With so many apple varieties available, discover which apple to choose with this handy Midwest primer and guide of the best apples for cooking and eating.
Midwest Primer – Best Apples for Cooking and Eating
Apples to apples, which apple should you choose for cooking and/or eating? There are so many options and not all apples are created equal. So here is a handy apple primer to help you decide which apple is right for you.
ALL ABOUT FALL APPLES – Be sure to listen to my podcast from Wisconsin Public Radio, where I, as a guest speaker, discuss more tips and favorite picks about Eating, Cooking and Storing Apples. I even share three of my favorite apple recipes that can be found right here on Wisconsin Homemaker. The LINK to the Podcast can be found HERE.
Fresh is Best
Whether you choose to eat or cook with apples, the fresher the apple, the better.
Which means the apples will taste better when you eat them and you’ll get better results if you cook or bake with them.
Each apple variety grows and matures at different times. So, to get the best out of each one, growers plant their apple trees to take advantage of the best climate, temperature, and rainfall possible. This also allows the trees to produce fruit that will grow and ripen at their peak.
When ripe apples are harvested, they are divided between those that will be shipped to market and those that will be held back and stored for later consumption.
Some orchards offer a service to “pick-your-own.” They will usually have a schedule posted on their website or on a placard in front of their farm. Some orchards may even have an “Apple Hotline” for up-to-date information on best picking times.
Here in the Midwest, apple harvest occurs between August and October. You’ll definitely notice the difference in taste and texture when you purchase them at this time versus later in spring.
Want to know when your favorite variety is available? Check out the handy chart below:
Midwest Harvest Time for Apples (Table)
Approximate Harvest Time
Mid to Late October
Best Apples for Eating
People are fond of saying: “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.” But believe it or not, there’s some definite truth in this statement.
Apples are nutritionally sound. A small to medium apple, is about 80 calories and provides soluble fiber which aides in good digestion–definitely a healthy choice.
They’re also packed with potassium and small amounts of vitamins C and A and B, as well as a host of minerals, including calcium and iron. Taking all of this into consideration, apples can’t be beat!
Apple Tip: It’s always best to pick your own apples. That way, you know they are fresh and ripe, right off the tree.
Did You Know?
Just like vegetables, there are also quite a number of heirloom varieties of apples. In his book: Apples of Uncommon Character: Heirlooms, Modern Classics, and Little-Known Wonders, Rowan Jacobsen shares his insights to the secret of these species and little-known facts.
But being a great fruit from a health-conscience point of view isn’t the only reason why folks love apples. Most go for the taste.
Ironically, if you were to ask what makes the best eating apple, you would get a different answer each time. Some folks prefer apples that are tart, others sweet, still other folks prefer a little bit of both.
The beauty of apples is that there’s an apple type for everyone.
Having trouble picking one, here are 10 crowd-pleasers:
- Honeycrisp (sweet)
- Fuji (sweet)
- Jonathan (tart)
- Golden Delicious (sweet)
- Cortland (semi-sweet)
- Empire (sweet)
- Red Delicious (sweet)
- McIntosh (mild, tart)
- Braeburn (Sweet, subtly, tart)
- Granny Smith (Tart, subtly sweet)
Information provided by Barthel Fruit Farm.
In truth, you can’t go wrong with any of these apples, so give them a try and see which one tastes best to you.
DID YOU KNOW? Today grocery stores are now supplying a greater number of new varieties each year. Give them a try. You never know if you might find a new favorite.
Best Apples for Baking
You might be wondering what makes cooking and baking apples different from, say, eating apples? The answer is simple. Certain varieties stand up better to higher cooking temperatures than others.
What this means for you is that when you bake an apple pie, for example, using a baking apple, it won’t turn to mush but will hold its shape despite the heat from the oven.
There are 10 varieties of apples that should be considered when cooking or baking. They are in no set order. See list below.
Keep in mind, however, each variety bakes and cooks differently.
For example, the more versatile apple, Golden Delicious, can be used for apple pies, as well as, apple sauce, while the Granny Smith is better for baking but is too tart for apple sauce.
Apple Tip: If you are unsure which apple to use, try a couple different apple varieties and see which one works best for your favorite recipe. You can also mix and match. This is sometimes a great idea when you want your recipe to offer different layers of flavor in your cooking (e.g., tart and sweet).
Depending upon what you plan on cooking, these 10 varieties are suited for both stovetop, as well as the heat of an oven and they range in flavor from sour or tart to mild and sweet:
- Jonathan and Jonagolds
- Granny Smith
- Golden Delicious
- Ida Red
Apple Care and Storage Practices
Apples are well-known for their longevity. The thick outer skin and the firm flesh allows this fruit to be kept for a long time in the refrigerator.
But, not all apples handle storage equally. Some lose their fresh taste quicker than others. For example, Red Delicious are offered all year, but may not be at their best by the time spring rolls around.
Because of this, you might want to use Golden Delicious apple in late winter and early spring. They are less “mealy” and hold up better.
To keep your apples at the peak of their freshness, be sure to follow these best practices:
- Keep apples damp and cold. They will stay crisper if you first sprinkle them with water and then put them in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your refrigerator. If you keep any apples at room temperature, know that they will have a shelf life of a couple of weeks.
- Do not freeze apples. If you do, be sure to remove skins and add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed) and a tablespoon or two of sugar of honey. When thawed, you can use these for applesauce or pies.
- Optimal temperature to store apples long-term is 33 degrees F.
- Wash your apples before eating. Regardless of whether they are farmed organic or not, it is always better to wash your apples. You can use a “veggie wash” or just rinse it well under cool running water, scrubbing the outer skin gently.
Listed are the top five (5) apple varieties that handle long storage the best:
- Honey Crisp. These have the best-refrigerated life expectancy. Just be sure to sprinkle them with water before you place them in a plastic bag, and they will last as long as six months. But because they are so delicious, they probably won’t last that long.
- Ida Reds. These come in second. They are excellent for apple pie and have a tart flavor. They will last about four months in refrigerator.
- McIntosh apples. These are an all-around good choice. They last about three to four months in the refrigerator. McIntosh apples are super for applesauce and a good substitute for making apple pie.
- Cortland apples. These last about three months in your refrigerator. They are semi-sweet and are excellent in apple pies. If you don’t have any McIntosh for applesauce, this is a great substitution.
- Golden Delicious and Red Delicious apples. These two varieties tie when it comes to storage times. They’ll last about two to three month in your refrigerator. But, when it comes to apple pie and applesauce, they are both excellent choices.
Best Apple Recipes
- Apple Tart with Apricot Glaze
- Annabel Langbein One Pot Spiced Apple Cake
- Easy Fried Apples
- Apple Pineapple Upside Down Cake
- Caramel Apple Cheese Ball Recipe
- Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin
- Green Apple Sangria Recipe
- Classic French Apple Tarte Tatin
- Easy Apple Stuffing
- Apple Dump Cake with Pecans
I hope you found this guide helpful for choosing the best apples to eat and cook with.
And, be sure to check out Wisconsin Homemaker’s Recipe Section, for amazingly delicious of apple recipes.