I’m always a bit sad when the fruit of summer fades. I make peach jam and chutney, pickled plums, bake pies, freeze summer berries and do everything possible to try to hold onto the sweetness of the season. But then I remember that, of course, autumn means the arrival of apples, and when they’re in season they are every bit as great — if not better — than any other fruit.
Apples also happen to be good for you. Very good. Rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, apples are considered one of the healthiest foods you can eat.
And there are so many to choose from. Turns out there are more than 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the U.S., not to mention the countless number of heirlooms — or antique apples — that grow in smaller numbers on orchards dotted across the country. Heirlooms are worth seeking out at orchards and farmers markets.
When cooking with apples, it’s important to know which varieties hold up to heat and won’t turn to mush, and which are best enjoyed raw in salads or for eating out of hand. Apples can range from sweet and sour flavors, honey overtones, spicy undertones and more. And, of course, the texture of apples varies from firm to soft and everything in between.
For a more complete picture of apple varieties and history, as well as a great collection of recipes, I highly recommend Amy Traverso’s book, "The Apple Lover’s Cookbook" (W.W. Norton, 2020).
Here’s a brief rundown of a few of my favorite apple varieties:
Braeburn: This sweet, slightly spicy apple works well eaten raw or used in baked goods.
Cortland: These apples come from New York and are more than 100 years old. With a yellow-green skin with red streaks, they tend to be large apples and are quite tart and tender. They turn brown a bit slower than other varieties making them ideal for recipes like salads or dishes where the apple is used raw.
Empire: This apple variety was discovered in the Empire State of New York in the 1960s. A medium-sized red apple, Empires are a cross between Red Delicious apples and McIntosh. They are crisp and juicy with a sweet and simultaneously tart flavor. They have a creamy white flesh and are a good all-purpose apple.
Fuji: These apples originally came from Japan in the 1930s. Named after Mount Fuji, these apples were introduced to the U.S. in the '80s. They are a cross between two apples: the Red Delicious and Virginia Ralls Genet (also called Ralls Jennet). A sweet apple with a slight lemony, honey flavor, they can be used in cooking — though they do tend to cook down and should be cut in thicker than normal slices — or eaten as a snack.
Ginger Gold: This variety boasts a crisp, cream-colored flesh and a sweet, mild, tart flavor. Some find them to be spicy. They are great to eat raw or cook with as they don't tend to brown quickly.
Golden Delicious: Buttery with a light honey, tart flavor, these apples are good baked or raw. They are quite mild but also have a sweet flavor.
Granny Smith: These hail from Australia and were discovered in the late 1800s. Their distinctive bright-green flesh is quite tart and they are considered an all-purpose apple with a crunchy texture. They have a high level of acidity and are a good baking apple because they hold their shape well, but are also delicious as a snacking apple.
Honeycrisp: Mild, crisp, juicy apples with a scarlet color over a yellow background. Discovered in 1960 as part of the University of Minnesota's apple breeding program, some find that they taste like freshly made apple cider. They have a great balance of sweetness and acidity.
Jazz: A blend of many flavors — a bit like jazz music — and have a sweetness and beautiful aroma. Round with a rosy-red skin, often with yellow or orange streaks, these firm apples are low acid and excellent for cooking and eating.
Jonagold: A blend of Jonathan and Golden Delicious varieties. A New York native, they tend to be large apples, have a honey flavor and are tart, crisp and juicy. Jonagold can be used for cooking or eaten raw.
Macoun: Delicious raw and quite sweet. A favorite for making cider or applesauce. They are medium-sized with a deep-red skin and a creamy white tender flesh. Some think they taste vaguely of berries.
McIntosh: Better known as "Macs," these are very popular in the U.S. and particularly New England. They were said to be discovered in 1811 by John McIntosh and have a deep-red color with a green blush. Known for their juicy, tangy, spicy flavor, this apple can be used for cooking or for snacking out of hand.
Mutsu: One of my personal favorites. They have a Japanese heritage and are often also called Crispin. Sweet, thoroughly refreshing and exceptionally juicy, they can be used in cooking and eating out of hand. There is the Green Mutsu (firm flesh, crisp, juicy) as well as the Red Mutsu, which is medium- to large-sized.
Paula Red: Sweet and tart and can be used for cooking or eating raw. They hail from Michigan and tend to arrive in markets early in the apple season. They look like McIntosh with a white flesh that is sweet, tart and berrylike.
Red Delicious: The most popular American apples. They come from Iowa and were first harvested in the 1870s. Sweet, juicy and crisp, though many cooks find them boring. A one-note apple? These are best eaten raw and not used in cooking.
Tip for cooking with apples: Add lemon juice to fresh-cut apples to keep them from browning. Gently toss cut apples with about a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice.
Sauteed apple, bacon, lettuce and fried egg breakfast sandwich (A.B.L.E. breakfast sandwich) with apple cider-maple syrup mayonnaise
Sauteed apples add a sweet, fruity taste to a bacon, egg and lettuce breakfast sandwich. But it’s the mayonnaise that puts this sandwich over the top.
