Cooking with Apples

The best and worst apple baking choices, including recipes for applesauce, apple and chicken salad and baked apples.

| October/November 1993

  • 140-022-01i2
    Put the lid back on your sugar-filled topping; fresh applesauce will do the trick.

  • 140-022-01i2

As far as I'm concerned, few things compare to biting into a crisp apple at the height of autumn. So you can imagine my ecstasy when we decided to move to a farm with an apple orchard, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. City slickers that we were, we believed bushels of apples would effortlessly tumble into our baskets. Neighboring farmers, on the other hand, tried to warn us about the sorry condition of our orchard; it had been neglected for years and, unless we pruned our trees and sprayed our apples, the crop would be inedible.

My husband, a devout organic gardener, had no intention of using insecticides. Instead he spent numerous hours pruning and mulching the trees, returning home scratched from head to toe, covered with numerous twigs. More than once the stillness of the early evening's cricket serenade was disturbed by a snap, crackle, plop (followed by a few choice words) as my husband fell out of a tree while reaching for stubborn branches. Sad to say, we never ate a single apple from those trees. Well, we did try one, but it was easily the worst fruit we'd ever sunk our teeth into. The worms seemed to enjoy them, though, as did the herd of deer that grazed on them each fall at dusk. My two-year-old son adored this personal zoo, which he would gaze at through his window—so I guess it wasn't a total loss.

Despite the orchard tragedy, I hold apples in the highest regard. It is, after all, the perfect fruit for maintaining optimal health and "keeping the doctor away." Crisp apples also help keep teeth and gums in good condition, keeping the dentist far away. Fructose and sucrose, the natural sugars found in apples, provide a source of instant energy. And because the fruit contains more than 80% water, it is low in calories. (A large apple contains about 90 calories.) It also contains its share of vitamins A and C (although most of the vitamin C is lost when stored). Cellulose, the apple's primary benefit, contributes to fiber in the diet to aid digestion.

When buying apples, choose firm, blemish-free fruits with no wrinkled skin. Unless you are buying from a farmers' market, apples may be coated with wax, so wash them with a brush and hot soapy water before eating. Store unbagged in the refrigerator, root cellar, back porch, or garage, where temperatures are above freezing and below 50°F. I keep mine in half-bushel baskets covered with towels. If there isn't a heat wave in December, the apples usually keep until at least February.

A side benefit of apples is that they produce ethylene, a gas that hastens ripening. Place an apple in a bag with unripe bananas, and soon they'll be ripe. By the same token, fruits placed in a bowl near apples may become overripe. If using apples in cooking or for a fruit salad, prepare them at the last minute or coat them with lemon juice so they won't darken. I always use lime juice to flavor fruit salads and prevent discoloration.

Best and Worst Apples for Baking

Below are the most popular of the varieties. A local orchardist recently told me that his current best-seller is the Ida Red, and that a popular, all-purpose apple is the Empire. He referred to the Mutsu as "the yuppie apple," replacing the Granny Smith.

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