Friday, September 20, 2019

Apples to Apples

September officially heralds in apple-pickin' season, although National Apple Day isn't until October 21st.  Of course, what used to be National Apple Week turned into National Apple Month, and has since become National Apple Season which spans from September to November, revealing America's insatiable love affair with the apple.

Hopefully you live in a part of the country where you can grow your own apples, or have apple orchards close by where you can go out and pick your own apples or buy them by the bushel.  But even if you don't, most supermarkets and farmers' markets usually have an assortment of apple varieties to select from.

Colorado isn't specifically designated as an apple-growing state, but I can testify that they do very well out here.  From crabapple trees to my sister's prolific golden apple tree, to my neighbor's backyard apple tree (whose apples luckily also fall on my side of the fence), the trees produce a bountiful amount of fruit each season in this state.

Is it just me, or did the number of apple varieties available at our local grocery stores just suddenly explode a few years back?  I distinctly remember a time when the only apples I could find at my local supermarket were Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Jonathan, Rome and Granny Smith.  But the next thing I know, there are suddenly a bunch of other apples I had never even heard of stacked high in the produce bins with names like Jazz, Honeycrisp, and Fuji, just to name a few.

There were always regional varieties available, of course, such as the Rhode Island Greenie or Washington apples, and heirloom varieties ... but now some of these varieties are available quite far from home.

I was to discover that there are over 7,500 varieties of apples (What? How is that even possible?) and over 2,500 different varieties grown in the United State, alone!  When did this happen?  I had no idea!

Just some of the varieties you might see at your local grocer include:

Albemarle Pippin
(or Newtown Pippin)
Calville Blanc d’Hiver
Crispin (Mutsu)
Esopus Spitzenburg
Ginger Gold
Golden Delicious
Granny Smith
Hudson's Golden Gem
Northern Spy
Pink Lady
Pink Pearl
Red Delicious
Rhode Island Greening
Russet (Egremont, Golden, Knobbed and Roxbury)
Spy Gold
Wolf River
Yellow Transparent

If you want to start an argument, just try asking folks which apples are best for eating, for baking, or for making pies.  It's about as charged a discussion as politics or football rivalries.  Seriously!

Purists believe that a pie should be made with only one type of apple at a time.  They tend to be devout fans of a particular kind of apple, and wouldn't dream of making pie with any other than their favorite.

Some people swear by Granny Smith apples, for example.  The classic green apple's sour tartness stands up to the sweetness of the pie, and its firmness holds up well to the high temperatures of baking.  When in doubt, you can't go wrong with Granny Smith.  But for other folks, that type may just be a bit too sharp for a delicious bite of pie.

Rome apples have always been lauded as a good cooking apple, but have become harder to find lately and seem to have lost a sense of excitement.  It's lack of sweetness makes it less desirable to eat fresh, but its flavor develops nicely under heat, and it never becomes mushy or mealy.

There are also regional preferences, based upon the availability in their area.  If someone's grandmother always made apple pies with McIntosh apples, they're probably going to be partial to that variety in their pie.  However, others may complain that McIntosh apples are too pulpy or turn into mush when baked.

It is often recommended that McIntosh and Cortland apples be paired with a sturdier apple in order to give your filling more body.  You'll end up with tender slices of apple suspended in a delicious applesauce-like filling.  Crisp, firm fruit provide recognizable slices of apple in your pie, heightening its appeal.

Other single-apple types swear by Ambrosia, Baldwins, Gravenstein, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Northern Spy, or Pink Ladies.

Still others prefer a specific combination of apples:

- Cortland and McIntosh
- Granny Smiths and McIntosh
- Cortland, Honeycrisp, and McIntosh
- Cortland and Baldwins
- Cortland, Granny Smith, and Honeycrisp
- Crispins and Northern Spy
- Cortland and Macoun
- Malden and Melrose
- McIntosh and Yellow Transparent
- Cortland, Empire, Macoun and McIntosh
- Cortland, Granny Smith, and Russet
- Cortland, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Pink Ladies

It's beginning to look like just about any combination you can imagine will work, but we can also see that Cortland tends to be very popular, so it is worth looking into.

In general, it is recommended to always have a combination of firm and tender, as well as sweet and tart, apples in your mix.  The best apples for baking keep their structure, are not mealy or pulpy nor disintegrate when cooked, and balance that perfect sweet-tart-spicy-sour flavor for an absolutely exquisite bite of pie.

Here's a handy chart listing recommended apple varieties for eating fresh, cooking, pies, applesauce or juice.

I wanted to answer that question for myself, though, because with varieties I had never even heard of suddenly available at my local market, and after decades of baking, I was now at a complete loss.  I did a little research and a little experimenting of my own to try to determine my favorite apples for different uses.

