If you only buy red delicious apples when you go to the store or the market, you’re missing out on a whole lot of mouth-watering, lip-smacking goodness. There are more than 7,000 varieties of apples worldwide, so why eat the same apple over and over again? Here are 15 of my favorites, presented in no particular order other than the fact that I can find them all in season at my farmer’s market, food coop, natural foods market and sometimes even at the conventional grocery store.
By the way, some apples are too big to eat all at once. If you cut them in half, sprinkle the half you are saving with a few drops of lemon juice, then store in the fridge cut-side down on a glass plate to preserve freshness.
Honeycrisp. These big, sweet, juicy apples are a meal in and of themselves. Unlike Red Delicious and Granny Smith, they’re not always available, so get them when they show up in the fall. Yes, they’re a splurge, and will be more expensive than the old standards. But they’re so big, you can easily share them, or divide them and eat half now and half later. BEST USE: Don’t worry about cooking these apples up. Just eat them plain or maybe sliced up with a little cheese.
Winesap. This is one of my favorite apples, and one I can usually only find at my farmer’s market. (Some farmers sell it as a Stayman Winesap). It’s dark red, firm and crisp and has a distinct somewhat winy flavor, hence the name. It won’t stay crisp for long, though, which is why, like honeycrisp, I eat it raw and soon after I buy it.
York. The skin of this dark red apple is striped green, so pile a bunch of them in a wide bowl or rimmed plate for a lovely centerpiece. Otherwise, bake them up in a pie if you like apples that keep their shape or chop them up and cook them down into applesauce. Because they’re on the tart side, you can add a little sugar when you cook or bake them.
McIntosh. McIntosh apples were the staple in our household when we were growing up. They’re small enough to eat as a quick snack and not feel stuffed on apple. But they’re sweet enough to use in baking when you don’t want to add sugar, and they meld deliciously with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a pie or cake. In fact, they bake into a melt-in-your mouth texture, so are delicious in a pie or crisp if you want lots of apple flavor but not so much of the feel. They also are a good foundation for apple butter. You should be able to find them anywhere and almost all year long.
Empire. A lot of cross-breeding goes on in the apple business; the Empire is the result of a mash-up between McIntosh and Red Delicious. It was developed in the “Empire State,” New York, hence its name. The flesh is crisp and white, and much firmer than the McIntosh. Use it if you want apples to keep their shape when you bake them, chop it up for use in chutney or fruit compote, or cut it into wedges and spread it with a little creamy peanut butter.
Mutsu. Here’s another cross, this time between Golden Delicious and something called an Indo. It was named for the Mutsu Province of Japan, where it was first grown. Like the honeycrisp or the winesap, the mutsu is a big piece of fruit and can easily be eaten a third at a time.
Fuji. Though also developed in Japan, the Fuji is very popular in the U.S. It’s related to the Red Delicious, but somewhat sweeter. Fujis are delicious added to salad and slaws, or dunk them in a bleu-cheese based dip.
Graavenstein. This apple is more likely to be found in grocery and specialty stores rather than farmers’ markets, as it is grown almost exclusively in Sonoma County, CA.
Jonagold. Here’s a blend of the Jonathan and the Golden Delicious with the best characteristics of both: sweet and thin-skinned like the Golden Delicious but crisp like a Jonathan. Enjoy in pies, cakes and crisps as well as raw.
Golden Delicious. Speaking of Golden Delicious, this may be the apple you turn to for just about everything: pies, salads, sauces or just a snack with some sharp cheddar cheese. Despite its name, it’s not related to the Red Delicious – though pair red and golden delicious apples for a beautiful centerpiece. Because it’s thin skinned, the Golden Delicious doesn’t store well, so eat or cook it soon after you buy it.
Braeburn. This apple originated in New Zealand but is now popular in many parts of the States. It’s firm,8 crisp and lies about midway on the sweet/tart scale. There are other apples I prefer to eat raw, but won’t pass up a good buy on this one if I’m baking.
Northern Spy (or, Northern Spie). – This pie is a cultivar of domesticated apples that are native to the northern East Coast of the U.S., as well as parts of Michigan and Ontario. It is tarter and crunchier than other apples and is commonly used for desserts, pies, juices and cider. It matures later than many other apple varieties, so you can buy it later in the season and store it longer.
Granny Smith. Granny Smiths seem almost as common as Red Delicious, but they don’t taste anything alike. Grannies are very hard and tart, though cooking them sweetens them up a bit. Munch on them raw, eat with cheese or cook into a curry and you won’t be disappointed.
Pink Lady or Cripps Pink. – This rosy pink fruit, streaked with slashes of yellow, may just be the prettiest apple you’ll ever buy. Its bright white flesh resists browning when cut and its tart flavor is called “effervescent” buy those who grow it.
Gala. Enjoy this mild, sweet, crisp apple raw, but eat it soon after you buy it. I’ve found it doesn’t store for long on my counter or in the refrigerator. One advantage of Galas is that they’re on the smaller side, so they’re perfect to pack for lunch.