You saute the apples in maple syrup and apple cider. Once they are tender you remove them with a slotted spoon but then continue to reduce down the cider-maple mixture until it’s almost a thick glaze. That sweet glaze is then mixed with mayonnaise and spread on toast and then layered with crispy bacon (omit if you’re vegetarian), fried egg, tender sweet apple slices and lettuce. Serve with hot apple cider or coffee for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- 4 thick slices bacon
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 1 large apple, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch thick slices
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
- ⅓ cup apple cider
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 4 slices of your favorite bread
- 2 large eggs
- 2 to 4 leaves lettuce or arugula
- Cook the bacon: Place the bacon in a medium skillet and cook on moderately high for about 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until crisp and browned. Drain on a paper towel.
- Cook the apple slices: In a medium skillet, heat ½ tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the apple slices and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes. Gently flip the apple slices over and cook for another 2 minutes. Drizzle on the maple syrup and the apple cider and cook for one more minute. Using a slotted spoon or tongs remove the apple slices, trying to keep all the liquid in the skillet, and set aside. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook down the cider-maple mixture for another 2 to 4 minutes, or until it has thickened and just coats a spoon; careful it can go from somewhat thick to very thick in a flash! Let cool for 5 minutes.
- Place the mayonnaise in a small bowl and stir in the reduced cider-maple glaze.
- Fry the eggs: In a medium skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Crack the eggs carefully into the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes or until the edges begin to turn golden brown and set. Carefully flip the eggs over and cook about 1 to 2 minutes on the other side, or until set and none of the white looks runny.
- Toast the bread.
- To assemble the sandwich: Divide the cider mayonnaise among the four slices of toast. Add the bacon to two pieces of the bread. Place the apple slices on the other two slices of bread and top with the fried egg. Add lettuce leaves and place the side with the bacon on top of the side with the egg and apples. Cut in half.
Apple, red cabbage and kale salad with maple-glazed walnuts and mustard-sage dressing
This fall salad is refreshing yet simultaneously hearty. It makes a great addition to your Thanksgiving table to offset the richness of more traditional holiday foods. But it’s equally good as a weeknight salad or lunch served with warm crusty bread. The salad shouldn’t be dressed more than an hour and a half before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
The maple-glazed nuts:
- 1 teaspoon olive oil or butter
- ½ cup walnut halves
- 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
The salad and mustard-sage dressing:
- 1 small red cabbage, about 1 pound, cored with outer leaves removed and then very thinly sliced
- 1 packed cup kale leaves, ribs removed and coarsely chopped or torn
- 2 scallions, white and green section, thinly sliced
- 2 medium tart apples (like Cortland, Granny Smith, Ginger Gold, or Honeycrisp), peeled, cored, and cut into thin matchsticks
- About 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon grainy mustard or Dijon-style mustard
- 1 tablespoon thinly chopped or sliced fresh sage
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Make the walnuts: In a small skillet heat the olive oil or butter over medium heat. Add the nuts, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Raise the heat to moderately-high and drizzle the maple syrup on top. Cook, stirring, until the syrup thickens and glazes the nuts, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and place on a sheet of wax or parchment paper; let cool.
- In a salad bowl mix together the cabbage, kale, scallions and apples and pour the lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of salt on top and gently toss. Let “marinate” for about 15 minutes. The acid in the lemon and the salt will soften the cabbage and kale.
- Meanwhile, make the dressing: In a small bowl mix the salt, pepper, mustard, sage and olive oil. (Remember you have already added lemon juice to the greens.) About an hour or 1 ½ hours before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss. Top the salad with the glazed walnuts.
Spiced apple Bundt cake
This spiced apple cake is baked in a Bundt cake pan and uses no dairy. It’s scented with cinnamon, ginger and allspice. When baked, it achieves a gorgeous golden brown, almost-crisp topping and a tender inside. The cake will keep, once baked, for up to five days, covered and refrigerated. This cake is an adaptation of a recipe from Epicurious from Amanda Denton of Barre, Vermont.
- Vegetable oil for greasing the Bundt pan
- 6 tablespoons, plus 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or ground nutmeg
- 4 medium tart apples (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled, cut into 1/3-inch slices or chunks*
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider or juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour ( 360 grams)
- 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- About ⅓ cup confectioners’ sugar
*The cakes come out best when you use a variety of apples. Think about Jona-Gold, Macintosh, Mutsu, Golden Delicious and Macoun, for example.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Very generously and thoroughly oil a 12-cup Bundt.In a small bowl, mix the 6 tablespoons of sugar with half the cinnamon, ginger and allspice or nutmeg. Gently toss the apple slices with the sugar/spice mixture.
- In another large bowl, whisk together the 2 cups of sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, apple cider, and vanilla extract. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and the remaining half of the cinnamon, ginger, and allspice on top of the egg mixture and mix to combine thoroughly.
- Spoon a third of the batter into the greased Bundt pan. Top with half of the apple mixture. Add another third of the batter on top of the apple slices, using a soft spatula to smooth it down over the apples. Top with the remaining apples, then the remaining batter.
- Bake the cake on the middle shelf for about 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. Place the cake on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. Run a flat kitchen knife around the sides of the cake and around the center tube to help loosen it from the pan. Carefully flip the cake out onto a cooling rack. Let cool for at least 45 minutes. Just before serving, place the confectioners' sugar in a small sieve and dust the top of the cake. Serve at room temperature.
Other Apple Recipes
This segment aired on November 10, 2021.