BOSTON — If Jonagold, Braeburn, and Mutsu sound more like next century's favorite baby names to you than today's apples, you're not alone.
Most of us stick with the familiar varieties when we shop - Delicious, Granny Smith, and McIntosh, steering clear of more exotic-sounding ones. But for everything there is a season. And there's no better time than now to take a bold bite into something new. There are too many varieties out there not to.
Just the other day, I was about to grab a Macoun, my all-time favorite, at a nearby whole-foods store. Macouns are tart and juicy. Perfect for apple crisp or just eating whole. They have a short season, so I've been savoring every day of it. But glistening on shelves near the Macouns, were no less than 11 other varieties. I knew the time had come to branch out, so to speak.
A fellow cook and colleague told me about Braeburns. He never liked raw apples until he bit into this crisp New Zealand import. And he's made many converts.
So I tried his favorite along with a Fuji, a Jonagold, and a Spencer. Can't say I'll never go back to Macouns, but I was pleasantly surprised. Each had it's own distinct taste and texture.
This was just a small sampling of the hundreds of apples that grow from one coast of America to the other. New ones are borrowed from abroad, food scientists develop modern hybrids, and heirloom varieties continue to grow in popularity. The array at grocery stores, farmers' markets, and orchards can be daunting.
To help you venture beyond the familiar and fully enjoy autumn's bounty, we've offered some guidance with "Orchard Tour," below.
And no report on apples is complete without recipes, especially of the sweet variety. Who doesn't like apple crisp? This variation on the old favorite - with dried cranberries and pecans - is guaranteed to send you to the kitchen.
APPLE AND DRIED CRANBERRY CRISP
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 apples (Braeburn, Cortland, Granny Smith, Ida Red, Fuji, Gala, and Elstar are good choices), about 2 pounds, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Juice from lemon half
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast pecans on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Cool and chop.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and zest and work the softened butter in with your fingers. When the texture resembles coarse sand, add pecans and set aside. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees F. In a bowl, drizzle lemon juice on the apples, sprinkle them with a little sugar, and mix with the dried cranberries. Place the filling into baking dish, level, and spoon the topping evenly over the apples. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until top is crisp and browned and apples are tender. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 6 to 8.
- From 'Apples: A Country Garden Cookbook,' by Christopher Idone (Collins Publishers, San Francisco)
Pies, pancakes, muffins, and cakes: Look for assertive-tasting fruit that's not too watery. The apples should have some tartness - a little to a lot, depending on your taste. Examples include Granny Smith, Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, Ida Red, Jonathan, and Jonamac.
Applesauce: Apples that are suitable for pies are usually good for sauce, too, as are a few strongly flavorful types that are too watery or not firm enough for pies. McIntoshes, in season, make an excellent sauce.
Baked: Firm fruit makes the best baked apples. This includes Cortland, Northern Spy, and Rome Beauty, whose ability to hold its shape makes it very popular for baking.
Out-of-hand: Most apples that are good for pies, applesauce, and baked apples are delicious raw, too, with the exception of very tart or mealy types. Very delicate-flavored types should only be eaten raw or in salads. Try Braeburn, Empire, Fuji, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious, Royal Gala, and Winter Banana.
The kind of apples you need when you make apple butter should be dry, even mealy. They'll likely produce a thicker, richer apple butter than those you'd choose for sauce or pie, although I've found that McIntoshes work well.
- From 'Sheila Lukins U.S.A. Cookbook' (Workman Publishing)