One of my fondest childhood memories is of picking apples with my family every fall. The sight of trees laden with gorgeous, red fruit filled me with indescribable joy. It seems that no apple ever tastes as good as one just picked on a crisp, sunny fall day. Here in Alaska, winter comes early and there are certainly no apple orchards to speak of. Needless to say, I’ve been feeling somewhat nostalgic for the mouth-watering taste of fresh-picked apples. So great was my craving that I asked a friend who was coming to visit from Massachusetts to go to an orchard and pick some for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high, though. For while the apples she brought tasted delicious, they just couldn’t replicate the experience of being in an orchard on a sunny, fall, New England day.
Americans have a long tradition of pomology, though sadly many of the old varieties have been lost. Apples brought to New England by the English settlers in the 1600s played a major role in sustaining the colonists in the early years. So valuable was it to have an apple tree, that land itself was considered an acceptable payment.
While there are about 100 apple varieties grown commercially in the United States today, the selection in most supermarkets remains limited to a handful of varieties, like the everpresent ‘Red Delicious,’ ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Granny Smith.’ There are currently about 7,500 apple varieties grown worldwide, but this pales in comparison to the 19th century when American publications listed some 17,000 varieties available throughout the world.
Still, the process of choosing an apple for eating raw or for cooking can be greatly confusing. While researching this article, I found many sources that said ‘McIntosh,’ my favorite apple to eat raw, was only considered suitable for baking or applesauce. On the other hand, I discovered that my least favorite apple, ‘Red Delicious,’ was the most widely grown apple and the one considered most suitable for eating raw.
Let’s simplify the selection process a bit. As far as eating apples raw, eat whatever you like. I see no reason to have rules here. For baking, use firm apples such as ‘Cortland,’ ‘Rome,’ ‘Jonathan’ and ‘Mc-Intosh,’ for anything where you want the apples to retain their shape. For pies and muffins use a firm, strongly flavored apple that is not too watery: ‘Golden Delicious,’ ‘Winesap,’ ‘McIntosh’ and ‘Granny Smith’ are all good choices. When pairing apples with meat in savory dishes, I prefer ‘Golden Delicious’ for it retains its shape and acquires a rich, buttery flavor when cooked.
Although apples are considered a fall fruit, they are widely available year-round. The recipes below include some of my favorite ingredients to pair with apples such as cheese, cinnamon, caramel, and nuts, particularly walnuts.