A Guide to Fall Apples


Photo by Barb McMahon/Flickr CC

One of the great things about fall is apples. And one of the great things about apples is that we are no longer stuck with the horrific industrially produced tasteless varieties. It seems every time an apple becomes popular someone begins to mass produce it. And unlike electronics or other man-made commodities, mass-produced food and natural produce are, presto, chango, made horrible. In the case of apples they become visually alluring but are thick-skinned, mushy, and tasteless. Witness what happened to Granny Smiths and then Braeburns and Fuji apples even at high end supermarkets like Whole Foods.

Fortunately, we can now get wonderful locally grown varieties at many stores, fruit stands, and farmer's markets, or even drive out and pick them at a local orchard. In honor of the season I went to one of my favorite farmer's markets--the one "by" the White House (more on this in a later blog)--and bought six different varieties and invited a bunch of people for a taste test. Here are the results, in no particular order.

This is only a very small sampling of what you can get.

Rusty Gold: a brown apple with rough, almost fine sand papery skin and firm texture. Many people who tasted it dubbed it a "papple." It seemed like a cross between a pear and an apple with a bit more tartness than a pear. Could be very nice with cheese.

Jonagold: red with streaks of yellow. This seemed to be a "classic apple." It is a mild to sweet apple. There was no tartness. At least in this crowd it was too mild and not unusual enough to really be appealing.

Cameo: smaller, dark almost crimson colored with red streaks. It turned off most taste testers as anything from mild to tasteless. Certainly worse than Jonagold.

Honeycrisp: yellow apple with streaks of red. Firm and juicy texture. Many people had a preconception that this would be the best. It was tart but not overpowering. At least the one we tasted was described as "apple with a shot of vodka." Maybe this alcohol finish was the hidden appeal to people.

Ambrosia: shaped a lot like a red delicious, this medium red apple was very firm. It was definitely the sweetest of the apples, almost like fine candy. For many the sweetness was appealing even "refreshing"; others found it too much, or as one person put it, "yucky." This unusual apple has a very short growing season, so it is often available only for a few weeks.

Liberty: a very firm dark red apple. It lacked sweetness and by far the tartest apple we tasted. Yet it was neither lip-puckering like a lemon nor bitter. The tartness was, as the British might put it, bracing. This was voted the best apple of the lot. Like the Ambrosia, it has a short growing season.

This is only a very small sampling of what you can get. Other apples that I particularly like are a rare Golden Rod which as the name implies is a rich yellow color and is very firm. It has both tart and sweet elements. If you visit England try the Cox Pippins--a very firm, almost hard yellow-orange apple that is a 19th century variety that I cannot seem to find in the United States. Also delicious are Russet apples.

Presented by

Ezekiel J. Emanuel is an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author or editor of 10 books, including Brothers Emanuel and Reinventing American Health Care.

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