It’s finally fall! Well, here in Buffalo it’s been uncharacteristically SCALDINGLY hot outside, so even though I’ve been wearing jeans and flannel shirts already, others are walking around in shorts and tanks still! I’m ready to let summer go, though, and embrace the chilly, crisp, earthy air of autumn.
Shane and I went apple picking the first weekend a local orchard opened up. There were only a few apples ready to go, and even the ones we picked still needed to be ripened up a bit. But with the fantastic prices and the support of a local business and an adorably appropriate date for fall, we will definitely be back a few times! Plus, the farm dog came out and played fetch with the apples we threw for him. His nametag read “Cider.” HOW ADORABLE IS THAT!?
So, while I didn’t plan on focusing on a fruit this week, I just couldn’t resist. Even though the sun refuses to let go of summer, I’m ready to embrace fall. And you just can’t do fall without apples. In fact, October is National Apple Month, and it’s right around the corner!
Where do apples come from?
Apples grow on trees! Different types of apples grow on different varieties of apple tree. These trees must be pruned throughout the year so that, by the time fall comes around, they are loaded up with apples!
Apples are handpicked from their trees to avoid bruising. You can find a local apple orchard and pick your own for cheap, fresh fruit! (Or check out farmer’s markets!)
Even though apples are seasonally fresh in autumn, they’re available year-round. Apples can be stored in warehouses that are atmospherically set to keep them fresh for months.
About a third of all apples are sent to processing plants to make apple sauce, juices, and more.
In the United States, 240 million bushels of apples are grown! These are grown primarily in Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California.
Remember that old story you learned about in, like, kindergarten, about Johnny Appleseed? Well, his name was actually Johnny Chapman, but he did exist! He was known for tending to apple trees, planting and caring for new trees, and teaching farmers how to care for apple orchards! Thanks, Johnny!
Types of Apples
There are a lot of different kinds of apples – hundreds of varieties, in fact! But I’ll cover the most popular ones here. Different types have different flavors and are better used for certain recipes.
The picture of a perfect apple, Red Delicious apples are a beautiful, deep red. Their sweetness makes them great for snacking or adding to salads.
McIntosh apples are red with just a bit of green on the skin. They’re tangy and tart with a hint of sweetness. Used best fresh or in applesauce, but can also be used in baking – just cut the pieces thick, because they reduce quite a bit!
Named after the Empire State, Empire apples originated in New York, and are actually a cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh. With mostly red skin and a possible green blush, this apple works great in all aspects of cooking – served fresh for snacking or baked in pies!
As their name suggests, Honeycrisp apples are sweet and mild, like honey, and very crispy! Their skin is primarily yellow with uneven, red stripes over top. Great for snacking, adding to salads, and applesauce.
Golden Delicious apples are both of those things! Their skin is a bright yellow, and the flavor is mild and sweet, with no tanginess to them at all. These apples are fantastic baked into pies, but of course – snack away!
I always think of a poison apple when I see Granny Smith apples because of their bright green color and tart flavor. They’re great for snacking if you like the tartness, and are also great baked!
A hybrid between Red Delicious and Ralls Janet apples, Fuji apples are named after the mountain in Japan. They look striated with red and yellow skin. They have a sweet flavor and firm texture, making them great for snacking.
Gala apples originated in New Zealand, but are a very popular variety in the US due to their sweetness! They are usually red and yellow striped. Gala apples are great for snacking, adding to salads, and using in baking.
Apples are a great source of Vitamin C and dietary fiber. The fiber in apples will actually help to keep you regular, and avoid both constipation and diarrhea! Some people may try to stay away from apples because of their sugar content, but don’t fear – fruits have natural, slow-releasing sugars that your body easily uses up as energy!
Apples help to actually control your blood sugar level, as well as keep your heart healthy. A phytochemical called phlorizin (a flavonoid) even helps to prevent bone loss.
But wait, there’s more! The fiber Pectin and antioxidants found in apples help to lower cholesterol levels, help prevent atherosclerosis, and prevent free radicals from damaging your heart and blood vessels!
Purchasing and Storing Apples
When you think about going to buy apples from the store, do you picture perfect pyramids in the produce section? We just had a Whole Foods open up here in Buffalo, and let me just say, their produce section is the absolute prettiest produce section I’ve ever seen. Talk about perfect pyramids!
Apples can be bought whole by the pound, in pre-weighed bags, or as a form of processed food. Processed apple products include apple juice, apple sauce, pre-sliced apples, dried apple slices, and any other apple product you might find!
When purchasing fresh apples, watch for and avoid any bruising, denting, or cuts. Apples bruise easily, so handle with care!
Apples purchased from the store are covered in a very thin layer of wax (a few drops at most) to keep the flesh crisp and juicy and prevent them from going bad. This wax is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and is safe to consume. The wax is used on lots of fruits and vegetables, and also in candies. It’s edible!
Once you’ve got your apples at home, you’ll want to store them properly! Whole apples should be kept on the counter to ripen, and then in the refrigerator to stop the ripening process. If an apple has gone bad, toss it – the bad apple will release chemicals that speed up the ripening process of apples around it, and will make them go bad faster, too! (Ever hear “One bad apple spoils the whole bushel”? Yep.)
If you’re only using half an apple, wrap the remaining half in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
For processed foods, once opened…refrigerate!
What about Pesticides?
Here’s some food for thought – without the use of pesticides, apples are at risk of being attacked by bugs, fungi, and diseases. The pesticides help keep apple trees healthy! Of course, any reputable orchard will be using only pesticides with tested methods to ensure safety for human consumption.
By the time an apple gets from an orchard to your kitchen, pesticide residues are virtually nonexistant. While there’s always a small chance they may be present, the chemicals will be inactive and in such a small amount that it won’t affect your health.
As with any debate like this one, practice consumerism as an individual! If the thought of pesticides still skeeves you out, buy organic, or ask your local orchards how they treat their apple trees.
Using Apples in the Kitchen
Step one: wash your apples! A quick rinse under running water will do the trick. You never know who touched the apples at the store before you picked that one up!
My favorite way to eat apples is just as they are. I love biting into them, peel and all. Some people don’t like the skin, but I do! If you don’t (or, more likely, your kid doesn’t), peel away the skin with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Just remember that the skin on an apple can remove more than half of the apple’s fiber, Vitamin C, and iron.
You can core the apple and slice it horizontally, giving you little apple-o’s, or slice them into wedges. From that point, I highly recommend a nut butter for spreading/dipping. Yummmm!
Apples are great when baked, too. Chop ’em up and mix them into a batter to make apple muffins, make an apple pie or apple crisp.
You can even boil apples with some sugar for a sweet filling, or just as a dessert by themselves!
Why do apples turn brown when cut?
The compounds in an apple’s flesh react with oxygen. More specifically, polyphenol oxidase and oxygen react and result in enzymatic browning. But you don’t need to know all that – you just need to know how to slow that browning down!
Limiting oxygen exposure and/or adding acid are the best ways to stop browning. You can limit oxygen exposure by submerging cut apples in water, wrapping them tightly, and, of course, not cutting them until they’re ready to be eaten! The most readily available acid in your kitchen is Vitamin C – also called ascorbic acid. Apples do already have some Vitamin C in them, but dipping them in lemon juice will also help slow the browning process.
Hungry for More?
Learn even more about apples, get recipes, and even find activities for kids at the US Apple Association website!