Granny Smith Apples
I love apple season. There are few things better than a good apple eaten out of hand. Whether the flesh is mild and sweet or tart and winey, when you bite into it, a fresh-picked apple will make a crisp cracking sound and you'll get a spurt of juice.
There's a season for everything, and the main season for American apples starts the last half of October. I've probably said this a thousand times, but our problem in the United States is that we try to buy produce out of season. Many varieties will keep well late into winter, but by summer most apples have been stored for seven or eight months. No wonder they are soft, mealy, and without juice. When peaches and melons come in, stay away from apples. Come back when there's a snap in the air, and you'll remember what makes apples so good.
Apples are one of the most esteemed fruits in the Northern Hemisphere, in part because they're so versatile. They're delicious raw, baked, dried, or made into applesauce. They make great pies, apple butter, apple jelly, chutney, cider, and cider vinegar, and they're a welcome addition to dozens of other dishes. A member of the rose family, apples have been known since ancient times and were cultivated by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, many places grow wonderful apples now, but overall, the United States produces the finest apple crops in the world. The Northwest, the East Coast, and parts of the Midwest - regions where the seasons change - grow the best apples. They're not a fruit for hot climates.
Only a few of the thousands of varieties of apples grown today are mass marketed, but there are many more out there than Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Macs. There are very old and very new varieties you may never have heard of. If you're north of the Mason-Dixon line, you're going to find the best apples at local farm markets and stands, where they're fresh-picked, and you're likely to find great varieties you'd never see at the supermarket.
The vast majority of apples are picked from September through November and either sold immediately or put into cold storage, where some keep well and some don't. the peak of the season for domestic varieties-when most stored apples still retain their snap-is generally over by December. A few will last through the early spring, but by March it's hard even to find a good Winesap.
In most cases look for very firm, bright-colored fruit with no bruises and with the stem still on-a good indication that you've got an apple that's not overripe. The apple should feel heavy in the hand for its size and have a good shine on it. A dull look usually means the fruit has been in storage too long, although some excellent varieties like Winesaps and eastern Golden Delicious have relatively rough skin with little or not sheen. As always, use your nose. An apple that smells great is going to taste great.
New Zealand Apples
If you're craving apples in summer, look for the New Zealand varieties. Early New Zealand settlers brought apple seeds with them, and they've been cultivating, improving, and developing new varieties ever since. They're responsible for four excellent apples: the Gala, the Royal Gala, the Braeburn, and the Granny Smith. New Zealand introduced the Granny Smith apple to North America about thirty years ago. In recent years Washington State and British Columbia have begun cultivating the Gala, which is becoming more popular here too.
Granny Smith The Granny Smith is a hard, crunchy, green-skinned apple with a tart taste. A hybrid of the Green Pippin originally grown in England, it has a high juice content and keeps very well. Granny Smiths originated in Australia and are imported mostly from Australia and New Zealand, although we get a few from South Africa, and producers are starting to grow them in Chile and Argentina, which also have opposite growing seasons from ours. France and the U.X. (California and Washington State) are starting to grow them as well, but I think the imports are still tops in taste. Granny Smiths are shipped around the world and start arriving in the U.S. around the middle of April. The season lasts into July and sometimes even through August. Like the other New Zealand apples, they're excellent when you want a good apple out of season.
The Granny Smith is a medium to large apple with a very juicy, white, tart, super-hard flesh. As the season progresses; Granny Smiths get sweeter. I suggest peeling them because the green skin tends to be tough and is coated with oil for shipping. Although they're not particularly good for baking, Granny Smiths are great for pies. They're more expensive than domestic apples, so you should expect near perfection in them. Avoid bruised apples, and never buy a yellow Granny Smith, which will be juiceless and tasteless.
Bette's Apple Crumb Pie
Other recipes from Produce Pete.