Used to be, apple aficionados had few choices if they were looking for ways to keep the doctor away. Produce departments filled their bins with Red Delicious, Galas or Granny Smiths and called it good.
But that’s no longer the case. The influx of New Zealand apples in the off-season combined with the popularity of the sweet-tart Honey Crisp (and its numerous offshoots) mean dozens of unique types of apples are available nearly year-round. With fall apple season in full swing, now is the time to check out the bounty at your grocery store, produce stand or farmers’ market.
The well-liked Honey Crisp apple hit U.S. store shelves in the 1990s and has since spawned a number of equally sought-after varieties, says Jim Foley, produce specialist for Town and Country Markets. The Honey Crisp offers a crisp flesh and sweet taste with just the right amount of tang. However, its esteem comes with a price.
“It’s an apple that doesn’t yield what a grower would like,” explains Foley, which means production often can’t keep up with demand, resulting in a premium price tag. The Honey Crisp’s cost should drop in the coming years as growers bring more trees into production, he says. In the meantime, there are plenty of other kinds of apples to tempt your taste buds.
Arctic apples are the solution to half-eaten apples. They can stay fresh for 28 days after being sliced, making half an Arctic perfect for little kids’ lunchboxes.
A mix between a Honey Crisp and an Enterprise apple, the Cosmic Crisp is a product of Washington State University’s tree fruit breeding program. It has the right mix of sweet and tangy like the Honey Crisp, and is slow to brown once it’s cut. “There’s a lot of optimism around this variety,” says Foley.
These tiny apples – some no bigger than a ping pong ball – are perfect for children’s lunchboxes. The sweet and crisp apples are packaged in three-pound tubs. “People around here are waste-conscious,” says Foley. “If they hand a kid an apple, they don’t want to see half of it get thrown away.”
These unique apples have a reddish flesh, which sets them apart from other apples on the market. The Lucy Rose has a red skin and sweet berry notes. The Lucy Glo has a yellow skin and a bit more tang, making it a good apple for baking.
This Honey Crisp offshoot is extra sweet with not-too-dense flesh and a “great crunch,” says Foley. Town and Country stores carried it through February last year, but customer demand will keep it on shelves longer this year. Look for it in stores starting in late October.
Most people associate a yellow apple with soft flesh. The Opal prove them wrong. They look a lot like old-school Golden Delicious apples (“We don’t even sell those anymore,” says Foley), but pack an unexpected crunch. You can spot an Opal by the brown scarring of its skin near the stem – a birthmark of sorts that doesn’t affect its taste.
The availability of locally grown apples will start to wane around Christmastime, and supply will be replaced come January with apples that have been stored by growers in climate-controlled warehouses. While it may sound unappealing, that fruit is often the cream of the crop, and the apples are kept surprisingly fresh through careful control of temperature and humidity levels.
“Those can actually be some of the best apples of the year,” says Foley.
The imported New Zealand crop hits stores in March to carry shoppers through the spring. By summer, Foley admits apple pickings can be slim.
Thank goodness for berry season.
Honey crisp apple image by wholden