Get set to score points in apple trivia. 7,500 varieties of apples are grown around the world. While the Crabapple is the only one native to what’s now the United States (Crabapples predate the Mayflower), 2,500 varieties are now grown domestically. The top three apple-growing states, in order, are Washington, New York, and Michigan. Apples are grown in every state, but only 36 states produce them commercially. There’s a name for the science of apple-growing: pomology. Farmers have to be patient; it takes four or five years for an apple tree to produce fruit. Apples are the second most valuable fruit in the country. Oranges top the list. Apples can be as small as cherries, as large as grapefruits, or any size in-between. It’s believed that the longest-lived apple tree was planted by Peter Stuyvesant in 1647. It was still bearing fruit two centuries later, when it was struck by a derailed train. Bushels of non-trivial thanks to the University of Illinois, accurate purveyor of high-pectin facts. If you do win an apple trivia game, send the researchers a thank you note.
Whether you call them heirloom or heritage, these old-stock apples have plenty to offer. It isn’t only history (although it’s a rare Red Delicious that stimulates dinner conversation); heritage apples bring an array of shapes, tastes, and textures to the kitchen, table, or picnic. Here are a few good first-bites of the heirloom trees.
A favorite of Thomas Jefferson, the Newtown Pippin is the one of the oldest U.S. varieties. These fine-grained apples will enchant fans of sweetly-sour candies. In its heyday, this crisp apple was often found in desserts. These days, it’s largely used by cider-makers. Go ahead. Bake with Pippins. Nobody said you had to follow the crowd.
The Egremont Russet is the quintessential English apple. Egremonts keep well; in fact, time steers them from the dry side toward the moist. Where Newtowns are on the tart side Egremonts are subtly sweet, and their texture is outright crunchy. Try them with strong cheese, or baked in apple hand pies with a cheddar crust.
Round and dark purplish red, the Black Oxford apple smells like just-cut grass in springtime, but the these apples ripen in October, when leaves are turning and ghosts are ringing doorbells and asking for treats. The Black Oxford can be traced to Maine in the late 18th century. The past few decades have seen it turning into the comeback seed. This apple is excellent for pies, fresh cider, and applesauce. Leave the seeds on, and your sauce will be delightfully pink.
Winter Banana apples are filled with “or.” The flesh may be white, greenish white, or greenish yellow. The skin may be peridot green, green with a reddish blush, or a combination of pale green and red. The flavor is very mild. Some people say they can taste a hint of banana in the flesh. Winter Banana apples are excellent baked. Serve leftovers for breakfast, topped with skyr or Greek yogurt.
If you come across King David apples in the farmers market, grab some. This heritage apple is a rare, fine find. The ruby-dark apples hark back to late 19th century Arkansas, when farmer Ben Frost found King Davids on his property. Their coarse yellow flesh has have a sweet, winy, borderline spicy flavor. Most people eat them raw, but their forward taste makes a strong contribution to apple cake, muffins, and sweet breads.
Don’t judge an apple by its cover. The elegant-sounding Calville Blanc d’Hiver is a lumpy, bumpy golden-green fruit. This fruit, whose name means Calville’s white winter, has been around since the 17the century was young. It’s another apple Thomas Jefferson was known to grow. He wasn’t the first. Calville Blanc d’Hivers date back to 1598 France. When you see Calvilles, grab them; they’re ripe for only a short time. Put the Calville Blanc d’Hiver to traditional use. It’s the apple of choice for tarte tatin. It’s also healthful, even by apple standards. Crisp, tart, sweet, and spicy, Calville Blanc d’Hivers hold a potent dose of vitamin C. If any apple could keep the doctor far away…
The Ashmead’s Kernel is another easily overlooked apple with award-worthy flavor. The Ashmead’s Kernel has dull skin, green with an overlay of orange-rose. Its sharp, sweet flesh is quick to brown in the open air. When you have to cut an Ashmead’s Kernel early (to adorn a cheese plate, where it might spend some time), brush the slices with lemon juice. If dictionaries came in bite-and-taste, Ashmead’s Kernels would be there, defining apples’ flavor. Eat it out of hand, cut it into salads, bake with it, cook with it, juice it, do as you will with it, but try not to go a lifetime without eating an Ashmead’s Kernel. It’s absolute proof that looks are nothing at all.
If all of that isn’t enough to pique appetite and interest, then consider heirloom apple-buying your contribution to the future. Some heritage apple varieties are vanishing. This is your heritage, and you should be able to enjoy it for years. Market demand gives farmers economic incentive to grow old-fashioned apples. A bonus for buyers: more time to prove that cooking with apples is more than a trivial pursuit.
Apple slices perfectly complement rich duck breast. Choose maple sugar over brown sugar, and take advantage of local cider (hard or sweet) to make this a dish that will have guests thanking you for days. Get the recipe.
Our yeasty braided coffee cake with apple-ginger filling is closer to a sweet bread than an ordinary coffee cake. It’s a perfect snack, gift, or brunch-time centerpiece. Get our Braided Coffee Cake with Apple Ginger Filling recipe.
A breakfast that bakes itself, this caramel, apple, and cinnamon breakfast casserole has layers of bread, apples, and dulce de leche. Whether you fancy bread pudding or crave French toast, you’ll find sweet satisfaction in this dish. Reheat leftovers and serve them (to yourself or others) with ice cream and maple syrup or caramel. Get our Caramel Apple and Cinnamon Breakfast Casserole recipe.
Don’t waste time missing strawberry shortcake when their season ends. Rich enough to stake a claim in decadence, goat’s milk caramel shortcakes could keep you happy all year long. Fat Toad Farm‘s caramel is worth the wait. If your craving demands immediate carbohydrates, satisfaction’s just a flame and a stir away. Cajeta‘s a breeze to make. These shortcakes get richness from butter and full-fat sour cream. The tops are crisp, the insides are tender, and the apples contribute tartness, spiciness, or sweetness, depending on the heirloom you choose. Get the recipe.
Use saltines or Ritz crackers. Use raisins or dried cranberries. Use the apples you like. This Apple Brown Betty recipe is tweakable, simple, and delicious. It serves 12, but you could cheerfully serve a smaller party, send people home with leftovers, and keep enough to freeze for when you need a dose of midnight comfort. Get the recipe.
If you’ve been aching to try your hand at fermentation, then this red cabbage with apples, cloves, and black peppercorns is a brilliant place to start. If you’re an old hand, then you’ll appreciate the combination of simplicity and complexity in this five-ingredient sauerkraut. Get the recipe.
Header image courtesy of Guido's Fresh.