How ’bout them apples?

The baseball playoffs, crisp cooler climes, and the invasion of apples at groceries and farmer’s markets are the herald of autumn. The divine apple, the quintessential fruit of fall is a complex, multi-tasking powerhouse with thousands of varieties worldwide to please the most discriminating palate. Here’s a primer to help you navigate through the shoals of apple’s world so you can get the most from this season’s bounty.

The Apple of my Pie

Apples have swelled into roughly 10,000 varieties around the world. Each has their fortes, and not all varieties are ideal for every use. The Ambrosia is a great hand-held munching apple, aromatic and crisp, and since its juicy white flesh does not oxidize and brown quickly it’s perfect for salads and especially picky kids’ lunches. Same with the Pink Lady, a cross between a Golden Delicious and Lady Williams, this crisp white flesh resists browning when sliced, but needs to be kept cool as heat zaps its flavor. The sweet and spicy Fuji is a natural for applesauce, while the tart, tiny Crab apple is ideal for whipping up jelly, wine or apple butter. And the Winesap, true to its name, has a wine-like flavor so makes a great cider, and holds its full-bodied flavor when cooked or baked, great in sauces and pies. The Gravenstein is an all-purpose pomme, crisp, juicy and tart it’s popular in pies, cakes, muffins, applesauce and good for juicing. For sweet tooths the Gala is a great snacking apple, as well as good in cobblers and baked apples, requiring little added sweeteners. The Granny Smith while super tart is a fave for eating out of hand and using in cobblers, pies, strudels, pancakes and salads, although honey or brown sugar is needed to balance the flavor. The Red Delicious has its limitations; although a good hand held snack, it does not do well in baked dishes. Same with close cousin McIntosh, so juicy it flops in pies as it becomes runny.

As a rule of thumb, the best baking apples are firm and balance sweetness and tartness.

There Must be 50 Ways to Use your Apple

• Spud Patrol–To keep potatoes fresh and prevent sprouting, simply toss an apple in the bag of tubers.

• Chicken Tenders–To roast a juicy, flavorful, tender chicken stuff the cavity with a raw apple before cooking.

• Time is Ripe–Since apples release ethylene gas, they’re nature’s ripening agents. Place an apple in a paper bag with unripe peaches, bananas, tomatoes for two days. Conversely, if you do not want your fruits to ripen quickly, keep apple away.

• Let them Eat Cake — Keep cakes moist and fresh longer by placing a cut apple with the stored baked good.

• Take it with a Grain of Salt–A little ham-handed with the saltshaker? To absorb excess sodium from your soups or stews pop a half an apple into the pot, and remove the salt-laden fruit within 15 minutes.

• Sugar-coated –To soften crusty brown sugar, place a slice of apple in the storage bag, and it will miraculously soften within a day or two.

The Simple Superfruit

The humble apple is frequently pushed to the produce sidelines by flashier competitors touted for their superfruit status. An apple a day might not just keep the doctor away, but the oncologist, rheumatologist, allergist, cardiologist and endocrinologist too. Apples provide a motherlode of anti-oxidants especially Vitamin C, flavanoids and polyphenols, soluble fiber and minerals. Researchers have linked apples to putting the skids on osteoporosis and dialing up bone density, alleviating wheezing symptoms in asthmatic children and joint pain in arthritics, protecting brain cells from free-radical damage, lowering cholesterol with powerhouse pectin, reducing various cancer risks, and keeping insulin levels at bay. Packed with quercetin, apples slow the release of histamines, thereby giving allergy relief. For migraine pain, cut a green apple in half and sniff away to ward off brain throbbing.

Pick a Winner

Look for taut, wrinkle-free skin (don’t we all want that), and a fresh, aromatic scent. And since apples are on the top of the “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits that contain high levels of pesticide residues, where possible buy organic.

My fall contribution is this delectable strudel that’s as easy as apple pie.


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