sweet and sour flavors, honey overtones, spicy undertones and more. And, of course, the texture of apples varies from firm to soft and everything in between.
For a more complete picture of apple varieties and history, as well as a great collection of recipes, I highly recommend Amy Traverso’s book, “The Apple Lover’s Cookbook” (W.W. Norton, 2020).
Braeburn: This sweet, slightly spicy apple works well eaten raw or used in baked goods.
Cortland: These apples come from New York and are more than 100 years old. With a yellow-green skin with red streaks, they tend to be large apples and are quite tart and tender. They turn brown a bit slower than other varieties making them ideal for recipes like salads or dishes where the apple is used raw.
Empire: This apple variety was discovered in the Empire State of New York in the 1960s. A medium-sized red apple, Empires are a cross between Red Delicious apples and McIntosh. They are crisp and juicy with a sweet and simultaneously tart flavor. They have a creamy white flesh and are a good all-purpose apple.
Fuji: These apples originally came from Japan in the 1930s. Named after Mount Fuji, these apples were introduced to the U.S. in the ’80s. They are a cross between two apples: the Red Delicious and Virginia Ralls Genet (also called Ralls Jennet). A sweet apple with a slight lemony, honey flavor, they can be used in cooking — though they do tend to cook down and should be cut in thicker than normal slices — or eaten as a snack.
Ginger Gold: This variety boasts a crisp, cream-colored flesh and a sweet, mild, tart flavor. Some find them to be spicy. They are great to eat raw or cook with as they don’t tend to brown quickly.
Golden Delicious: Buttery with a light honey, tart flavor, these apples are good baked or raw. They are quite mild but also have a sweet flavor.
Granny Smith: These hail from Australia and were discovered in the late 1800s. Their distinctive bright-green flesh is quite tart and they are considered an all-purpose apple with a crunchy texture. They have a high level of acidity and are a good baking apple because they hold their shape well, but are also delicious as a snacking apple.
Honeycrisp: Mild, crisp, juicy apples with a scarlet color over a yellow background. Discovered in 1960 as part of the University of Minnesota’s apple breeding program, some find that they taste like freshly made apple cider. They have a great balance of sweetness and acidity.
Jazz: A blend of many flavors — a bit like jazz music — and have a sweetness and beautiful aroma. Round with a rosy-red skin, often with yellow or orange streaks, these firm apples are low acid and excellent for cooking and eating.
Jonagold: A blend of Jonathan and Golden Delicious varieties. A New York native, they tend to be large apples, have a honey flavor and are tart, crisp and juicy. Jonagold can be used for cooking or eaten raw.
Macoun: Delicious raw and quite sweet. A favorite for making cider or applesauce. They are medium-sized with a deep-red skin and a creamy white tender flesh. Some think they taste vaguely of berries.
McIntosh: Better known as “Macs,” these are very popular in the U.S. and particularly New England. They were said to be discovered in 1811 by John McIntosh and have a deep-red color with a green blush. Known for their juicy, tangy, spicy flavor, this apple can be used for cooking or for snacking out of hand.
Mutsu: One of my personal favorites. They have a Japanese heritage and are often also called Crispin. Sweet, thoroughly refreshing and exceptionally juicy, they can be used in cooking and eating out of hand. There is the Green Mutsu (firm flesh, crisp, juicy) as well as the Red Mutsu, which is medium- to large-sized.
Paula Red: Sweet and tart and can be used for cooking or eating raw. They hail from Michigan and tend to arrive in markets early in the apple season. They look like McIntosh with a white flesh that is sweet, tart and berrylike.
Red Delicious: The most popular American apples. They come from Iowa and were first harvested in the 1870s. Sweet, juicy and crisp, though many cooks find them boring. A one-note apple? These are best eaten raw and not used in cooking.
Tip for cooking with apples: Add lemon juice to fresh-cut apples to keep them from browning. Gently toss cut apples with about a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice.
Sauteed apples add a sweet, fruity taste to a bacon, egg and lettuce breakfast sandwich. But it’s the mayonnaise that puts this sandwich over the top.
You saute the apples in maple syrup and apple cider. Once they are tender you remove them with a slotted spoon but then continue to reduce down the cider-maple mixture until it’s almost a thick glaze. That sweet glaze is then mixed with mayonnaise and spread on toast and then layered with crispy bacon (omit if you’re vegetarian), fried egg, tender sweet apple slices and lettuce. Serve with hot apple cider or coffee for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
This fall salad is refreshing yet simultaneously hearty. It makes a great addition to your Thanksgiving table to offset the richness of more traditional holiday foods. But it’s equally good as a weeknight salad or lunch served with warm crusty bread. The salad shouldn’t be dressed more than an hour and a half before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
The maple-glazed nuts:
The salad and mustard-sage dressing:
This spiced apple cake is baked in a Bundt cake pan and uses no dairy. It’s scented with cinnamon, ginger and allspice. When baked, it achieves a gorgeous golden brown, almost-crisp topping and a tender inside. The cake will keep, once baked, for up to five days, covered and refrigerated. This cake is an adaptation of a recipe from Epicurious from Amanda Denton of Barre, Vermont.
*The cakes come out best when you use a variety of apples. Think about Jona-Gold, Macintosh, Mutsu, Golden Delicious and Macoun, for example.
This segment aired on November 10, 2021.
Kathy Gunst is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks.
Add WBUR to your morning routine
Add WBUR to your morning routine