KJ Guide to Apples

If you were to eat a different kind of apple every day for the next two years, not only would you be very healthy, you would have only scratched the surface of the more than 7000 varieties of apples.

A trip to the farmers market or the supermarket produce aisle can prove daunting. What to choose depends on what you want to do with your apples. Do you want to pack them in the kids’ lunchboxes? Do you want to recreate your aunt’s best apple pie? Or do you want to add variety to a salad?

Apples enjoy great popularity just because they are that versatile. They can be warming and comforting in a freshly made pie, or refreshingly crunchy to eat out of hand or in a salad. Sweet, savory, creamy, crispy, juicy, tart. There’s an apple to suit every palate, every taste, every recipe.

The history of apples is a little sketchy but most researchers agree that its origins of the modern domesticated apple – Malus domestica –can be traced to the mountains of central Asia.  It is one of the few fruits that grows well throughout the world, although the same type of apple will taste differently depending on where it is grown because of variations in soil and climate or length of growing season.

Regardless of what apple you choose, they’re all good for you, just like the doctor said. Apples are high in vitamin C, low in calories, high in fiber, and have been shown to reduce cholesterol, decrease cancer and diabetes risk, and boost brain power. All that and taste, too! No wonder the apple is a symbol of wholesomeness.

If you grew up thinking there were only two types of apples – red or green – it’s time to awaken your taste buds to all the different kinds of apples around.

Buying Apples

All apples are not created equal. It all depends on what you want to do with your apples.

Generally, there are three kinds of apples:

  • Eating apples, sometimes called “dessert” apples. These are usually sweet apples with a slight acidity. They include Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, and Empire.
  • Baking and cooking apples. The best apples for baking and cooking have some tartness and can hold their shape under heat, without turning to mush. They include McIntosh, Northern Spy and Granny Smith and Rome
  • Multi-purpose. Many apples can multi-task and can be eaten out of hand as well as be cooked or baked.  They include Braeburn, Cameo, Pink Lady (Cripps Pink), Jonagold, Jonathan and Golden Delicious.

Our guide provides more detailed descriptions of each apple variety type and their best uses.

Storing Apples

As tempting as it is to display apples in a fruit bowl, it is the poorest way to keep them fresh. Apples need to be kept cold. The ideal storage temperature is between 30 and 35 degrees F., with 90 percent humidity.

Apples release a gas called ethylene when ripening. Sticking apples in your fridge halts this process. (Commercial storage facilities actually have machines that suck ethylene out of the room.) To keep apples crisp—and texture is a key factor for enjoyment—refrigerate them.

Place your apples in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator. They’ll keep there for months.

Like red wine and cheese, however, the flavor of some apples is enhanced by bringing the apples to room temperature before eating.

If you have the storage space – in an unheated basement or a garage – you can take full advantage of apple harvest and store apples throughout the winter. Be sure to select unblemished apples for long-term storage, and give them ventilation and a constant cool temperature. One good way to keep apples is to wrap each apple loosely in newspaper and layer them in a Styrofoam box.

To prevent browning while preparing apples for a salad, either let them soak in a bath of water and lemon juice, sprinkle apple slices with lemon juice or use a commercial product with citric acid.

