Not all apples are created equal! Some are best for apple pie, others for eating fresh or turning into apple sauce.
When are apples in season?
The early varieties start showing up in mid-to-late August with later varieties harvested into November. Apples can lasting into December when stored in a cellar. We’ll talk about different varieties (and when they show up) in a bit. See what else is in season at the same time: August, September, October, November, and December.
How to pick the best apples:
Apples from the grocery store might be a year old, or even older, thanks to technology in perfect storage conditions. While they are fine to eat, they aren’t as crisp and flavorful. They also start to get mealy after a few days, since they degrade a faster pace once leaving their perfectly controlled environment (and they are 8 or 12 months old!)
I like to buy in-season apples from the farmers markets, roadside stands, or go apple picking at the orchard.
Avoid apples with bruises – it’s that easy!
To store apples, it depends on the variety. A handful of types don’t store for very long, including Gala and Red Delicious. Store these in the refrigerator, away from other fruit that might spoil, as apples are high ethylene producers (the gas that causes things to ripen faster). They will last a few weeks. Some people suggest putting the apples in a plastic bag in the fridge so the ethylene gas doesn’t cause other things to go bad, like lettuce or other produce.
For apples that can store longer, the fridge is also good, but a cold cellar works as well. Ideally, store each one in an open paper bag. This prevents one bad apple from spoiling the bunch (due to the ethylene gas or a rotting apple). These can last a few months. Apples that are tart and have thicker skin tend to store longer.
Should I buy organic?
If you can afford it, it’s a good idea. Apples are attacked by coddling moths (the cause of wormy apples) and they are very hard to control without excessive amounts of pesticides. Consumer Reports reviewed pesticide testing data conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and found that it only takes 1-5 servings a day to exceed the ‘known to be safe’ limits of pesticide.
I don’t mean to scare you – so let’s put this in perspective: 1 glass of wine exceeds ‘known to be safe’ limits. And we all enjoy it and are doing just fine! This article explains more about organic vs conventional produce, with an honest (and unbiased as I can be) approach.
Apple varieties & general uses
Gala – An early variety, showing up as early as August. Great for everything, from eating fresh, to baking, to apple juice. A stand out variety for apple sauce. Store in the fridge, they only last a few weeks.
Honeycrisp – An early variety that shows up a couple weeks after Gala, usually in September. Great for eating fresh, but can be a little bit watery in apple sauce or pies. Perfect for apple juice!
Golden Delicious – Mid-season. and should be stored in the fridge (they only last a few weeks). Great for everything, and is a star in apple sauce and pies. Flesh browns slower than other apples when cut, making a great choice for salads.
Red Delicious – Mid-season. Eat fresh! It isn’t great for baking or apple juice. Makes a great base for apple sauce. This apple has soft flesh, bruises easily and should also be stored in the fridge (it doesn’t keep long).
Braeburn – Late-season. Good for eating and baking, a favorite for pies.
Granny Smith – Late-season and an excellent storage apple. Great to eat fresh or turn into apple juice. Very tart! If you use it for apple sauce, either add extra sugar or enjoy a very tart sauce. Also add a small amount to your other apples for apple pie, to add complexity to the flavor.
Fuji – Late season and a great storage apple. Very sweet! A favorite for eating fresh and one of the best varieties for apple sauce.
What are the best apples for…
With so many apple varieties, it is hard to know which ones are best for things like pie, apple sauce, or apple chips. A few factors go into making those decisions:
- Does the flesh easily break down when cooked or hold it’s shape?
- How sweet or tart is the apple?
- Does is brown quickly or slowly when cut?
What are the best apples for pie?
What makes an apple good or bad for pie? The best apple pie filling has in-tact apple slices that hold their shape after cooking up nice and soft. You don’t want apples that end up mealy, fall apart, or turn bland when cooked. Firm apples perform best when baked into a pie.
The best advice on picking apples for pie is to not stop at just one variety. Mixing varieties lets you combine their different characteristics and add complexity to the flavor. Start with choosing one tart and one sweet variety.
Here’s a list of firm apples that will do well in pie:
- Granny Smith (tart)
- Cortland (slightly tart)
- Braeburn (sweet and slightly tart, strong apple flavor)
- Golden Delicious (sweet)
- Pink Lady (sweet)
- Jonagold (sweet)
- Fuji (extremely sweet)
Gala is listed as ‘very good for pies’ by the Washington Apple Commission, however Whole Food’s claims they turn rubbery when cooked.
Serious Eats did an in-depth test of apples for pie and declared Braeburn and Golden Delicious as the winners. After you read part one, here is part 2 in the series, you know… for those of us who take our apple pie seriously. Very seriously!
