Apples range in taste from just plain sweet to spicy-sweet to tart; in texture from downright hard to crisp and juicy to dry to mealy; and in color from blackish red to palest yellow. Some are tender skinned, others have thick, waxy coats, and still others, the russets, have tough, leathery skins. It’s hard to think of another fruit that’s available in more varieties than apples. With all those choices, picking one can be tricky because each variety has a unique flavor and behaves a little differently when cooked. Most of the common varieties can be classified into three helpful categories for cooking: apples that hold their shape, apples the soften, and apples to avoid in cooking.
Apples that hold their shape:
Rome: Softens but holds it shape nicely. Quite juicy, with a complex sweet-tart flavor.
Golden Delicious: Holds its shape fairly well but gets a bit mushy. Very juicy but flavor lacks complexity.
Granny Smith: Holds its shape fairly well. Flavor is not as appley as others, but is fine when teamed with a softer, perfumy apple.
Braeburn: Great texture—soft but still holds its shape. Flavor is on the sweet side.
Apples that soften:
Empire: Fairly juicy, tart, and perfumy. Cortland: Good complex flavor with well-rounded sweetness.
Macoun: Not very juicy. Nice pink color and great flavor.
McIntosh: Practically purées itself when cooked. Sweet with a pretty pink hue. Great in applesauce and preserves.
Apples to avoid in cooking:
Red Delicious: Flavorless when cooked. Save this one for the lunchbox.
Fuji: When cooked, flavor is flat and texture is like reconstituted dried apple.
1 medium apple (about 7 oz.) = 1-1/3 cups medium dice = 1 cup thin (1/8 inch slices)
Pears can make a great substitution because they have a similar attributes; the flavor or your crisp or cobbler, however, will be pear, not apple.
Whenever you’re shopping for apples, look for hard, fresh-smelling fruit with a full aroma and a smooth, tight skin. Good-tasting apples aren’t necessarily pretty—some of the best varieties aren’t—but they should be free of bruises and blemishes. Remember that when an apple ripens, flesh softens, sweetness intensifies, acidity drops, and color and aroma increase. During the harvest in North America, from late August through November, many apple varieties are available for just a short time—even just a few weeks. Many varieties must be sold and eaten soon after they’re harvested. Some varieties, such as Winesap and Northern Spy, can be stored and are either refrigerated or held for longer periods in facilities where ripening is slowed. Unfortunately, after months of storage, apples may look great but can be mealy and mushy. If you’re buying apples in the dead of winter, choose carefully. Once the domestic apple harvest is over, keep an eye out for imports from Chile, New Zealand, and Australia, which start shipping in February, the beginning of autumn in the southern hemisphere. Look for varieties like Braeburn, Fuji, and Granny Smith.They have an incredibly long season: The earliest ones start ripening in high summer, and the harvest continues straight through until frost. And apples keep well, too.
The skin may be eater or peeled away. Remove and discard seeds and core. Many recipes suggest immediately tossing peeled apples in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. That's fine for a Waldorf salad, where brown apples would look unappealing, but if you're going to bake the apples you needn't bother. A little surface browning won't affect the apple's flavor; and if you're tossing the apples with cinnamon and bake them, sauté them with butter and sugar, or cook them into a purée, they turn darker anyway.
Once you get apples home, refrigerate them and keep them away from strong-smelling foods, as apples easily absorb odors. Discard any rotting apples; they emit gases that are damaging to other apples, fruits, and vegetables.