 Varieties

All
Great Fresh
Baking Apples
Pie Apples
Sauce Apples
Cider Apples
  • Braeburn
    Braeburn
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    The most distinguishing characteristic of the Braeburn apple, especially in comparison to its chief competitors, the Golden Delicious and the Granny Smith, is its richer and more complex flavor. Originating in New Zealand during in 1952, the Braeburn has...
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  • Cameo
    Cameo
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    Formerly known as Carousel, the Cameo apple was discovered growing as a chance seedling in an orchard near Wenatchee, Washington in the 1980s.  It looks like a Red Delicious in shape but its color is not as deep red....
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  • Cortland
    Cortland
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    An older American variety, the Cortland apple is a cross between the McIntosh and Ben Davis apple. The Cortland apple is bright red and covered with dark red streaks.  Cortland trees are known for their ability to thrive in cold...
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  • Empire
    Empire
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    The Empire was developed at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, in the 1940’s. Its parents are the McIntosh and the Red Delicious, making it destined to be a popular eater. The Empire is sweet like a Red Delicious and...
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  • Fuji
    Fuji
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    As its name suggest, the Fuji was developed in Japan in the mid-20th century but its origins are All-American, as it is a cross between the Red Delicious and the Ralls Janet, a much lesser known apple but one...
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  • Gala
    Gala
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    The Gala originated from New Zealand in the 1960s. It is a cross between Kidd’s Orange Red and the Golden Delicious. Because it grows well in both hemispheres, it’s an apple you’ll find readily available, year-round, in any supermarket....
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  • Golden Delicious
    Golden Delicious
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    Often thought of as a yellow cousin to the Red Delicious, the two only share a name, although the Golden Delicious is also a supermarket staple. These apples are typically medium to large with a pale flesh. They don’t...
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  • Granny Smith
    Granny Smith
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    For many, this is their go-to baking apple. This variety is crisp and tart and its flavor holds up well in recipes with spicy notes, plus the flesh is firm enough to retain its shape when cooked. It was...
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  • Honeycrisp
    Honeycrisp
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    The Honeycrisp is a relatively new kid on the block, introduced in 1991. It has become hugely popular, a near overnight sensation. It’s popular because of its deliciously crisp snap on first bite. Developed by the University of Minnesota...
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  • Jonagold
    Jonagold
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    This is a very versatile apple that can be eaten fresh, baked in a cobbler, or cooked in a sauce. It’s juicy, crisp and sweetly aromatic. As its name hints, it’s a cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathan. It...
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  • Jonathan
    Jonathan
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    The Jonathan is a classic American variety, and widely regarded as one of the best flavored with a good balance of sweet and sharp. It was developed in New York state in the mid-1800’s, from an Espopus Spitzenberg seedling....
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  • Northern Spy
    Northern Spy
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    Known for its winter hardiness, Northern Spy apples can be stored up to three months in a cool dry place lasting well into early spring. The Northern Spy is a very late season apple, with red skin and streaked...
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  • Pink Lady® (Cripps Pink)
    Pink Lady® (Cripps Pink)
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    Pink Lady apples were developed by a man named John Cripps of Western Australia’s Department of Agriculture. They are the result of a cross between Lady Williams and Golden Delicious apples. The variety can only be sold as ‘Pink...
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  • Red Delicious
    Red Delicious
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    The Red Delicious is probably the most iconic of all American apples, a true classic. Deep red in color and heart-shaped, it is distinguished not only by its dark, shiny skin but its five star bumps on its bottom...
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  • Rome
    Rome
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    At first, the Rome apple was known as Gillett’s Seedling.  Today it is marketed under a variety of names -- Rome, Red Rome and Rome Beauty. The Rome apple was named after Rome Township, Ohio where the apple was...
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  • Stayman
    Stayman
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    The Stayman is an old staple, first raised by a Dr. Stayman in Kansas in the 1860s.  The variety gained commercial popularity in the U.S. having been promoted by the famous Stark Brothers Nursery. It is believed to be a...
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Flavor Affinities

While its taste may range somewhere between sweet and tangy, an apples flavor can consist of a variety of notes including banana, strawberry, clove, honey, melon, and pineapple; all of which allows for numerous food pairings. Apples and cinnamon may well be one of the greatest flavor combinations of all time, but other spices, like cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom all pair nicely. Cheese can add an entirely new dimension to apples and vise versa.  Try combining a thin slice of Granny Smith apple with an equally sized piece of aged Manchego. What results is an entirely different taste sensation proving that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Camembert and goat cheese also work well, and some folks prefer cheddar to ice cream when it comes to apple pie.

Apples also have a strong affinity for butter and sugar.  So it’s only natural that we love them with caramel.  Several liquors pair nicely with apples, particularly Calvados, a French apple brandy.  Bourbon, cognac and rum also have natural affinities. Other ingredients include cream, honey, vanilla, cranberries, raisons, cherries, walnuts and pecans.  And when it comes to meat, apples and pork are a classic combination.

 

Rosemary Wolbert
Rosemary Wolbert is a writer cum gentlewoman farmer. A former corporate communicator, she now relishes the quiet country life — just reading, cooking and writing in Pennsylvania. She publishes the blog Sprigs of Rosemary and writes a monthly newspaper column, “Good Food Matters” and believes food bridges all kinds of barriers, real or imagined.

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