But that’s not the only opinion. The fine folks at King Arthur Flour did a test of their own, with other varieties that you might find locally at a market. PJ Hamel from King Arthur Flour shares her advice, “At the end of the day, choosing the best pie apples is a personal decision. My best apple pie would include a combination of these three: Cortland, for flavor; Russet, for texture; and Granny Smith, for its combination of the two. “
Check out their apple pie test which includes some pictures of how different apples break down after baking. By the way, the King Arthur Flour blog has a ton of awesome baking tests to answer our most pressing questions!)
Best apples for chips
Most apples make great chips but there are still a few things to consider.
- Consider picking larger apples because the chips will shrink quite a bit when baked and dehydrated
- Consider the flavor and sweetness level that you want
- Don’t use apples with flesh that is on the pretty soft side since they won’t hold up as well. Red Delicious fall into this category.
Granny Smith apples make a nice tart-flavored chip. Fuji will be on the sweeter side as will Gala apples (but the latter can be smaller in size). If you’re making chips, check out the tips from Food & Wine.
Best apples for salad
In my opinion, all apples are delicious in salads. There is one thing a lot of people take into consideration however: how quickly will the apples oxidize (turn brown)? Some apples brown much slower, including:
- Cortland: slightly tart, possibly the slowest to brown
- Empire: slightly-tart
- Cameo: sweet-tart
- Gala: extra sweet
You can also soak apples in a water solution to slow browning. For more details see the section titled “How to prevent apples from browning.”
Best apples for applesauce
Nearly any apple will work for sauce and it can be an excellent way to use up old apples that aren’t as crisp as when you bought them. If you are picking apples specifically for sauce, choose two or three varieties to add complexity to the flavor, including at least one sweet and one tart variety.
Here are some varieties that fare particularly well for sauce:
- Fuji – extra sweet, making it great for unsweetened apple sauce
- Gala – extra sweet
- Cortland – sweet-tart
- Mcintosh – sweet-tart, too mushy for pie, but that makes them perfect for cooking down into a sauce
- Granny Smith – tart
Making apple sauce is relatively simple, but a few tips never hurt anyone:
- Pink applesauce: leave the skins on red apples which will turn the sauce slightly pink. Then run the sauce through a food mill to filter out the skins
- Sweetness: add sugar after the applesauce is almost done. Cooking the apples down concentrates and caramelizes the sugars, so add sugar when the sauce is almost done to avoid over-sweetening it.
- No added sugar: use Fuji and Gala apples along with your other varieties. They are sweet enough that you probably won’t need to (or want to) add any sugar.
How to prevent apples from browning
Sometimes you want to keep the flesh of an apple white so it looks appealing on a salad for guests, a snack tray, on a cheese plate, or charcuterie board.
Apples turn brown when cut because of an enzyme in their flesh that reacts with oxygen, called oxidization. Some apples are slower to brown, including Cortland, Empire, Cameo, and Gala.
You can slow oxidization by removing the apple’s exposure to air and countering the enzyme responsible for browning (with things like honey or citric acid). Because of this, many people suggest soaking apple slices in water with added honey or lemon. You can also squeeze lemon juice directly onto the apple slices. These methods all impart a slight flavor (especially the latter), and the results aren’t bad, but aren’t great either.
There’s lesser known, better method to slow browning: soaking apples in a salt-water solution. Serious Eats has a full test on the various ways to prevent browning, demonstrating that the salt-water solution performs best. Their article is worth a read and filled with pictures from the tests.
They suggest soaking apples for 10 minutes in a salt-water solution, followed by a quick rinse to remove the salt. The apples will then stay white for a couple of hours while sitting out on a cheese or charcuterie board.
When using a water-solution to prevent your apples from browning, use the following ratios:
- Salt: 1/2 tsp kosher salt per cup of water for 10 minutes
- Honey: 1/2 Tbs honey per cup of water for no more than 30 minutes
- Lemon juice: 1/2 -1 Tbs lemon juice per cup of water for no more than 30 minutes
Extra apple variety sources:
Now what should I make?
That’s a good question! I scour the internet to find recipes that use fresh, seasonal ingredients, often with a fun twist. Follow Ask The Food Geek on Pinterest or Facebook to get access to the recipes I find every day.
Apple recipe collection
Each recipe below only uses ingredients that are in season at the same time as apples, or ingredients that have a year-round season.
Peanut butter toast with skillet cinnamon apples – recipe by Two Peas & Their Pod
Roasted butternut squash and apple soup with sage – recipe by My Diary of Us
Make this later in fall, when squash start to show up.
Apple harvest salad with cinnamon-roasted chickpeas – recipe by Ask the Food Geek
Autumn harvest pulled chicken sandwich with homemade apple BBQ sauce and apple slaw – recipe by Use Your Noodles
Honey mustard hummus chicken salad with diced apples – recipe by Nutmeg Nanny
Hummus instead of mayo? Sounds delish. If you can’t find the honey-mustard hummus product she features in the post, try your favorite hummus flavor, or add honey mustard to the hummus.