As one of the best-recognized symbols of the High Holiday season, apples have their kitchen close-up beginning around Rosh Hashana—this year from September 29th to October 1st—and then well into the autumn season.
Not only does the fruit’s roundness evoke the never-ending loop of the Jewish life cycle, but its small seeds are a promise of growth and prosperity for the approaching 12 months. As an ideal vehicle for the drizzle of honey meant to usher in a new year with sweetness, it is a lucky coincidence that apples are in their peak season now, perfect for both eating out of hand and using in recipes that take advantage of their versatility in sweet and savory dishes.
Apples are also incredibly healthy, containing soluble and insoluble fiber that help manage cholesterol levels; a dose of vitamin C; flavonoids thought to aid in heart health; and antioxidants that keep dangerous free radicals in check. Since much of the fiber in the apple is in the skin, leave it on whenever possible in both cooked and raw preparations (which makes a thorough washing even more important).
Though apples are being picked now, there’s a good chance the one you’re eating could be up to a year old. In recent years, scientists have developed a harmless compound that prevents apples from releasing the ethylene gas that causes them to brown and soften. Once treated, the fruit is cold-stored until it is ready for market. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of apples around the world are now handled this way.
For the average produce shopper, the array of apple varieties can be overwhelming, especially in a standard supermarket, where information and advice are often scarce (your local greenmarket, where the farmer is usually on hand to tell you everything you need to know, is a different story). Increasingly, apples are coming not only from the United States but from countries as far away as New Zealand and China, which will reportedly soon overtake America as the world’s largest apple grower. Knowing some basic facts helps make selecting the right varieties for a number of dishes simple.
I turned to food writer and editor Amy Traverso, author of the upcoming cookbook, Apples: From the Orchard to the Table (W.W. Norton), for guidance. In the course of her research, Traverso divided apples into four categories. “It helps both in the store and in the kitchen,” she says.
First come Firm & Tart apples like the Granny Smith, whose perky hue is the basis for the term “apple green.” They have a slight piquancy and crunch, which makes them wonderful for just munching, but also for apple pie, tarte tatin or any baked recipe where the fruit needs to hold its shape while yielding pleasingly to the eater’s bite.
Varieties in the Firm & Sweet category, such as Northern Spy and Braeburn, are great when the apple still needs a bit of toothsomeness, but a sweeter flavor is called for, such as in crumbles and crisps.
Sweet & Tender apples like the Gala—one of the most readily available in the world—and Fuji “are often overbred to the point of blandness,” according to Traverso, but their crisp, creamy flesh works well in salads or in an open-faced sandwich with some chunky peanut butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Finally, Tart & Tender apples, such as McIntosh and Cortland, are great for eating plain, as they combine a soft yet crisp flesh with just a bit of tang. These types of apples make good applesauce, which needs an acidic note to counteract the fruit’s tanginess.
If you can’t find the right apple for your recipe, try mixing varieties. Traverso likes to blend two types of apples when making pie, either Granny Smith and McIntosh or the more obscure Caville Blanc and Northern Spy. “Layers of flavor make for a better final dish,” she says.
Look for fruit that is heavy for its size—this gives it a better chance of being juicy—and which resists denting when pressed (an easily poked apple is more likely to be mushy). Rinse apples, especially nonorganic ones—considered among the most easily contaminated types of produce—in warm, soapy water or produce wash, then dry well before use.
Vegetables and Apples To easily core an apple, slice fruit in half, then use the smaller side of a two-sided melon baller to remove the core in sections. Serves 8.
1/3 cup olive oil
3 TBs balsamic vinegar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 medium red onion, cut into wedges
3 large apples (1 1/2 lbs), such as Cortlands or Galas, unpeeled, cored and cut into wedges
2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs), scrubbed and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 large parsnips (1 lb), scrubbed, peeled and cut into chunks
20 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 sprigs rosemary
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add onion, apples, sweet potatoes, parsnips, garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs; toss to combine.
3. Place vegetables in a large roasting pan and bake, shaking pan every 10-15 minutes, until apples are soft and onions are brown, about one hour.
4. Remove rosemary sprigs from pan and discard. Transfer vegetables to a platter and serve.