And we're not just talking only about apple pies, either.  There is a list about an arm long of fabulous and classic apple desserts we will be baking up in the next few months with this most versatile and flavorful fruit, so it's important we know which apples give the best results under heat.  Be sure to make at least a few of these irresistible desserts yourself this Fall, with the abundant supply of apples available at the farmers' stands and stores right now!

Apple Fritters

My advice is that you do what I did and compare apples-to-apples, side-by-side, among the local varieties available in your area.  Taste them raw and then bake up some slices in a buttered muffin tin with a little bit of butter and cinnamon sugar, to see how the flavors develop, and which textures and firmness you prefer.  You can also sample them in different combinations, to see which varieties taste best together.

Comparing apples to apples
Keep tasting notes on each during your taste test, which will come in handy as the availability of apples continues to skyrocket (Remember, 2,500 different kinds of apples grown in the U.S. alone!).

At the end of the day, choosing the best baking apples is a highly personal decision. Some apples are tart, some are sweet, some are spicy, some are crisp, and some bake up soft.  Some people like their apple slices super thin, some like them thick.  It's all a matter of personal preference and personal style, so don't be afraid to make your apple recipes your own.

Apple Brown Betty
For a while there, I used to chop my apples, until I started hearing complaints by family members who want to see actual slices of apple in their slice of pie.  (I still kind of prefer it that way myself, but some folks are absolutely horrified by it, so I have compromised!)

In my opinion, a combination of apples offers the best of all worlds in my apple pie.  The complex flavors that develop results in a delicious bite every single time, with just about all preferences represented.

How many different varieties should I put in one pie?  One baker I know says she uses at least 5 different types.  But some of us have never met an apple pie we didn't like, whether baked with one kind of apple or many.  So, as always, the choice is up to you.

Baked Apples
I usually choose a couple of different kinds of apples for flavor, and a couple for texture, to make sure all my bases are covered.  I slice them both thin and thick, to please everyone, and always top it with our French Apple Pie topping, since that is the absolute runaway favorite.  One thing's for sure ... when you take the time to find your own favorite combination of apples for your apple pie, it will be your own and taste like no one else's.

So which apples are best for baking?  That answer is different for everyone.  Now get pickin'.


Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Happy Labor Day!
Ana's prize-winning
1st Place French Apple Pie & her 2nd Place Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie!
National Coffee Day
September 29th is the day to perk up! Have a Mocha Milk Punch from us
Fall Has Arrived
And we've got apples!
October Planning
Time to make lists ... menus, recipes, family reunions, Christmas cards, Christmas gifts, parties, special events, carving time on the calendar.
Back to the Farm
Fall is the time to head to the farm to pick pumpkins, visit the animals, go on a hayride, and sip hot cocoa by a bonfire
Brandied Fruit 
Time to put up your Brandied Fruit to marinate and mellow in time for the Holidays
It's Baking Season!
On your marks,
get set ...
A Cabin in the Woods
Getting away from it all is a tradition worth keeping
Recipes for the Season
Update your repertoire with some new recipes for Fall!
Bucket List for Fall
Taking advantage of everything fall has to offer!
We're Jammin'
When the harvest is bountiful ...
A Rustic Tart for Fall
A free-form tart or galette with layered wine-poached pears is a perfect dessert for fall.
Wine Poached Pears
Perfect for fall, perfect for dessert, perfect on a cheese board, perfect in a gallette!
Pear Tart, Part Deux 
There's a time for rustic, and a time for elegant.
Food Porn
It has become a national obsession ... we're salivating over food and all the food shows on tv.
Heirloom tomatoes ... the ugly ducklings / beautiful swans of tomatoes
Spine-Chilling Reads
Some good, scary books to curl up with on fright-night! 
Tea Superstitions
Double, double, toil and trouble ... Fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Halloween Traditions
From pumpkin carving to hot apple cider, family traditions make holidays memorable!
Happy Halloween 
Making the holiday fun
A Difficult Anniversary
A few years ago we lost our Mom.  It feels like it was just yesterday.  The anniversary of a great loss is always hard
It's All About Family
Giving thanks and honoring those who came before
Herb Harvest
There's nothing like growing your own fresh herbs!
Harvest Time
There's nothing quite as satisfying as growing your own food
15 Minutes of Fame
Just a mention is thrilling, but being included in this company is the real cherry on the cake!
Family Heritage Tour
A trip back to the old country in search of the abuelos
My Boy
A tribute to Max
Bless the Beasts
Spreading goodwill upon the creatures we share this earth with ...
Of Natural Disasters and Charity
A humbling reminder that nature is in charge, despite our best-laid plans
My sister's non-profit,
Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for our service members' health and wellbeing.
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Program received a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!

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