Appetizers

It’s apple season, which means a variety of options — and confusion

In a past season at Apple Hill students from Jackson Elementary School in El Dorado Hills pick through apples with classmates at Able's Apple Acres.
In a past season at Apple Hill students from Jackson Elementary School in El Dorado Hills pick through apples with classmates at Able's Apple Acres. jvillegas@sacbee.com

With shorter days, crisp, cool nights and sweater weather approaching, it’s clear that we’re in the middle of apple season. For many, that means trying your hand at baking a pie, enjoying orchard-fresh apples and, of course, making the trip to Apple Hill in Camino.

Oh, the wonderful bounty — and the potential confusion.

Yes, what may not be so clear about apples is which ones are good for which applications. Are the same apples that are ideal for baking also delicious for snacking? When you’re at the grocery store or farmers market, do you find yourself mesmerized by the options?

Fortunately, Lifehacker, the website that seeks to make your life easier, smarter and more efficient, has a nice rundown of apple choices.

For snacking, writer Claire “nothing is worse than Red Delicious” Lower says to look for Gala, Honeycrisp, Cameo, Pink Ladies and Fuji.

“The perfect apple should be a balance of fresh sweetness and bright acidity, with crisp, juicy flesh and that distinct ‘appley’ aroma brought to us by esters. Basically, the opposite of the mealy, one-note, stupid stupid Red Delicious,” Lower writes.

OK, so Red Delicious is apparently not in the running for the world’s greatest apple.

As for the all-American apple pie, this is where things get dicey, if not controversial.

Lower cites the superb website Serious Eats and its managing culinary director, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who maintains that Golden Delicious apples are the best choice for making apple pies. Lopez-Alt just came out with a 938-page book I’m eager to read, “The Food Lab: Better Cooking at Home Through Science,” so it’s safe to assume he’s thought this one through.

Yet his former employer, Cook’s Illustrated, believes that a combination of Granny Smith and McIntosh are best. In the 1997 “Classic Apple Pie” recipe, which is nested behind a pay wall, the magazine states, “To arrive at the tartness and texture we were after, we had to use two kinds of apples in our pie, Granny Smith and McIntosh. The Grannies could be counted on for tartness and for keeping their shape during cooking; the Macs added flavor, and their otherwise frustrating tendency to become mushy was a virtue, providing a nice, juicy base for the harder Grannies.”

But in 2005, Cook’s Illustrated expanded the options in its deep-dish apple pie recipe, concluding that Granny Smith, Empire and Cortland varieties are good for tartness, while McIntosh has apparently been relegated as a sweet choice in favor of Golden Delicious, Jonagolds or Braeburns.

There are, of course, plenty of other opinions out there. If you’re looking for a more down-home approach to apples, there appears to be an Apple Hill cookbook in the works.

And once you settle on which apples you like, you’ll want to know when they are at their best. This harvest schedule from Apple Hill is helpful. You’ll note that the much-maligned Red Delicious will be ready soon. If you decide to bake a pie with them, consider yourself warned.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob

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