It’s Apple Pie Time!

We are right in the middle of apple harvest time according to the Colorado Produce Calendar. I must say that a good apple pie is hard to beat this time of the year. With so many different varieties of apples out there, though, which one do you pick? One of my local supermarkets lists eight different varieties for sale while another one has over twenty! How’s a cook to choose? That is the subject of this week’s Cooking Tip.

Before I get to apples, I want to mention that the foundation of a great pie is a delicious, flaky and tender crust. I am teaching a class on how to make different pie crusts in a few days. If you aren’t able to make it to that class, I can come to your house and teach a “Pie Making” class at your convenience. See my website for more information.

Apples3

When picking an apple to put in your cart, it should be firm with tight, unbroken skins. As many varieties have naturally dull surfaces, do not be afraid of those that do not have the very shiny finish that you often see in the supermarkets. Choose apples without bruises that feel firm and heavy. The fragrance of an apple is a good indicator of freshness and quality.

That is the easy part – more difficult is what variety of apple you should use. I wish I could tell you that there were only certain apples that were suited for certain purposes. That is not true although different “experts” will give you their recommendations. What I have done for you is to consult nine different sources and made a chart of which apples each of these separate sources recommend. If you want the entire chart, email me. What I will do here is to give you a list of the apples that seemed to be favorites with at least four of these sites.

Before I do that, I want to mention one recommendation that you read over and over. That is to use a combination of different apples in your pie. Some apples are considered “Sweet & Firm” while others are considered “Tart & Soft”. Therefore, they will react differently in the pie dish. Many chefs feel you can get the best of both worlds by combining apples from these two different categories. Choose one to provide more texture and another to amp up the flavor. Not all agree, though. Serious Eats states when you do this, you “end up with a pie that’s got nice firm chunks of apple interspersed with brown apple mush.” The choice is up to you. Think of all the great experimenting you can do!

The firm/sweet apples are those that tend to hold their shape better. The soft/tart varieties will cook down to a mushier filling. Here is list of some of those.

FIRM/SWEET

SOFT/TART

Ambrosia Belle de Boskoop
Cortland Bramley
Elstar Cox’s Orange Pippin
Gala Granny Smith
Golden Delicious Gravenstein
Golden Russet Jonathan
Jonagold Macintosh
Liberty Newton Pippin
Pink Lady Northern Spy
Prima
Spartan

Now, here are the apples that seem to please a majority of the sites I consulted if you are making apple pie. Fortunately, most of these are easily found in your supermarket or farmer’s market.

  • Braeburn
  • Golden Delicious
  • Granny Smith
  • Honeycrisp
  • Jonagold

Now that you have picked your apples and brought them home, how can you prolong their freshness? Apple experts recommend:

  • Refrigerate them – apples ripen 6-10 times faster on the counter than in the fridge. Some recommend putting them in a plastic bag before refrigerating. The best temperature is between 30-32°F. The rate at which apples lose flavor and juiciness is proportional to the temperature at which they are stored.
  • Separate apples – wrap each apple in sheets of paper, which prevents one apple going bad and then ripening the rest of them.
  • Picking apples – some are better for longer storage than others. Best keepers are McIntosh, Fuji, Rome and Granny Smith. Apples harvested later in the season are better keepers.
  • Avoid apples with bruises, cuts or soft spots.

We also all know that apples turn brown when cut. This is due to a chemical reaction that occurs when an enzyme is released when the apple is cut and then reacts with oxygen. We probably all have our favorite solution for this. They work either by blocking the oxygen, reversing this chemical reaction, changing the pH of the environment or stopping the reaction by altering the temperature. Here are a few of the suggested actions:

  • Acidulated water – Toss the apples in a bit of water to which an acid has been added, typically lemon juice or cider vinegar.
  • Honey water – Add 2 tablespoons honey to 1 cup water and pour over apple slices. This can keep your apples white for more than 24 hours. Even a 30-second submersion can prevent browning for up to 8 hours.
  • Saltwater solution – Add ½ teaspoon kosher salt to 1 cup water. Add apples and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and store until ready for use. Rinse salt off with tap water just before serving.
  • Plain water – Submerge apples in plain water using a paper towel on top to keep them under the water and away from the oxygen in the air. Or, put the apples and water in a zipper-lock bag with the air pressed out. Do not soak for more than about 15 minutes to avoid altering the texture.
  • Plastic wrap – Wrap cut apples in plastic wrap to keep the oxygen away.
  • Carbonated drinks – Submerge apples in a carbonated beverage such as lemon-lime soda, ginger ale or seltzer for 3-5 minutes. Drain and rinse before use.

There is one final thought I want to leave you with. Have any of you thought, like I do, that fruit just doesn’t taste as good as it used to? I think this all the time. How many times have you bitten into an apple just to find its flavor is bland?  According to Eat The Seasons, “The apples sold in supermarkets are varieties developed for good disease resistance or storage properties, often at the expense of flavor. As author Elspeth Huxley wrote: ‘You cannot sell a blemished apple in the supermarket, but you can sell a tasteless one provided it is shiny, smooth, even, uniform and bright.’ For more interesting and flavorsome varieties, look out for growers’ stalls in farmers’ markets or visit a pick your own orchard.”

When visiting a fruit stand in California, we were told the same thing about strawberries. He told us that what people want to buy are the large, red strawberries. Although they may look pretty, they are often so tasteless whereas the small, less-desired berries are more likely chock-full of flavor. If we would all be more discerning consumers, maybe this would eventually change. In the meantime, I feel fortunate that my husband loves to grow his own fruit and vegetables!