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Apples come in many flavours and colours, with the best being generally acidic with the sweet and sour flavours offsetting each other. The perfect apple is one that has developed its flavours during the growing process, so the sugars rise, the acidity declines, and the flavour appears. An apple picked too soon or from a wild tree will be much more acidic, and apples that are too sweet are generally not appealing to most palettes.

Every variety of apple has a time where it is at its best. For example the first apples to appear in summer lose their acidity quickly, and the last to ripen in autumn (fall) keep their deliciousness for weeks, or even longer in cold storage.

How, where and when an apple is grown, along with the variety of tree, impacts the taste. Each harvest will provide you with differing flavours, just like wine. Europeans grew separate varieties for cooking, eating, and cider, however most others didn’t.

Eating apples

They should be juicy, varied textures, solid fruit flavour and sweetness.

Cooking apples

Cooking apples and eating apples tend to be the same varieties outside of Europe, however cooking with apples means more added sugar, so extra-strong acidity is needed to keep the balance after cooking. Good cooking apples need enough acidity, a flavour enhanced by heat, and often an apple that holds it shape after being cooked is preferable for aesthetics. Skin helps to hold shape, and there is some flavour next to the skin that is great for baked apples. Apples cooked with their skins for sauce means pink sauce.

Good cooking apples are Belle de Boskoop, Bramley’s Seedling, Calville Blanc d’Hiver and some crab apples.

Apples that hold their shape (without the skin bursting) are Braeburn, Granny Smith, Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Rhode Island Greening, and Yellow Newtown, and other European varieties traditionally used for cooking. To test a variety for cookability, gently cook a few slices in butter to check.

Apples and meat

Fruit and meat have gone together on plates for some time, however not with rare meats. Apples are not famous for working well with seafood. Pork and applesauce is the most common, however a fruit and cheese platter is a common enough sight.

Tart fruit is good with meats, without any or much added sugar, plus dry wine.

Baked apples, tarts, pies

You can bake sliced apple with butter and sugar without a cover so long as they are moist apples to use as filling for a pie or tart. Another way to get the apples cooked is to put them in a pan on the stove with butter and sugar (two tablespoons of butter per pound of fruit, with the sugar added to taste).

Turn gently to avoid breakage.

Picking apples

Don’t just yank an apple off the tree, because it can damage the fruiting spur – this is what will bring forth the next year’s crop. Life and twist – the ripe apple will separate from the branch easily. It’s best to pick an apple ripe, or almost ripe, then hold it in a controlled environment (that is, cold and without oxygen). A fresh apple from the tree will have a dull, whiteish appearance, but the variety of apple will dictate its appearance.

Ripe apples tend to have dark brown seeds.

Buying apples

Supermarket apples can sometimes be held in cold storage for a year, and they may pick up other flavours as well as sitting out in the bins for some time, over ripening them. They are usually covered in wax to help hold in moisture. Apples don’t usually store that well, so if you have a source nearby that actually grows apples, you’ll have far nicer apples than relying on the supermarket.

Cider apples

Cider apples are more astringent than other types of apples, and the area they are grown matters, for example, France doesn’t grow very good eating apples, but great cider apples.

Food that goes well with apples

A good, fresh eating apple needs not accompaniment. Cooked apples go well with butter and cream in desserts, though that isn’t going to work for those of you who are dairy-free. Sauteed unsweetened apples work very well with some meats, but also with onions and red cabbage. Desserts are complimented by cinnamon, and quince is common. Calvados, apple brandy, can make good use of an apple, though can mask its flavour somewhat. Nuts also work well with apple. Tarts and pies are also common and one of the best ways to eat apples.

Apples and wine

Fresh apples don’t usually go with wine of any kind, but cooked apples do well with rich whites. A cooked dessert apple may be good with sweet white wine. The rule is that the dessert must be less sweet than the wine, or the wine ends up with tart or simple flavours – it deserves better, so make sure you skew the sweetness in the right direction.

Types of apples we use

  • Red Delicious (juicy, no special flavour, most-grown American variety)
  • Gala
  • Golden Delicious (popular eating apple, nothing special, heavily grown)
  • Fuji (Japanese, 4th or 5th most grown apple in USA)
  • Braeburn (10th most grown apple)
  • Honey Crisp (American)
  • Roxbury Russet (old, good American apple, great for eating)
  • Pink Lady
  • Duchess of Oldenburg (good to eat and great for cooking)
  • Red Astrachan (well respected apple)
  • Esopus Spitzenburg (spritely)
  • Newtown Pippin
  • Northern Spy
  • Mother (gets good reviews)
  • Gravenstein
  • Api (Lady Apple) (small, flat, red apple, hard to find a good one)
  • Sierra Beauty
  • Wickson Crab (juicy)
  • Pink Pearl (red-stained flesh, juicy)
  • Ashmead’s Kernel (small apple, russet skin, good for cooking and eating)
  • McIntosh (white flesh, elastic skin, bruises easily, particular flavour, two weeks out of cold storage they start to lose their goodness)
  • Fameuse (Snow Apple)
  • Saint-Laurent (St Lawrence)
  • Macoun (McIntosh crossed with Jersey Black)
  • Empire (disappointing)
  • Early McIntosh (not very flavourful)
  • October McIntosh
  • Irish Peach (British, good for desserts)
  • Lady Sudeley (British, good for desserts)
  • James Grieve (British, good for desserts)
  • Ellison’s Orange (British, good for desserts)
  • Egremont Russet (British, good for desserts)
  • Pitmaston Pineapple (British, good for desserts)
  • Allington Pippin (British, good for desserts)
  • Cox’s Orange
  • Margil
  • Blenheim Orange
  • Orleans Reinette

Growing applesApple Varieties

There isn’t any definable right or wrong way to grow apples, but growing beautiful apples can be a challenge, particularly organically. The favourite in the US is the Red Delicious apple, a variety discovered in 1881. Creating trees that grow bigger, redder apples doesn’t mean the apple tastes better, and this can trick you into thinking that big, round glossy apples taste good, but alas, this isn’t the case. The Golden Delicious was third, and Australia’s Granny Smith was fourth, discovered in 1868.

Apple trees take time to grow big enough to bear fruit, so apple farming is a long game, so changing trends are slow to appear. New varieties that are becoming popular are Galas (New Zealand), Fujis (Japan), and the Honey Crisp (USA).

Apples from older tree varieties tend to have more of a variety in flavour, texture and seasons.

Farming techniques favour cost savings and looks over flavour in many markets, particularly America. This applies to almost all vegetables, where the bigger-is-better philosophy really falls down. A smaller fruit can pack more of a flavour punch than a big one in most cases, and ugly fruit is normal. The idea that we have to have the perfect fruit or vegetable is simply consumerism gone bananas. Most fruit is ugly, and so we only end up with the biggest and best in the supermarkets – where does all the rest go?