As we enter the thick of fall, apples will tumble from their bins, a harmony of flavors, textures and colors — reds, yellows, browns and greens — that capture the very essence of the season. But when was the last time you thought of using an apple for anything besides pie, applesauce or cider? Perhaps you tossed one into a salad?
Americans eat 2.4 million tons of apples each year — or 15 pounds per person — second only to bananas (though the Virginia-based U.S. Apple Association is quick to point out that apples are the most often consumed domestic fruit). Which means we really should do more than stick them in a lunch box or sprinkle them with cinnamon.
Look at the Shakers. The late 18th-century religious sect had 49 ways to prepare apples — 49! Their recipes ranged from the standard pies and cakes to sausage-stuffed apples, apple “omelets” (a bit like souffle) and switchel, a tonic made of cider vinegar and used to chase their farmers’ thirst during the harvest. They also invented the apple peeler, apple corer and that thingy that cuts them into quarters. To be fair, the Shakers often kept orchards with hundreds of apple trees, so they had a lot of incentive to use them inventively (and to be efficient about peeling and preparing them).
These days, most Americans also have an abundance of apples at their disposal. Alongside the old McIntosh and Red Delicious, newer varieties such as the crunchy, big-juice Honey Crisp and candy-sweet Fuji can be found in nearly any supermarket. Heirlooms like the tartly complex Esopus Spitzenburg and the sweet, purple-skinned Black Oxford pop up at farmers markets. And apples with glamorous names like Jazz and Pink Lady — both “club varieties,” that is, apples licensed only to certain growers and marketers — have become commonplace.
A friend to pork, where it mingles with sage and other fragrant herbs, and to duck, where its acid offsets the richness of the meat, the apple is a natural savory. In a soup or puree it adds complexity to butternut squash or parsnips. In sandwiches — what about a warm gooey grilled cheddar layered with slices of cold, crisp apple. You can count me in!
There’s a reason Eve went for an apple and not an orange or a persimmon. Besides being tempting, apples are elemental. Adaptable. Basic. You can always count on the apple.
Because of the variety of flavors and textures now available, choosing the right apple for the right purpose is more difficult than ever. Some general notes:
**A baking or cooking apple is anything that will keep its shape. The Braeburn and Honey Crisp, Jazz and Jonagold are good examples, as are the more tart Rome, Stayman and Granny Smith.
**Softer, less resilient apples, such as McIntosh, Fuji, gala and empire dissolve in the heat, and therefore make great sauce.
**Sweet apples pair nicely with salty items such as cheese and peanut butter. Think Honey Crisp or Fuji.